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Meditation for rehabilitation in prisons
on August 14, 2008
Congressman John Lewis: "This book makes it plain that no human being should be considered beyond the reach of redemption." That quote is from the cover of the book.
It seems we don't know how to rehabilitate offenders other than try stiffer punishment. About 1 in 100 adults in the US is in jail or prison. New approaches are needed. Intense (Vipassana) meditation retreats may be one possibility. This book reflects that potential.
The book records the dramatic changes that prisoners experience as they attempt to purify their minds of such impurities as hatred, fear, greed, anger, etc., that have landed them in prison. This book makes it clear that the impurities they carry deep within cause suffering both to themselves and to those around them; and whatever relief they get using the meditation helps both them and others.
Recently, a documentary film of the meditation courses examined in this book, The Dhamma Brothers, has been released in select theaters across the US. The film captures in action what this book reflects on paper.
The question remains: How effective is this program for the convicts over time? That's difficult to say since each individual must try to integrate his/her insights into an environment that may be dysfunctional. But there are indications of overall success.
Vipassana courses have been held in prisons outside the US since 1975, starting in India. The Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, has recognized Vipassana meditation as a technique to reform criminals and has introduced it in all Central Jails, particularly Tihar Prison, New Delhi. A documentary film of a course for 1,000 inmates at Tihar Prison, "Doing Time, Doing Vipassana," won a top award at the 1998 San Francisco International Film Festival.
The time has come to consider that meditation has promise for rehabilitation of prisoners, and this book reflects that potential.
P.S. DVDs of Doing Time, Doing Vipassana and another prison meditation film set in a Seattle jail, Changing from Inside, are available at store.pariyatti.org in both English and Spanish, as is the Collector's Edition DVD of The Dhamma Brothers.