Dear Friend of PDN,
For the past 23 years we have been lighting candles in the darkness for tens of thousands of prisoners and their families caught in the machinery of a growing prison industrial complex that relies on depleting community resources in order to warehouse more and more human beings. Now for the first time, we see the genuine possibility of broad systemic change in our criminal justice and prison systems; and we are prepared to lead the way with innovative, evidence-based programming and robust national networks.
Celebrating Prison Dharma Success When I started Prison Dharma Network from my prison cell 23 years ago, our goal was to make Buddhist meditation and other contemplative practices available to prisoners throughout the U.S. Today that goal has been largely accomplished, and is a great cause for celebration. Meditation programs from various traditions are now widely available to prisoners, primarily through prison chapel programs, throughout the country. So what’s next?
While the Dharma-based programs continue to positively impact tens of thousands of prisoners’ lives, only a small percentage of the total prison population will ever access these faith-based programs. So, while we will always proactively support Dharma-based prison meditation programs, we have now set our sights on impacting the prison system in a much larger way under a new name: Prison Mindfulness Institute.
Mindfulness in Corrections – A New Vision Our new ten-year goal is to establish secular, mindfulness-based interventions (MBI’s) as best practices in mainstream correctional programming for both prisoners and corrections staff. We envision mindfulness-based education, rehabilitation, drug & alcohol treatment, pre-release, post-release and at-risk youth programs. We also envision mindfulness-based prison staff training and wellness programs. In order to accomplish this, we must first establish programs, like our mindfulness-based Path of Freedom™ curriculum, as evidence-based practice for the field of corrections, and this requires high quality, scientifically sound research.
In 2010, we moved our base of operations to Rhode Island in order to pursue this objective by establishing mindfulness-based programs and research initiatives with prisoners and staff throughout the Rhode Island Department of Corrections (RIDOC). In just two years, we have established four Path of Freedom programs in men’s and women’s RIDOC facilities and a mindfulness-based staff training for RIDOC correctional counselors and probation & parole officers.
Our Research TeamIn 2011, we launched a five-year research initiative approved by the RIDOC designed to study the impact and effectiveness of our Path of Freedom™ curriculum. We put together a team of established mindfulness-based intervention and prison researchers from Brown and Harvard Universities, Rhode Island College and the University of Rhode Island to assure a first-rate scientific research program. Over five years, this study will include 400 to 500 female and male prisoners. This fall we are also launching a Path of Freedom based pre-release intervention and post-release follow-up pilot study with soon to be released prisoners as part of an NIH grant proposal for a much larger 5-year pre-release/post-release study.
Just this past week, our research director sent us encouraging and exciting preliminary results based on the data from year one of our five-year Path of Freedom study that indicated significant reductions in violent behaviors and institutional infractions, lower anxiety scores and higher emotional intelligence scores.
Groundbreaking Prison Staff Training
This year we also launched the first mindfulness-based prison staff development training and research study in the U.S. We are six months into this one-year pilot study with a group of 23 correctional counselors, probation & parole officers, clinical social workers, and discharge planners. The National Institute of Corrections (Dept. of Justice) has provided some financial assistance for this innovative corrections staff development program that includes mindfulness-based emotional intelligence (MBEI) training integrated with a mindfulness-based approach to Motivational Interviewing (MI).
Completing the Circle
I could go on an on about all the exciting developments at PMI/PDN, but
I would like to share with you a particularly gratifying story that for me brings it all together. At a recent weekend training I led at a local meditation center, two of the participants were graduates of our Path of Freedom program at the men’s medium facility here in Rhode Island. They were both released earlier this year and have both integrated into our local meditation center as respected and valued practitioners and members. They have both begun volunteering at the center as support staff for various programs. As a former prisoner myself, I was in seventh heaven all weekend watching my two friends practicing and enjoying themselves as free and valued community members.
An Investment in Social Transformation and Our Future
As always your financial support is critical to everything we do. Together we can realize the vision of a sane, secure and compassionate corrections system that is genuinely focused on healing and transformation as the most expedient means of enhancing public safety and assuring healthy communities. In solidarity with us, you hold the key to this transformation. Please join us and make an investment in social transformation by supporting our work with a generous one time or recurring donation to PDN.
With great appreciation for your support and partnership,
Founder, Prison Mindfulness Institute (Prison Dharma Network)