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Mindful : August 2013
Are America’s prisons preparing people to return to society? The high number of released prisoners who end up back behind bars suggests not. According to a Pew Center repor t called State of Recidivism: The Revolving Door of America’s Prisons, of the t wo million Americans in the correctional system, 40% return to state prisons within three years of their release. The Prison Mindfulness In- stitute thinks it may be able to help. PMI’s flagship program is Path of Freedom, a curriculum for both prisoners and prison staff. It teaches mindfulness practice, cognitive behavioral training, and social and emo- tional learning. The program helps par- ticipants understand the connection between attitudes, thoughts, feelings, impulses, and behaviors. “Prisoners’ minds tend to be more disor- ganized than most,” says Fleet Maull, who star ted this work in 1989 while he was serving a 14-year sentence for drug trafficking. “They have minimal at tention stabilization and tend to have very poor emotion regu- lation.” Most prisoners grew up in chaotic environments and were exposed to a great deal of trauma. Many have been diagnosed with ADHD. “Through mindfulness train- ing you can learn to recognize that moment when you can catch yourself in the middle of a pattern,” says Maull. “A mind- fulness practitioner can think, ‘Oh, I recognize where this goes, and I’m not sure I want to go there this time.’ I recognize this moment of freedom when I can make a new choice, one that will lead to a different outcome. ” Path of Freedom is offered in prisons in several states, and in some prisons in Canada, Swe- den, and Chile. More than 200 facilitators have been trained to lead the program. Maull believes it belongs in the mainstream of correctional programming. PMI moved its headquar ters from Colorado to Rhode Island to be near a cluster of correctional facilities and began research projects to assess the impact of its mindfulness-based programs. One five-year study, launched in 2011, will measure the success of Path of Freedom. Executive director Kate Crisp says she’s collected thousands of quotes from pris- oners highlighting their positive experiences in the program. In the words of one prisoner, “After meditating I feel so much clearer—like my mind has more logic. It was like something opened up and other possibili- ties were there for me.” ● Mindful on the Inside August 2013 mindful 17 Illustration by Gavin Potenza