Did you know that women have become the fastest-growing segment of the incarcerated population? I wasn’t aware of this fact nor did I understand that more than two-thirds of women incarcerated in the U.S. have a mental illness. Practicing mindfulness in prison can help inmates cope with the stress they encounter every day.
I am a volunteer at York Correctional Institution, Connecticut’s only prison for women. My training as both an MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) teacher and spiritual counselor have prepared me for this work. What I’ve learned so far is that women are constantly coming and going so it’s difficult for me to have a lasting impact.
I’ve come up with an idea the counselors love. Tonight, the eve of July 4th, I’m here to kick off a Mindfulness Champion program designed to empower inmates to support one another. I’m wearing no makeup and my hair is in a high bun. I consciously choose to wear my Punjammies lounge pants from Sudara. Baggy clothing helps me fit in and I want to wear that which supports my intention.
I arrive at the gate and present my ID. I advance to the first building and exchange my driver’s license for a temporary badge. I am escorted to another building to sign in. Then I proceed to the actual building where the women are. This takes about 30 minutes.
I meet the counselor on duty. I discover the materials I’ve sent have not been printed. The printer isn’t working so we do not have enough copies for all the participants. I feel a wave of panic as I quickly come up with a new plan. We head to the gathering room where 36 women have signed up for my program.
I invite the women to share their experience with mindfulness. Their comments provide a springboard to teach this practice. Then I lead a meditation. We form a connection in the moment that is palpable to us all. I ask if anyone would like to lead a meditation. Ten brave hands go up. I provide them with a meditation script and ask the women to form small groups. The leaders quietly deliver their scripts while the members of their groups follow along.
I’ve been teaching mindfulness for over 20 years and this is perhaps the most precious of my experiences. They are heartfully engaged, open, and trusting this process. I am the lucky one who stands as witness to this powerful moment in which I believe growth is possible. I thank the women and praise them. They are clapping and smiling. The room is filled with love.
May you do more of whatever it is that provides you with a sense of spiritual well-being.