Meditation helps San Quentin prisoners come to terms with themselves and their crimes

By Judy Silber on September 29, 2010 for CrossCurrents on KALW


San Quentin offers more than 70 self-help programs – far more than any other prison in the state. And the majority are run by volunteers, according to San Quentin press officer Lt. Samuel Robinson.

SAM ROBINSON: Currently, we have about 3,000 volunteers here at this facility, people who annually come in here, whether it’s one time or several times over the course of a year. They try to help steer guys in a different direction than what led them here ultimately in the first place.

The legacy of volunteer programs goes back to Warden Clinton Truman Duffy. In the 1940s, Duffy cleaned up San Quentin’s rough outlaw culture and also established the prison’s first chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous. Over the decades, the number of volunteer programs has grown, encouraged by progressive wardens who believed the programs served both the inmates and the communities they’ll return to.

Today, about 1,000 men participate in these volunteer-run programs. And they run the gamut: there are not just one, but several meditation groups; addiction help; a victim awareness group; literacy groups; a gardening group; and a dog-fostering group; among many, many others.

KALW’s Judy Silber recently visited San Quentin to talk with inmates in the Zen Buddhist group about their meditation behind prison walls.

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