Russell Simmons

Inmates and Meditation

The prison system in the United States faces many challenges.  The system itself is geared strongly toward punishment rather than reform, resulting in a high rate of recidivism.  Inmates are not being reformed in prison and often complete their sentences only to find themselves unable to secure employment, support themselves, or otherwise cope with life outside the prison walls.  When faced with the challenges of rejoining society, too many former prisoners return to the lifestyle that put them behind bars in the first place. The cost of recidivism is felt not only by taxpayers and the inmates themselves, but families, businesses, and society as a whole.  We are doing a disservice to our country as a whole when we choose to focus on punishment rather than reform. There are many options for providing inmates with the ability to support themselves when they’re released and one of those is meditation.

Meditation has been shown to provide so many benefits.  People who meditate feel less anxious and stressed, sleep better, and are less likely to be depressed.  These benefits are not limited to the population at large. Prison inmates, unsurprisingly, deal with immense stress and anxiety on a daily basis.  Many have mental health issues or are addicts. Often they have past traumas in their lives but have never had access to resources to help them overcome or deal with these experiences.  Teaching prisoners to meditate provides them with a simple, low cost tool for managing their own mental health and physical well being.

With just a couple of short meditation sessions a day, inmates report feeling the same benefits of meditation seen throughout the general population.  People who feel relaxed and well rested are better able to navigate their emotions and deal positively with others. Reduced depression, better anger management, and an improved ability to make good life choices are some other benefits of consistent meditation.  

For those prisoners living with a traumatic past, meditation helps to break that mental cycle of obsessively revisiting negative thoughts and memories.  Inmates have plenty of down time, allowing their minds to wander. For someone coping with trauma, the mind tends to wander to thoughts of the trauma, reliving the experience and memories.  Meditation helps the prisoner to move away from this harmful mental cycle.

In a society that doesn’t want to invest financially  in the prison population, meditation is an option with appeal for many reasons.  Once inmates have learned how to meditate, they can continue on their own. It requires no special equipment.  While meditation won’t replace valuable resources such as job training, education, and support outside of prison, it is certainly a low cost yet effective skill that is easily shared with willing inmates.  While we absolutely need to reform many areas of our justice and prison system, a small step such as meditation can have a big impact on an individual’s in a relatively short amount of time.