Barefooted, eyes closed in reverie, bodies folded into lotus position, the men in white chanted the ancient Seven Line Supplication to Guru Rinpoche, who brought Buddhism to Tibet in the eighth century.Reacting to the story, Doug Berman asks "Should all prison inmates be offered meditation classes?" but IMO that question is premature. Like many privately run programs by religious groups in Texas prisons, the problem is nobody has kept data on participants' recidivism or disciplinary records, compared them to outcomes from a control group, etc.. Past research on meditation in prison appears promising but the cost-benefit claims seem overstated and too good to be true. While it may seem intuitively like a good idea, there's no way to tell definitively whether the meditation program at Stiles "works" to rehabilitate offenders.
As their voices swelled, their leader, Galveston artist Terry Conrad, swayed with the cadence. Pe ma gey sar dong pol la. Yam Tsen chog gi ngo drub nyey
This could have been a scene from a 1960's love-in, with college-age acolytes - decked out in exotic garb - paying fervid homage to the wisdom of the East. But these men were not students, and their attire was anything but exotic.
They are inmates at Beaumont's Mark Stiles state prison; their duds, functional prison whites. And, under Conrad's gentle guidance, they were here to meditate.
Now in its eighth year, the weekly program offered through the prison chaplain's office, is designed to help prisoners, some guilty of the most heinous offenses, achieve "natural awareness."
That's why I'd like to see the Texas program studied - particularly since it's been going eight years and so has a substantial pool of participants to analyze. Until that social science work is done, programs like this will remain oddities and outliers in the system. It's one thing to implement a program aiming to help prisoners, and quite another to produce documentation proving that outcomes improved. The former motivation is enough to inspire such work by do-gooder prison ministry types, but to justify scaling up the idea on an institutional level, you'd need hard data to show substantive, real-world improvements in recidivism and/or in-prison behavior. It's not enough to try out-of-the-box ideas; the results must be measured and tested for such thinking ever to spread beyond the fringes of the corrections system.