It’s been said that the life of an inmate is one where they are never alone, but nevertheless, suffer unbearable loneliness. Obviously, society has a moral imperative to keep innocent people safe by removing those who pose risks to others. But must we achieve that end by dehumanizing people who already lack options and, often, self-esteem?

People doing time have long availed themselves of religious services, but while faith comforts many, most still need to learn effective coping methods for dealing with anger and negative emotions. Prince Charles’ charitable foundation, The Prince’s Foundation, now devotes funding to teach incarcerated young people the ancient arts of yoga and meditation. The hope is that by teaching inmates alternative pathways to inner peace, they will build the self-esteem and self-control necessary to refrain from further criminal behavior.

Changing Public Perception of Prisoners

Prisoners have historically faced a hard row to hoe after release. Even getting a ride to the nearest bus station proves burdensome. Then, they face the daunting task of finding food, shelter and work, a proposition far easier said than done — especially for inmates who lack a familial support system.

Many employers refuse to hire those who have served time, and those who do often confine inmates to low-paid labor. This can make finding suitable housing and affording necessities difficult, leading to increased recidivism, as many feel they have no choice but to return to a life of crime to survive. Many people today believe we need to do more to reintegrate prisoners into society and give them a real opportunity to start over.

How Yoga and Meditation Can Help Offenders

Many of those who are incarcerated have witnessed violence as a primary method of communication. Some grew up in extremely abusive households and had no clear role models to emulate. Some only know a life on the street where dog-eat-dog philosophy reigns supreme.

Yoga and meditation can teach inmates how to react to stressful life events with more positive measures. The practices focus upon building genuine awareness, not an escape from life’s travails. Research even shows that meditation can create new neural networks in our brains, often leading to better self-awareness and temperament.

Yoga and meditation also focus on the intimate connections we all share. The very meaning of the word “yoga” stems from the ancient Sanskrit word for “union.” Many practitioners who do yoga for flexibility training interpret this as meaning a union between the breath and the body. However, most yogis focus more upon the connection the practice lets human beings feel with others.

Since criminals often dehumanize their victims when committing crimes against them, yoga can reduce recidivism by teaching better coping mechanisms and the idea that other people are people, too. Yoga could reduce the violent tendencies of criminals who deem others as inferior and potentially also decrease violence between warring factions behind bars.

What the Prince’s Foundation Offers

The grant from the Prince’s Foundation will help pay for services to teach younger prisoners in the art of meditative yoga. The focus on young prisoners comes with the hope that upon their release, they will face an easier reintegration process into mainstream society. Yoga heals the body and simultaneously helps to alleviate depression and anxiety, which people who are serving time or who were recently released from prison often experience.

This spiritual pathway also offers inmates approaching release a potential career moving forward. Those prisoners who embrace the practice can pursue instructor certification, which costs relatively little when compared to other fields of study. Certified instructors can strike out by commencing their own classes, which they can offer at fitness facilities, health spas and vacation destinations geared toward natural healing. Many yoga instructors earn a tidy sum when compared to other entry-level positions.

Working Toward a More Humane Prison System

While punishing wrongdoers remains one important goal of law enforcement, failing to provide inmates with effective coping tools and practical skills they can continue to utilize after their release will keep recidivism rates high. Society must temper punishment with rehabilitation or pay the price of a revolving prison door.

Although yoga and meditation may not solve all the problems of former prisoners returning to societal life, it can serve as a vital spiritual resource they can turn to when they feel tempted to return to a life of crime. For that reason, the Prince’s Foundation grant is an extremely worthwhile measure that will serve as a good example for other prisons of what could come from implementing programs like this.

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About Author

Kate Harveston covers social justice and human rights issues. She graduated with a Bachelors in English and minored in Criminal Justice, so she enjoys writing about anything related to the intersections of law, politics and culture. For more of her writing, you can visit her blog, Only Slightly Biased.

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