A Winter Feast for the Soul Prison In-Reach
In 2009 a small Buddhist Sangha in Boise, Idaho brought Winter Feast brochures to the local men‘s incarceration center, where they were teaching meditation. 10 prisoners signed up for the Winter Feast that year. This started us thinking about how we could support incarcerated individuals with finding inner peace by developing a spiritual practice. Since then, we have expanded our outreach through a journal for prisoners known as Freedom Inside and individual coaching. Our outreach program now includes about 50 volunteer spiritual practitioners or coaches who correspond regularly with prisoners who would like support with their spiritual practices during the Feast and year-round.
In 2013, Winter Feast donors generously contributed funds to train our volunteers in the Path of Freedom program offered by the Prison Mindfulness Institute, which trains both inmates and prison staff in mindfulness-based interventions, including emotional intelligence and meditation practice. PMI generously donated workbooks, and we are currently engaged in a pilot to make this program a correspondence course for incarcerated people who are in Administrative Segregation (also called solitary confinement). It's still early in the process, but we have already had positive feedback from some of our inmate participants:
- "Since I been meditating I feeling more peaceful. And the hate I have is going away. In the last three years many people had seen the change in my life since I been meditating." ~~B.M., Colorado
- "You and all of the mentors are our window to the world, a window where we view the real possibilities which will help us on our quests to become better individuals." ~~J.F., Texas
- "I know I'm secluded from the actual event but to know there is a event I can participate in is a joy. Why not I mean. Us who are locked up just sit here mostly any how so why not try something positive & helpful?? I actually find peace just trying these practices." ~~E.D., Texas
- "The program [WF] activities has helped me decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression, feel a sense of community and feel in control of my body in this very stressful environment. Since I’ve been doing yoga I’ve lost about 10 pounds and I feel more energized. … Before I gained interest in the WF, I was laying around not doing much of anything. I was going through some very painful moments in here from stress and loneliness." ~~ D.H., Texas
If you would like to participate in this outreach, please email us and let us know: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can support us financially by using the donate link at the top of this page.
Freedom Inside - Article #1
Freedom Inside - Article #2
Freedom Inside - Article #3
Freedom Inside - Article #4
Prison Research Findings
Meditation and mindfulness programs work. Individual prisoners who participate in meditation programs appear happier and experience positive benefits, such as decreased anxiety, anger and depression, decreased substance abuse, increased spiritual well-being, optimism and improved health.
Research on meditation has yielded three sets of findings:
experienced meditators who are willing to participate without pay in meditation research appear happier and healthier than nonmeditators;
beginning meditators who practice meditation for 4-10 weeks show more improvement on a variety of tests than nonmeditators tested at the same time;
persons who are randomly assigned to learn and practice meditation show more improvement over 4-10 weeks than control subjects assigned to some form of alternate treatment
The largest body of research conducted on meditation and the effects it has on prisoners is by the David Lynch Foundation. They have funded numerous studies related to the use of transcendental meditation with inmates since 2000. America has the highest incarceration rate of any country. One in 100 adults in the U.S. is serving time. In tests in prisons such as Folsom, San Quentin and Walpole, the results of meditation have been a 30% decrease in recidivism, fewer rule infractions, less criminal thinking and psychological distress, decreased anxiety, substance abuse, anger and depression, and increased spiritual well-being and optimism.
A study by Baylor University of the Minnesota Department of Correction's faith-based Inner Change Freedom Initiative program examined 732 offenders released between 2003 and 2009 from Minnesota’s prison system. Those who participated in the program reduced their chances of rearrest by 26-40%, of re-conviction by 35 percent and of re-imprisonment for a new felony offense by 40 percent.