Inmates Can Find Freedom Behind Bars
Oregon State Correctional Institution (OSCI) is home to nearly 900 inmates, many of whom will soon transition back to society. The prison provides a range of self-improvement and employment programs to help inmates make a successful reintegration. Among these is the Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique, which OSCI has offered to inmates and staff since 2009.
“Most people’s understanding about prison and prison life is so framed by what we see put out by the entertainment industry, but the fact of the matter is, they are terrible pressure cookers. Staff have to walk into that everyday and inmates have to live with it everyday,” explains former Inmate Services Administrator, Randy Geer.
Released about four years ago, Ladarrius Tidmore served five years for robbery and learned TM as part of a David Lynch Foundation-sponsored TM program at the Correctional Institution. ”When I meditate, it’s like a free feeling. It takes me away from the prison completely. I zone everybody out, everything out, and I’m not even here for those twenty, thirty minutes that I meditate. I’m relaxed and free. Nothing can touch me. It’s a great feeling,” says Ladarrius.
Sisi Faupau, another participant of OSCI’s TM program who received early release due to good behavior, found that meditating helped him connect with the good in himself. ”Spending time with myself, that’s really what it is, you know—getting in touch with your inner self. And everybody inside is a good person—we just make bad choices. Spending time with myself makes me feel good.” A regular meditator after release, Sisi says he has put prison life behind him.
Since the program was introduced in 2009, 225 inmates have learned Transcendental Meditation. OSCI staff say the program has produced significant changes in inmates’ mood and behavior.
“People seem to feel better. They’re healthier; they seem more calm. Some of the folks who have learned TM, if you look at their personalities prior to this, they were a little sparky, and I’ve noticed a sort of leveling off. They’re not so reactive to situations,” explains Gary Kilmer, retired superintendent of OSCI.
Dr. Michael Puerini, OSCI’s Medical Director, says, “I think that TM can really help people broaden their focus. There’s something about TM that brings out compassion. I don’t know how it works, but it does. And a compassionate person is a healthier person.”
According to Tom O’Connor, who previously served as Director of Research at OSCI, creating an atmosphere where inmates can find peace and heal is the key to generating a positive influence on society. “I am passionate about creating public safety and making sure there are no more victims in the community. The way to do that is to reach the strengths and goodness inside of everybody in the prison system. If we just create an environment of healing, one that allows the goodness to ripple up, I think the sky’s the limit. We could create a better society; a much more humane system, and a much more effective prison,” he says.
The David Lynch Foundation is currently funding three prison programs in Oregon, one program in Rikers Island in New York City, and another for incarcerated youth in California. With additional funding, the DLF is prepared to expand its programs to prisons and correctional facilities for youth nationwide.