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Meditation in Prisons -- A Silent Escape to Freedom

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Are we really free?

Are we really free?

We are All Prisoners!

We all live in prisons – prisons of likes and dislikes, and cravings and aversions. Are we not prisoners of fears and phobias? Are we not prisoners of habits and tendencies? Are we not prisoners of hatred and animosity? Are we not prisoners of passion and attachments? Are we not prisoners of consumerism and greed? Certainly, we are all prisoners whether we believe it or not

What if we are not confined within the walls of a State Prison; what if we have never been convicted by the court of law, we all live confined within the un-penetrable wall of ignorance. And yet we call ourselves "free". But as long as we have compulsive or recidivistic tendencies, we can not say that we are free. Can prisoners be ever happy?

Why Aren't We Fighting?

Why Aren't We Fighting?

Prison Meditation Courses in India

The practice of Vipassana meditation in a correctional environment was first tried in Jaipur, India in 1975. Despite three successful courses, one for police officers and two for prisoners, no further prison courses were taught for almost 18 years.

In March 1993, Kiran Bedi – a dynamic and tough lady cop – became Inspector General of the Tihar Jail in New Delhi. In her search for a technique of rehabilitation that would not only prepare her inmates for a successful return to society but also render the prison environment more peaceful and harmonious, she learned about Vipassana and its earlier experimentation in Indian prisons. Thus started the biggest humanitarian experiment in one of the largest prisons of the world – Tihar.

Meditating Together is Bliss!

Meditating Together is Bliss!

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Vipassana Meditation in Tihar Jail, Delhi

With about 10,000 inmates, Tihar is one of the largest prisons in Asia. The prison campus covers several hundred acres at a suburban location in New Delhi. To better manage such a large population of prisoners, Tihar is divided into four separate jails. Inmates from all four jails participated in the April course.

The first ten day Vipassana meditation course at Tihar was held in late November 1993 in which 96 prisoners and 23 jail staff participated. The next course was held in January 1994 when 300 prisoners joined the course.

Three months later (April 1994) history was created – 1003 male prisoners joined the meditation retreat – the largest ever Vipassana meditation courses held in modern times. Simultaneously, a separate Vipassana course for female prisoners was organized at another location within the prison boundary, attended by 49 inmates. The courses were assisted by some trained volunteers from outside the prison, and about 60 "old student" – prisoners who learned meditation in recent 2 courses.

After the success of the Tihar courses, the Ministry of Home Affairs called a meeting of the Inspectors General of Prisons from all over India, and a proposal was adopted to introduce Vipassana as a reform measure in all the prisons in the country. Vipassana is now recognized as an effective method for reforming prisoners.

We meditate so that we can create our own unique living space that nothing and no one can disturb.

We meditate so that we can create our own unique living space that nothing and no one can disturb.

Let us Meditate Together

Let us Meditate Together

Why really Talk?

Why really Talk?

The First Permanent Meditation Center Inside A Prison!!

The courses paved the way for the opening of the first permanent center for the practice of Vipassana in a prison. After the final meditation on April 15, 1994 the assembly of about 1,100 students, jail staff and guests remained to witness the inauguration of the new mediation Center created by the Government of India in Jail No. 4. Within three weeks, the Tihar Center began to hold two ten-day courses per month for students from all four jails. The roots of the silent reform are now 15 years old and still growing.

Today there is not only a permanent meditation center within the walls of Tihar Jail, but also in several other Indian prisons, at which regular Vipassana courses are conducted. In addition, courses for police cadets are regularly held at the Police Training College in New Delhi. Following the establishment of this technique in the prisons of India, Vipassana courses have been successfully organized in the prison facilities of Taiwan as well as the United States. They are also being currently considered by many other countries as a program to try and stem the rising tide of recidivism throughout the world.

You may like to read an account of how the meditation course at Tihar Jail became a reality.

Working on My Own Salvation

Working on My Own Salvation

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A Heart Touching Film

"Doing Time, Doing Vipassana"

- A Film That can Leave You Dumb-founded

The news of Tihar experiment soon spread worldwide that brought Israeli film makers to India. They explored the events, which brought Vipassana meditation to Tihar prison. They also conducted extensive interviews with jail officials, including the super-cop Kiran Bedi, and inmates at many different prisons who participated in the courses. The result of their efforts was an extremely powerful 52-minute documentary film entitled – Doing Time, Doing Vipassana.

The film describes the way in which Vipassana has been successfully used within the Indian prison system to dramatically change the behaviour and attitude of the inmates and jailers who participated in the courses and, thereby, improve the entire atmosphere of the prisons.

Meditation is the way and Goal as well.

Meditation is the way and Goal as well.

The Vipassana Prison Trust

The Vipassana prison trust is a volunteer organization that offers correctional managers and policy makers a way to access this practical method to induce positive changes in the inmates’ behavior. It offers readily accessible information and material on Vipassana meditation courses offered within institutions as well as in the community.

During last 25 years Vipassana meditation courses have been organized in prisons located in India, Israel, Mongolia, New Zealand, Taiwan, Thailand, United Kingdom, Myanmar, and United States. Since all courses are 10 day long and residential in nature, they are conducted within the walls of the correction center. Conducting teachers and volunteers who manage the course also live with the participants for the entire duration of the course.

What Inmates Say

“While I was here… I was not happy and did not want to be here, obviously. But now I can look back on it with nothing but gratitude… It has totally changed my life.”

- A Former Inmate
North Rehabilitation facility
King County, Washington

“I had been drunk all my life before taking the first Vipassana course at NRF in 1997 Since then, I have not had a fight, not a drink. I have a family life. My family appreciates it so much.”

- Former Inmate
North Rehabilitation Facility
King County, Washington

“I’m able to deal with situations more calmly than before because now, I can see everything in a better perspective… Vipassana can make such a difference in the collective minds of the men here.”

- Inmate
W.E. Donaldson Correctional
Facility, Alabama

Prison Courses in United States

Vipassana meditation courses have been organized in North American correctional facilities since 1997, with measurable success in lowering recidivism rates and improving inmate behavior and coping skills. The courses are offered in 10-day residential courses by experienced volunteer teachers and course assistants, and are completely free of charge or compensation of any kind. Vipassana courses have been held in three U.S. correctional facilities:

  • The W.E. Donaldson Correctional Facility, a level 6 maximum-security state prison in Bessemer, Alabama, near Birmingham;
  • The San Francisco Jail; and
  • The North Rehabilitation Facility (N.R.F.), which was minimum-security facility of the King County jail system in Seattle, Washington.

Lucia Meijer, the administrator of N.R.F., has played a key role in introducing the courses into North America prisons. After Lucia attended one of the 10 day courses herself at the Northwest Vipassana Center, she and her staff had to overcame many administrative, security, and facilities related hurdles to arrange the first course for men in November 1997. Since than several courses for both men and women have been conducted at N.R.F. with very positive results.

Dhamma Brothers Working on Their Freedom

Dhamma Brothers Working on Their Freedom

“In silence, the mind naturally turns within to observe its own nature.”

– Rick Smith, Dhamma Brother

More Films on Effects of Meditation on Inmates

One of these courses, conducted for women inmates at N.R.F., is also the subject of a documentary film entitled "Changing From Inside" which deals with the concerns of the administrative and security staffs within correction facilities.

Released in 2007, The Dhamma Brothers is a documentary film on prison meditation program at Donaldson Correctional Facility in Bessemer, Alabama.

The film concentrates on four inmates, all convicted of murder. It also includes reenactments of the inmates’ crimes, interviews of guards, prison officials, and local residents. The film was directed by Jenny Philips, a cultural anthropologist and psychotherapist, Andrew Kukura, a documentary filmmaker, and Anne Marie Stein, a film-school administrator.

Philips has also releasing a book, titled: Letters from the Dhamma Brothers: Meditation Behind Bars, in late 2008 based on follow-up letters with the inmates.

This wonderful book and the DVDs of all the films mentioned above are available in US at the Pariyatti Bookstore.

Click this link for a worldwide list of Non-US Retailers.

A Message of Sanity to the Insane World


Goodpal (author) on April 25, 2013:

Yes, Kiran Bedi is simply an adorable personality. The Vipassana Meditation camps all over the world are transforming people. I have made personal friends with ex convicts who are now leading exemplary lives. Mindfulness meditation is a path of mental purification, so is universal. Revival of this meditation by Mr Goenka after learning it in Myanmar is an extraordinary feat in today's material and consumer oriented lifestyle. Today there are hundreds of meditation centers around the world teaching the art of self purification to anyone who comes forward to learn. All the ethics and morality that has remained in sermons for ages everywhere can be clearly seen in the conducts of dedicated meditators.

Better Emotions on April 25, 2013:

It was a pleasure reading this article. I am quite familiar with the work of Kiran Bedi in Tihar Jail so it was good to read a good article about her efforts. Indeed, she has been one of the strongest proponents of rehabilitation of prisoners and her efforts have really paid off for many people.

Of course, meditation or for that matter any kind of self-improvement effort never goes in vain. It opens up closed doors for you and sets you on a path of tolerance, patience and peace. This is something which is really required in the world these days where people discuss about hatred and violence a lot. If only love and peace could get the attention of people as much as violence and hatred does.

Thanks for sharing this information on hubpages!

Goodpal (author) on July 07, 2011:

Thanks Dan. It is always a pleasure to discover caring people like you. Please keep sharing

Daniel Peebles on July 07, 2011:

Great article. Gives me goose-bumps. I am sharing it on facebook!

Goodpal (author) on June 28, 2011:

You have rightly said, change has to start from self.

However, there are some business houses as well as some schools and colleges that encourage their employees and students to regularly meditate. If such steps are implemented at global level, soon the societies would become peaceful and all the crime and prisons would disappear.

Luxmih Eve-Lyn Forbes from Fort Pierce, Florida on June 28, 2011:

I totally concur! What I am learning is that to make the world a better place I have to take personal responsibility and make me better for the world.

Goodpal (author) on June 27, 2011:

Thanks dafreesan and LuxmiH.

Our planet has too much negative vibrations of hate, ill-will, and violence. All of it comes from people who also have the capacity to become truly "human" and show compassion, love and goodwill towards others. In my personal experience, the only way to make the world better is by making its people better. That is only possible through personal efforts and selfless guidance of pure-hearted teachers.

We are all prisoners of consumerism and greed today; human life has a much wider and more pious meaning than that. Let us help each other discover that, whether through meditation or prayers.

Thanks for sharing.

Luxmih Eve-Lyn Forbes from Fort Pierce, Florida on June 27, 2011:

I was delighted to read this hub, because I am all for Freedom and so many of us ARE in self imposed prisons from limiting beliefs etc. I have also taught workshops in maximum security prisons in the USA, so reading about the meditation classes in prisons in India is such exciting news!! Thanks for this wonderful HUB! It gives such hope.

dafreesan from India on June 08, 2011:

great hub, Kiran Bedi bring revolution in Indian jails, she transformed thousand of lives...I salute her!...Jai Hind!

Goodpal (author) on August 12, 2010:

Thanks Jewels and Livingfood,

It is rare to hear voice of sanity at the world level from people whose words are same as their deeds. Why not we all learn to be good humans right inside the heart -- heaven will descend on this planet in no time.

Yes, we are all prisoners of our own negativities and compulsive habits. Look at the terrorists, they are examples of what happens when humans are imprisoned inside the impregnable walls of hatred against other fellow humans.

Crimes, prisons, and violence will disappear the moment we all learn to cleans our minds and let go of hatred and ill-will.

A good way to measure national development would be Gross National Defilement(GNF) rather than GDP. The lower the GNF the more developed the country would be!

UN and world leaders should think about it. What do you say?

Don't you think it would be nice if we all unite and help each other get free from the mental defilements and create a real FREE society?

LivingFood on August 11, 2010:

I love your first paragraph! We are prisoners, but yet we are free...well said!

Jewels from Australia on August 11, 2010:

I've said many times that to introduce meditation into the prison system is of great importance. It is wonderful to see your hub cover this. Great speech to the United Nations, warmly received by many of course.

I have my own teacher and have undertaken many long term solo meditations. They are life changing.

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