Prison Meditation and Yoga Conference Report
On December 6-8, 2001, the Infinity Foundation sponsored Indic Wisdom on the Inside: Prison Yoga and Meditation and Spiritual Prison Reform at the Institute for Noetic Science in Petaluma, CA. Co-sponsors were the California Institute of Integral Studies and the Association for Transpersonal Psychology.
It has been nearly 30 years since Bo Lozoff was inspired by Ram Dass to bring Yoga, meditation and Indic spiritual psychology into adult prisons while Stuart Sovatsky was introducing Yoga in youth correctional facilities in New Jersey. Now, hundreds of prisons throughout the world host Buddhist and Yogic spiritual practice courses.
Lozoff’s Human Kindness Institute now corresponds with some 30,000 inmates, while the SYDA Prison Project provides some 6000 prisoners with study courses in Shaivite Nondual Yoga, some for as long as twenty years, including those on death rows. The Buddhist Peace Fellowship holds meditation vigils at prison sites the night of an execution that officials televise into the prison as a comfort to the staff and other inmates at those difficult times. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Prison Smart Los Angeles Youth Project has become trusted enough by rival gangs that they come to meditations together, remarkably without incident.
The documentary, “Doing Time, Doing Vipassana” brought this work to the attention of a larger audience. The Goenka Buddhist meditation organization brought a ten-day retreat into the Tihar Prison in India, culminating in hardened criminals embracing prison officials in tearful contrition, as the documentary vividly shows. Other similar documentaries have since been made which show that meditation and Yoga courses actually work to help in the rehabilitation of prisoners. The Conference screened documentaries by The Mind-Body Project, Goenka Meditation, Prison Smart, and SYDA Yoga.
Representatives from all these groups, and many others (including two ex-prisoners who were greatly helped by meditation programs while serving 23 year and 14 year sentences for murder and drug charges) used the conference learn about each other’s projects, to coordinate services (particularly to begin creating post-release services), improve training for teachers going “inside,” and to introduce courses to new prisons. Sangeetha Jeena, of Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living Prison Projects in India also joined us.
The Psychologist at San Quentin joined us and now states that his prison is planning to host a 3-day meditation retreat. As a highly prominent high-security prison, such an event will ripple through the corrections world, making it easier to bring the power of Indic meditation and Yoga into more prisons, world-wide.