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Creating Systemic Change in Prisons Through Secular Breathwork with Gabriella Savelli

Updated: Mar 26

In this episode, Gabriella Savelli speaks with cohost Fleet Maull on her work with the International Association for Human Values.

  • The International Association of Human Values (IAHV) program-reducing offender recidivism

  • The impact of secular breathwork on prisoners and prison staff

  • Actualizing networks of programs with different modalities for positive systemic change

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Gabriella Savelli became Director of the IAHV Prison Program (Stress Management & Rehabilitation Training) in 2009. She is a prison silence course pioneer, and has taught IAHV courses to thousands nationwide, as well as internationally. In 2016, she won the Washington DC DOC “Making a Difference” George Strawn Award, and in 2018 Gabriella became the International Coordinator. She served on the Board of SELA Red Cross, and is a graduate of the Office of Victim’s Assistance Leadership Program. Prior to working with IAHV, Gabriella graduated Magna Cum Laude from Edinboro University, and served as a Public Welfare caseworker for 10 years.


Creating Systemic Change in Prisons Through Secular Breathwork with Gabriella Savelli


Fleet Maull: 

Hi! Welcome to another session here on the Prison Mindfulness Summit. My name is Fleet Maull, your co-host for this session. I am really thrilled to be here today with Gabriella Savelli. How are you, Gabriella? 


Gabriella Savelli: 

Great. Thank you, Dr. Maull. 


Fleet Maull: 

Well, welcome to our summit. You can just call me Fleet, please. We're excited to have you. The work that your organization has been doing for so many years is such a really important part of the prison meditation, prison mindfulness landscape. I'm going to share your bio with our audience so they're familiar with your background, and then we'll jump right into the conversation, okay? 


Gabriella Savelli: 

[Smiles and raises two thumbs up] 


Fleet Maull: 

Great. Gabriella Savelli became director of the International Association for Human Values Prison program, known as Stress Management Rehabilitation Training, in 2009. For those of you who may be familiar with the Art of Living, this is also connected to that organization known as that name as well. 


Gabriella is a prison silence course pioneer and has taught the IAHV courses to thousands nationwide as well as internationally. In 2016, she won the Washington DC DLC making a difference George Strong Award. In 2018, Gabriella became the international coordinator. She served on the board of the NCLA Red Cross and is a graduate of the Office of Victims Assistance Leadership Program. 


Prior to working with the International Association for human values, Gabriela graduated magna cum laude from Edinboro University and served as public welfare caseworker for 10 years. Were you from Scotland? 


Gabriella Savelli: 

They are actually linked. The Edinboro University is in Pennsylvania, but they are actually linked to the one in Scotland. Not many Americans know that. Thank you. Shout out to Edinboro. 


Fleet Maull: 

Yeah, no, I've been to Edinboro. I didn't know that. It didn't sound like you had much of a Scottish accent. But I was, "Well, maybe you've been here a long time." So Gabriella, let's start with your background. How did you get involved with the Art of Living, the International Association for Human Values Prison Program in general, and then how did you end up getting involved with the prison work? 


Gabriella Savelli: 

Oh, I was really lucky. I had a brother who was interested in all types of spirituality. I'm from a very small town in the United States. So Erie, Pennsylvania. I spent most of my childhood in Somerset, Pennsylvania, where our address was already five. So they don't even have house numbers, Fleet, because they don't need them. There are only so few houses. But my brother always was interested both scientifically about what's behind things and spiritually, like, what is up with this energy? Where does it go? I think he read the Bible three times. He's read as much in the Koran as he could get his hands on. Also, the Torah. 


He had told me, I remember I was a kid, probably, I think maybe, eating cornflakes in front of the electric company. He'd be like, "There's this thing called a Kumbh Mela." And I'd be like, " Kumbh Mela." cool the mail. And so, he saw in a magazine something about an Indian saint. And from where we were raised, a saint is dead, but apparently, saints could be living also. So he went to see Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. At that time, his title was His Holiness. And now he goes by Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. 


So, my brother went, and he came back and said to me, "You know what, I like this guy. I like everything he says, and he has a light around him. I'm going to do his program." So he did it. He came back to me, and he said, "You know, you should do this. This is like putting your mind in a spin cycle and spinning out negativity and thoughts." I was like, "What?" He's like, "Yeah." It's like this pranayama and meditation. I'm like, what? That's how I got to know about it. 


And then, yeah, just one day, I think it was four years later, I was sitting in my welfare caseworker module. I was just, like, just down. I'm down. And I thought, "Oh, man. What am I going to do?" I can't eat one more thing or talk to one more person or exercise one more time. And then something came to me and said, "It's your own thoughts making you miserable." Fleet, I felt like I had shocked myself. Like, "What? No, it isn't. It's not my own thoughts." That's like your own thoughts. 


And so, I just did a little test on myself. So I thought something happy because I have a lot of stuff happening. Like, what if that wasn't happening? Like, I feel happy. What was that thing? My brother talked about spinning out negative thoughts. So, I had to drive to the far-off town in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and take the program there. And they told me to practice every day, and yeah. 


Fleet Maull: 

Here we are. 


Gabriella Savelli: 

Yeah. Somehow or another, that's how the path started. And then, it seemed to have its own kind of momentum. 


Fleet Maull: 

I don't know for sure, but I think a lot of the people in our audience for this summit are asking, "Are you involved in secular mindfulness? Or maybe have a kind of Buddhist meditation background." And so I don't know how many people know of Sri Ravi Shankar's work, but he's truly a living saint and a global figure, a global Peacemaker. 


I mean, his work is so extensive. He's been lauded and won awards all around the world for his peacemaking work and humanitarian work. I mean, he really is a global humanitarian and peacemaker and does amazing work. I mean, his scale is phenomenal. If people want to kind of look into his organization, they are living. It's really at a phenomenal scale. The amount of good work that he does around the world, as well as being a spiritual teacher, yogi, and meditation teacher. 


So this is a quote that's on your website. "Expand your vision and see that inside every culprit, there is a victim crying for help. That person is also a victim of ignorance, small-mindedness, and lack of awareness. It's the stress, the lack of broad vision about life, the lack of understanding, and bad communication that leads to violence in society." So, having that inner view that, you know, when people get in trouble, it's really they've been set up by the conditions of their life, the trauma in their life, and they just haven't been introduced to that idea of like, you stumbled into that, wow, it's my thoughts that are making me angry. 


It's not to say there aren't causes and conditions, but we can start to take control of how we think about those causes and conditions, right, and that can change everything for us. And, of course, that's a long path. And often, it's not an easy path. Sometimes easy in a moment of flashes of insight. But, you know, it's really wonderful that people who might not otherwise see those possibilities are able to see those possibilities because of the work you and so many others bring into our criminal justice system, where people have almost been programed by the conditions of their lives and up there, but they can turn it around. If they get the right information and some simple tools and practices, anyone can begin to turn their lives around. That's a tremendous message of hope. 


So, your program. I knew way back when I shared we were talking a little bit before our work with Prison Dharma Network. We connected with Tom Duffy of the Prison Smart Program probably 20 years ago. And so, I think your program now is called Stress Management Rehabilitation Training. Is that the official name? And then, I also read in your bio that you lead a Silence Program. Tell us a bit about your programs, maybe a little bit about how they evolved, where they are, and what's going on. Tell us a little bit about it so people can be familiar with the prison work done by the International Association for Human Values. 


Gabriella Savelli: 

Sounds good. You're exactly right. You're on point. I'm so glad you read that quote. I think that was something that really hit me. As a welfare caseworker, people would come right to my desk out of prison and jail because they had nothing. Like they literally had nothing, so they would come to my desk and say, "Oh, we need something." That really hit me when I read that quote. 


So, "Hmm." Even if we give people things, it's only from the outside. You and I were talking about that. And what is it? I would see these same people who really wanted change like they had this window of change. I'd see them again six months later at my desk, and it was like that window had shut. So I'm a practical person. I'm like, "How can we capitalize this? How can we open this window?" 


So the program was actually Prison Smart in 1992. And you're correct. Tom Duffy was the first teacher that Gurdev sent to Barnstable, Massachusetts Jail. And it was a struggle. As we talked about, things have changed a bit. It was a bigger struggle back in the day, 30 years ago, to get people to cognize. "Hey, meditation and holistic things can help people calm themselves." They're like, "What?" So, Tom Duffy read it up until '92 to 2005, and then it had a bit of a hiatus. So from Barnstaple, it started to spread across the world. 


I got involved after Hurricane Katrina. I had gone down there for stress trauma relief to help people. The jails are all intense, so I had easy access to go in. I said, "Okay. These breathing techniques have changed my life. They're changing the lives of the people I'm teaching out here. I mean, you know, see and heard about Prison Smart when it was more active and went in, and wow, it's like, the difference between doing it in the community and doing it in corrections was, how can I explain it? 


It was palatable. It's like this, Fleet. In the room you're in, let's suppose you light a candle. That'd be so cool, right? Now, let's suppose that the room you're in is pitch black, and you light that same candle. How dramatic would that be, right? And that's what I saw when we were doing the Kriya, Sudarshan Kriya, which is the main technique for the prison program. So I just started to do it. You know, every waking minute when I wasn't doing my welfare caseworker, and so within a year in total. 


"Do you want to lead this program?" "Well, yeah, okay. Sure. Sure." Because I know I got the commitment. But also, I get to work like the stellar team of volunteer teachers all across the nation in the world. So from there, it has grown to this point here. Now, 30 years later, we've been to 60 countries. The impact is almost 800,000 individuals. And as you were saying, all strata. 


So obviously, anybody who is serving some time in a jail or prison, but also juvenile detention centers, halfway houses, also staff at all levels, from correctional officers, up to warden and superintendents, and then the legal staff that's involved, because as we were saying together, just before we turn to this one that first of all, it's just the humane thing to do. Everybody's so overly impacted by stress and that system, right? 


But also, if you want to have a cultural shift, we have to have all the touch points of people's feelings. An ability to be calm, be centered, to see other points of view, to not be aggressive and frustrated and tired all the time. So this is the challenge for all of us. So that is basically the end. Do you want me to tell you about the program? Is that what you want? 


Fleet Maull: 

Yeah. You mentioned that the main practice you offer is a Sudarshan Kriya; if you could tell us a little about that? I don't know if that's a pranayama practice or meditation practice. But tell us about the program and what the program actually is that you bring in.

 

Gabriella Savelli: 

Okay, great. Thank you. We have cognitive-behavioral aspects of it. We have movements in yoga, but the crown jewel of our program really would be Sudarshan Kriya and the whole practice of pranayama leading up to it. So, pranayamas, as you know, is warehousing air within your system in a particular way, using the breath, and then Kriya means purifying action. That's what a Kriya is. So Sudarshan Kriya is a particular kind of Kriya. 


And so, why the emphasis on this? So first of all, we just think about what all people in a body have in common in the grossest form. Everybody, everywhere, at all times. This is one of the things they have in common. And you know what it is? Everybody breathes. Fleet, it's so good. Yes, everybody breathes. 


And as we know from science, the breath is linked to your mind and your emotions. So there's a particular rhythm of breath for every emotion. Right? So just thinking about how you breathe when you're angry, right? I don't know if you remember the last time you were angry, Fleet. Right? In general, you could see someone being angry. 


Fleet Maull: 

Not so long ago. 


Gabriella Savelli: 

In this day and age, I think we are all. Right? Exactly. Even Buddha would be like, "Come on." at any rate. So, this link between the rhythm of breath and emotions, it's obvious. What isn't obvious is how you can shift it. And this is the starting point. Just realized your breath is going all the time, but you can also change your breath, right? Change your rhythm. Just even right now. Just simply taking a deep breath in and out. You already would feel a shift, right? 


Fleet Maull: 

Definitely. 


Gabriella Savelli: 

Exactly. This is the basis of the program. I really appreciated something about you, Fleet. Anybody who Google's you, for some reason, at least when I googled you, the first thing that comes up says you were a student and then names your teacher. Such a beautiful thing. And for me, that's very important. 


Fleet Maull: 

I'm glad that comes up rather than the wanted poster. 


Gabriella Savelli: 

The wanted poster now is a different kind of wanted poster, for sure. You are wanted but in a definite big way. I'm a pretty critical person. I'm just being honest. I've studied Sri Sri Ravi Shankar now for a couple of decades. I could say that, like you said, the reach of his programs and his techniques, and his message is far and all-inclusive. And it turns out everybody has the ability to feel that connection to the source that, you know, the electricity in your room with and separate from the electricity in my room. It's not a far reach to realize this. 


And so learning from Gurudev and then seeing that those techniques really are effective in a very unique way is what I've seen firsthand and what I've been able to help all of our teachers keep fidelity to. The pranayama and, of course, the Kriya, that program, it really, honestly is something I've seen help anybody blossom. I know a lot of times, things get associated with religion or spirituality, but literally, Fleet, as you know, because you've seen in prisons and jails, it is a wide range of religious practices. Some I've never even heard of. And also, people are just atheists. 


As long as they're breathing, techniques and the program do work to have them be able to release trauma, release stress, and have an experience of calm-centeredness. And if people do have a religion or spiritual pathway, it does seem to enhance it very much. We do have features that are Buddhists. I know you are Buddhists, but, you know, name another religion, and I'm sure we'll have a nun, a Rabbi, etcetera. My friend, who was an atheist, started, and he was heading the prison program in India after a while. 


Fleet Maull: 

Wow. Yeah, it was certainly my experience when I was doing my time with our meditation group in the chapel, which was ostensibly a Buddhist meditation group, but it was completely open. Over the many years I was there, we probably only had a couple of people actually consider themselves Buddhists. But there were Christians and Jews, and there were Muslims, and Rastafarians, and all kinds of folks that came just because they liked the quiet and the settled nature of the practice. They found it really helped them to begin to work with their mind and work with their breath and so forth. 


A lot of the kind of secular mindfulness practice is basic mindfulness and mindfulness of breath. And those practices, the breath is an anchor for awareness, but we don't manipulate your breath. You just let the breath be. Now, in the programs that we do with correctional officers, we teach breath regulation techniques. Simple things like straw breathing, box breathing, and 478 breathing, which come from pranayama. We also introduce those in some of our prison programs. These are simple self-regulation techniques. 


So, with the Sudarshan Kriya, it's more than just breath awareness, right? It involves specific pranayama exercises. It involves breath retention. And then, we also teach with that. Does that combined with any meditation where you're just kind of being with developing breath awareness, being with their breath, but just letting the breath be as it is? I'm just curious about how you blend meditation and specific pranayama techniques and so forth. 


Gabriella Savelli: 

Those are really intelligent questions. I'm not just saying that. That really shows your depth of knowledge. So there's a saying, "You can't learn archery on the battlefield." Right? On the one hand, it's brilliant to teach and learn and practice techniques when things are happening. But there is a value to having a practice that you do before you enter the battlefield. 


And believe me, Fleet, before I started along this path, and just said, "Okay, I'll do this every day." The only thing I did every day was basically brushing my teeth. That's it. I don't know about most Americans, but for me, it wasn't like a thing. It was like, Sunday was a day where you would go to a place and do some prayer and stuff, but daily practice wasn't part of my repertoire. And so, to go from zero to learning something and then saying, "Okay, I'm going to practice this daily and see." You can see the effects are cumulative. 


In our case, I think I forgot to tell you. Prison Smart was an acronym for stress management and rehabilitation training. It seems a brilliant name, but once we started to get worldwide, certain countries thought we were trying to make smarter criminals or something. Then, they would actually say that. "Oh, so you want to make them smarter?" So for us, we said, "Okay. We'll just call it the prison program." And that's why we brand it away. 


In the United States, it's under IAHV (International Association for Human Values) in partnership with Art of Living. In other countries, it's more one or the other. I mean, worldwide, we're leaning more towards just calling it The Art of Living, to be honest. I think that's actually fairly accurate because of the idea that it's just like a system. 


Fleet Maull: 

That's a great name. 

Gabriella Savelli: 

Exactly. Because as someone who lives life as an art, you immediately recognize it. Yeah, that's not the Hokey Pokey that it's all about. That's what it's all about, to really see that existence, everyone exists, but to actually live is an art. And it does take some practice, and it takes good guidance, guidance under a good teacher. 


So yeah, so if you answered, the Kriya is a practice that you do a minimum of one time, do pranayama and the Kriya one time a day, and it's really recommended to sit for meditation afterward. So, as you know, meditation is the door. Once you open that door and lock the door, it's a wonder to another dimension of living that's not available if all your senses are going outwards all the time. You have five senses going outward all the time, right? And never going inward peacefully, then you never get to experience an aspect that's available to you as your birthright, like connection and peace. Some would even say blissful. 


Fleet Maull: 

When you bring your prison program into various jails and prisons in the US and around the world, do you present it pretty much as a kind of secular program? Do you use languages like pranayama and Kriya in a program? I'm just curious about that because, in prison work, I think faith-based work is really important. 


We still promote all the Dharma base work, not just Buddhist, but any kind of contemplative tradition that's bringing Christian contemplative prayer, whatever it is, and there are a certain number of prisons that will access that. But then we also have really focused as well in secular programming. Because if you want to mainstream it, or get it into a drug and alcohol treatment program, or have it become part of a general rehabilitation program, or have it offered in places in prisons and jails that a lot of prisoners and big prisoners just won't go to the chapel, right? But they might go to a program in the Education Department, right? 


And so, yeah. That whole issue of how we present things, the core practices are the core practices, but how we present things can make a difference. I'm just curious about what your experience has been with your programs and how you do it. 


Gabriella Savelli: 

Yeah, that's an important question to all of us who are working within corrections because there is such a wide range of beliefs and attitudes. We want everyone to be able to experience self-soothing and that feeling of peace and calmness that is only available in yourself. Anyways, we are secular. During the course itself, we usually go in as stress management. 


I mean, we have literally reams and reams of scientific evidence showing how the practices do lower stress, like the cortisol levels, the lactate levels are getting normalized. Sleep is improved from day one when people do our program, which is a big deal if you've ever missed sleep for a while. You don't even want to be around that person very much. They can't see clearly. They can't think clearly. They're just reactive, if they can react at all. 


So, this is universal. In fact, I would just ask people. I have done this. I've asked people when we go into corrections. I talked and presented at the American Correctional Association, American Jail Association, and National Health Correctional. 


Fleet Maull: 

National Commission on Healthcare and Corrections. 


Gabriella Savelli: 

Exactly. Just to check in and this will ask, "Who do you know in corrections? Who's stressed? Is it the judges? Is it the wardens? Is it the COs?" You know the answer to that, right? 


Fleet Maull: 

Everybody. 


Gabriella Savelli: 

Everybody. So then the question becomes, do you want to look into something you could do with your stress management that requires some self-discipline? And that's the bottom line there. There's a discipline that comes from the outside. And then there's a discipline that you put on yourself. And that's what we're talking about here. That's definitely secular. 


And now, as far as verbiage, I do have in places of the world where they don't use the Sanskrit terminology of Pranayama and Kriya. Personally, and I personally have taught face-to-face, I don't know, over 5000 people from minimum security that are literally like there are no fences and people just wander off and they have to go drive them back, like that type of a camp, kind of an atmosphere to ad seg, you know, administrative segregation.

 

I think they call that supermax or if it's above supermax, but people are coming to me in chains. Their feet are chained together. Their arms too. And then they're chained to a chair, and there's a glass wall with a shotgun on the other side. And from all of those levels of people coming to me, I'll just say to them, "Look, people don't want you to learn the Sanskrit term. Well, I'm going to tell you." I mean, not all religions. You know what I mean? 


Fleet Maull: 

You don't think it's so much an issue with the incarcerated. I think when we're offering programs for staff, we have to be a little more careful there. There might be, "Kriya?" Once you get to buy in, you know, they learn more about who you are. You can be a little looser with that kind of stuff, but I think, in general, my experience of our fellow human beings who find themselves incarcerated, but generally very curious and tend to be very eclectic. 


I've even had many situations where I've known, like, there's been a number of different groups offering meditation programs in a given prison, right, from different Buddhist traditions, and maybe a yoga tradition, and this tradition. They're all kind of like being careful about presenting their thing the way it's supposed to be. This is not that. This is this. This is different. But the prisoners are like, "We don't care. We're just exploring it all." Right? They're much less into that kind of, you know, making those distinctions. They just want to come and do a good program. Right? 


I think, in general, people who are incarcerated, maybe it's because you're so limited where you have access to, you're just kind of hungry, and you tend to be eclectic and open and curious. Right? So yeah, I don't imagine, for the most part, it would be a problem with the incarcerated, but I sometimes think with staff, I might not lead with a word like Kriya. 


Gabriella Savelli: 

I agree. I think—not I think. I've seen it. We did a program at a prison where they had a riot, and the staff was extremely stressed. They were tougher than anybody who was in there serving. It's 100% tougher. Like really, really tough to deal with. I remember sitting in my car in between sessions that I was doing back-to-back sessions, and I was just like, "Oh, my goodness. Are we getting through to these people, or what?" 


I saw this guy walking fast in an officer uniform. I just, like, [waving her hand]. He comes over. "Hi!" I'm like, you know, friendly. "How are you?" He's like, "Great. I lost 36 pounds. I'm doing so great." I'm like, "Oh, wow. How'd you do that?" He's like, "From your program." 


Fleet Maull: 

That's great. 


Gabriella Savelli: 

Fleet, I don't recognize him. He said when he was doing the program, he was working 16 hours a day. And he was so stressed. He had no idea how stressed he was until he felt that relief after we did the whole breathing routine and you rested. And then he's like, "I've done it on my own every day since." He's like, "I just took a test to be corporal, and I not only aced it, I was almost a minute under time." And he's like, "And I'm 56 years old!" He's like, "You need to tell everybody about this program." 


For me, what I learned is exactly what you're saying. With the staff, let's make this as familiar as possible and walk you through it. I don't even say this, but what you're suggesting is don't take anything that they're outwardly showing as to be the case of what's actually an indication of what they're actually going through inside. 


Fleet Maull: 

Absolutely. In fact, once the door opens. Our experience is the corrections professionals, and other public safety officers are just soaking it up like a sponge. I've taught in many places around the world. More on the outside, where people have kind of been-there-done-that, what do you get? I mean, because they've seen a million programs. But you know, I love teaching corrections with public safety professionals because they're just soaking it up. They're not jaded about it. 


They are like, "Oh, my goodness. I'm sleeping for the first time in my career." "Oh, my goodness. My relationship is changing with my kids." "Oh, my goodness." They really soak it up, and you're just giving them simple tools. I'm really happy to hear that your program really leads with the breath work because although, you know, I'm a firm believer in the long-term benefits of basic mindfulness awareness, meditation, and time spent on the cushion. 


And, you know, that really deep contemplative experience, but at the same time, there are simple breath regulation techniques that just work instantly. Like, you can give somebody an experience, and in five minutes, they go, "Oh, my goodness." They had an experience of actually regulating their own nervous system instead of being regulated by everybody but them, right? That's life-changing. In a minute, right? So there are some of these simple breath regulation tools that can really be transformative for people and put them more in a leadership position with their own life. 


I mean, that's really where it comes down to in life. We all have our childhood conditioning, for better or worse. We all got a mixed bag. And then you have the world around you, and we're kind of living in that interface, you know. And if we don't take ownership to become conscious and regulate our own nervous system, then we're just sitting there getting bounced around. And sometimes that's not the best ride, right? So it really comes down to whether we are willing to start regulating our own autonomic nervous system. So if we're getting too up-regulated, we can bring it back down. And if we're too downregulated, we bring it up. We start to manage our physiology. 


If you can manage your physiology, manage your emotions, and if you manage your emotions, you can manage your behaviors. If you can manage your behaviors, you can manage your life, and it can go in the direction you'd like it to go instead of the direction it may be taking you, especially in a correctional facility. I am just a big believer in giving people simple tools that immediately work. I'm sure that's the case with your pranayama practices. 


Gabriella Savelli: 

The thing about this particular interview that we're doing, I really, really hope a lot of people watch it because one thing COVID has really shown our team and me is teamwork makes the dream work. And the more touchpoints people get the message for something new, then the faster they can accept moving in another direction. And what you said is really important for everyone to understand. 


I mean, our program, there's nothing like it for sure. I mean, this is an ad to every program. But to work with people like you and your program, which is, you know, a very, very high-quality program. For all of us to move together in corrections, it's not a matter of this or that or that. For us, it's a matter of a unified front saying these things will work for sure. You're not meant to be miserable. You're not meant to be angry. You're not meant to repeat anything over and over again, however you label that thing. 


In order for all of us to move forward, you know, in here particularly, we're talking about people that have had a lot of negativity in their past, to be able to feel that openness to different choices, to be able to drop obstacles and stress as they inevitably will come is something for us to say as a team, these are tried and true. These will work. They do take some effort on your part. It's not like taking a pill. But the side effects are much more far-reaching. The potentialities are much broader, and the cost is much lower. 


Fleet Maull: 

Absolutely. That's really the vision and purpose of the summit is really to actualize this network of people doing this kind of work. At Prison Dharma Network, we have 185-190 organizations in the network. We haven't really figured out how to really actualize that as a network. And it's not saying we should all merge, but find ways to collaborate, learn from each other, and become more visible in a world of criminal justice, corrections, and public safety. 


So they realize there's this network out there of all these organizations that bring in a set of tools that are grounded in mindfulness, it's grounded in meditation that involves things like breath work, involves basically emotional intelligence training or cognitive behavioral training. I mean, most of these curriculums and programs have elements of these things of yoga and movement, some kind of dialogue, some social-emotional learning, some cognitive-behavioral work, breath work, meditation. 


We know what works. We know how to help people turn their lives around. There's science behind it. We have the science that says all of this works, right? And yet, we, as a society, we're still like, "Well, we got all the trouble, and we don't know what to do with them, as nothing changes. No, that's like the Dark Ages. We know what works. It's just a matter of making it more visible and coming together to do so. 


I'm curious about what happened to your program during the pandemic. Another reason we're doing this summit is to try to kind of reinvigorate the whole movement coming out of the pandemic because most of the facilities shut their doors to outside volunteers and contractors. We had one facility in Rhode Island where we had one volunteer because she was so well respected there. They kept letting her go in, but she had to test every day. 


Every day she had to test for COVID to go in. But most of the prisons and jails have been shut down. And they're just going to open up again. I don't know what your experience has been. But so, could you talk about what your organization went through during the pandemic and how you may be adjusted to that, and then kind of what's going on now? 


Gabriella Savelli: 

Yeah. I remember Fleet. In March 2020 when I saw, I think, on Twitter, that the World Health Organization had declared COVID-19 a worldwide pandemic. We were scheduled to go into the facilities very next week, and I called my team and said, "We couldn't go in." And they're like, "What do you mean?" I was like, "Now, I'm telling you. This is a risk for the people inside. We can't do it." 


And so, we kind of contacted them. And within two days, everybody contacted us. We're shut down. We're shut down. We're shut down. But yeah, that immediate shock was like, "Okay, I could see what's going to happen here. We have to deal with it." If you'd asked me before COVID if we could do our program online, I'm telling you, I would have said no. I mean, I did send a message to Gurudev and called and asked. "Everything's locked down." Not just in the United States. And I mean every facility in the United States. We have all types of facilities we're dealing with, like I told you, all the security levels, jails, prisons, juvenile detention centers. It was across the board. But worldwide. Worldwide, everybody was locked down. 


And he said, "Yeah, you can put it online." And he said how to do it. And I thought, "Oh, my God, how's this going to work?" Yeah, it's a wonder. It's a wonder. One, I have a little video for Moodle. One, in particular, was very ambitious. We've been trying for eight years to get that program started. It wasn't till COVID hit and their staff did it online with us that they then started a rollout. We had a program where they could do three courses every two hours. So we did in one week 139 offenders, which would normally take us over a year because we can only do batches of 20, right? 15 to 20 when you take people in a room. So that was massive. But then again, we had other prisons, a whole prison system. 


I would meet with everybody in every prison, and they're like, "No, we can't. We can't do it. We don't have the technology." That takes the internet. Right now, you have the internet. I have the internet. We are live together. To get in, especially as the higher security levels go up, they don't have internet available to people, and this is something that is like, how would we do that? What are we hardwired? I think Brazil did it before we did. I can give you some links to some programs that were done in Brazil. And they had to judge our program, and he said we've got to get this in online. 


And so, they were doing programs online every week. They were seeing the offenders every morning and doing the program for two hours every morning. They would do a whole session of yoga, then our Pranayama and Kriya, then meditation. And what they found was that they hadn't been separated because of gangs. The people who wanted to do it were from different gangs. They'd say, "Can you transfer me?" Because I want to do this every day. And there's only one monitor. And if not over there, I can't do it. So they were just shocked that people were automatically like themselves, like mixing and doing fine. 


So for us during COVID, that was where most of my energy was, contacting people saying, "How do we help put them online? I understand we can't come in. I understand that's a risk for everybody. But how do we get some sort of online?" So, what we did for staff was an offer for them to do it during work or after work any way they can. We would schedule programs anytime because, you know, I'm in Washington, DC. I mean, people will be all across the country. We could still come together at the same time in real-time as long as they had a device that could see in here. 


So, we were doing a program for the staff as much as we could and cultivating prisons and jails to do it. So that was the biggest effort during COVID. I'm not sure about you, but this has been surprising to me to see that. What I thought initially was that it was just not a very good idea it turned out to be. And, of course, this is also guidance. So it's not like I made it up, and I made the decision. So it's not that I didn't trust them, but it was just a surprise to me. Like, I've never seen this type of switch. 


Now though, we can reach facilities that are remote. They get that online system up. Yeah, okay. In-person? I would say it's preferred. But if it takes our staff two hours to drive there and two hours to drive out, our staff have jobs and things. It's for six hours out of one day for the program. When here, you know. I mean, we just turned it on. Click. There it is. There's Dr. Fleet Maull. And so, it's an incredible thing that has been developed out of COVID for us. What was your experience? 


Fleet Maull: 

Well, similarly. We were trying to get sent in CDs as they could be put on in-house systems. And then we did get invited into going over a Zoom. We still have a class running at a maximum security male facility in South Carolina. We're offering programs in New York and other places over Zoom.

 

I think we've had an experience not just with our prison programs with our mindfulness teacher training, retreats which we lead, and all kinds of people and lots of different domains in my life. We thought of these things that we thought you could never do well online or via Zoom. Well, you had to do them, so you did it. And you found, whoa, this works. Right? And yeah, we're going back to hybrid models because in-person work is really wonderful and beautiful. There are so many very remote facilities. They build so many in very rural areas. 


I hope it doesn't mean we won't ever get people out there, but you're right. Prison volunteers, for many years, drive six hours to get to a place, and then they say, "Well, your paper is not right." I mean, prison volunteers are such dedicated people, but it has opened things up. And there's also a lot of programming going on now to secure tablets, which is becoming a big educational vehicle that prisons like because it's secure, and there are big companies doing it and so forth. 


That whole landscape is changing, but we were able to reach it. We found out that 36,000 prisoners have access to our Path or Freedom program through a secure tablet program that we had been contacted by. We got our curriculum together to be on there, and we didn't hear much about it. And then suddenly, we got back in touch with them, and 36,000 prisoners have signed up. It's one of the most popular programs. That kind of work is really growing. We'll have the potential meeting, you know, reaching millions, unfortunately, you know, because there are so many people incarcerated. 


But with in-person programming, again, I think it's irreplaceable. I really want to be more really dedicated to it. But how many volunteers can you have? And how many people can get access? So, I think the combination, in some ways, maybe the pandemic has been a blessing. It's opened things up again. So hopefully, we'll have a combination of in-person programming, online Zoom programming, and app stuff that's on secure tablets. In the ideal facility, maybe they have some or all of it right. But yeah, things have really opened up, and it's created a lot of new possibilities. 


Gabriella Savelli: 

Agreed. Again, glad to hear that. That's something that we're all working towards, a hybrid model. Yeah. The main thing is, what will work for that facility? Because all these people need reach. There's so much low staffing, as you know. I was at the Washington DC jail, and I was walking out with a CO. I said, "Oh, you're leaving." She's like, "Yeah, I just worked 16 hours and slept for six, and then I'll go back, and I might be drafted again." And this is not just there. This is everywhere. 


Fleet Maull: 

All over the place, yeah. 


Gabriella Savelli: 

All over the place. But for us, it's like, okay, can we get it so that it's less work for staff? Instead of escorting to the room, can they get a video somehow in the day room or something? I mean, last week, we had real men online during the Kriya, but then they had tears. They're like, "I'm not crying because I'm sad. I just feel relief, like something got released." 


From my side, I'll say it's a pinch that we're not getting this to more people. How we can work together is important. What I've seen is that people doing the Art of Living Program, then being able to participate, the fact that your program is available on the tablets, they just are able to really get it. I mean, not to be mean, but anybody can talk. But having an experience and explaining from experience is what we've seen when people move into other programs along with doing something that's basically, you know, concentrated on, but not with our program, which is concentrated on our specialty. We don't try to do everything, but we do try to do very well. 


And then, we will do meditation retreats that are silent. And then, I thought that it was nice that you put that in the bio. We did one online just in January, with our first one in jail. And that was quite an experience because they don't talk, that's the whole point. They do the program, and the program is the same program Gurudev does in the community. We do it with veterans. We do it with top officials. I did it with my brother. 


And at the end, they said this is just life-changing. Okay, so these are things we should be doing together. That's you organizing this is incredible because these are things that our organization would love to do with organizations. Well, your organization but an organization that you know you recommend. 


Fleet Maull: 

Absolutely. Absolutely. So we're just about the end of our time, Gabriella. I have two more questions. One is, is your work mostly volunteers? And if so, do you have a training program for volunteers? How can people find out about that if they are interested in working with your organization? Well, that's the first question. Why don't we answer that one? 


Gabriella Savelli: 

Yes. We are 97, maybe 98, maybe 99% run by volunteers. And so the first prerequisite to volunteering is practice, right? You have to walk it like you talk it. So, the first step is to take the breathing program and see if it resonates with you. And then continue to practice it. If you're doing other practices, that's usually the sign of someone who's very dedicated to self-study. And so, it's a very good thing. So, take the program, then take advanced programming, and then by then, you can assist. 


We're very sleazy with the word Sangha-oriented. It means staying together as a team. Because, yeah, I mean, freedom. You want freedom, right, Fleet? Like freedom from concepts and judgments, and negativity. Same with me. As a team, that's the thing that we keep in our modus operandi so that we're not leading people. You don't know when you go to somebody how their path is, what their personal way of expression is, but you know that these things will work just like when you go to a gym, you know, to work. I'd say to start that. The best thing probably is you could call, or you could email. 


Fleet Maull: 

Well, we can put it in with your bio underneath the video where people are watching it, so that information will be there. There are Art of Living centers around the country, so somebody who lives in their city can look for an Art or Living center. That might be the place to go to try the breathwork program, and if they like it, then maybe they are interested in prison work. They then might want to contact you or contact your organization, right? 


Gabriella Savelli: 

Yeah, we're all linked. That's exactly right. I mean, I think what you said, like you're talking about working with any staff or anybody. Anybody that I'm working with, my main concern is you. I'm not trying to use you for anything. I do recommend this program to every single person that I know. The numerous health benefits and deepening of meditation practices and things have been very real and immediate. 


But having an interest in the prison program, of course, I'm going to say it's an incredible program. Fleet, I want you to come to one of our courses. I mean, that would be an honor. And just to be in tune with something that has no other agenda except for each person to be able to drop their trauma. Dropping those stresses and moving forward in a positive, expansive way with their life is good for them and good for the community. Right? 


Fleet Maull: 

What's the website for Art of Living? 


Gabriella Savelli: 

It is just ArtOfLiving.org


Fleet Maull: 

ArtOfLiving.org. So, that's a good place for people to start. 


Gabriella Savelli: 

And ours is, by the way, PrisonProgram.org


Fleet Maull: 

I'll just post PrisonProgram.org. Okay. 


Gabriella Savelli: 

Yeah. You can put www.PrisonProgram.org. I don't know if you put Prison Smart if it'll go to it. But if you put an article in the prison program, yeah. You're so smart, Fleet. Exactly. That'll just get you there. I think I'm so easy to find. Like, literally anybody could probably find my name and number just like that. I'd be happy to get anybody on the path. I'd be happy to partner with anybody because we have the same rules. Improve this. We had to light the darkest places, right? 


Fleet Maull: 

Well, let's keep looking for ways to work together. 


Gabriella Savelli: 

Thank you. 


Fleet Maull: 

Well, thank you so much for being part of the summit. Gabriella. Thank you so much for the work that you're doing in the US and all around the world and the work of the Art of Living, and your Prison Program. It's just so valuable and so necessary. It's just really great to connect with you. Thank you for being part of this summit. 


Gabriella Savelli: 

You know what? Thank you so much, Fleet. It's been a huge pleasure and honor to be able to meet you and be able to listen to you and interact with you, and I look forward to doing more, hopefully, and finding ways together that we can deepen our impact. 


Fleet Maull: 

Great, thank you so much. Be well. 

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