One out of every 100 Americans is currently behind bars.
That statistic sits heavy with me, on my heart, on my shoulders, on my mind. When I look into the eyes of the men in this video I see humans. Fathers. Sons. Uncles. Cousins. Friends.
I see and feel that the weight of their shame and remorse for what they did sits a million times heavier on their hearts, shoulders and minds than a statistic could ever sit on mine.
The contour of their faces, the curve of their features, they are living, breathing human beings.
Human beings who have made mistakes. As we all have made mistakes. Human beings who are living with those mistakes 24 hours a day, seven days a week in an 8′ by 12′ cell.
The majority of U.S. prisoners—certainly not all of them—are humans on the wrong side of the color line, in the wrong income tax bracket, in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Roberta Richman of the Rhode Island Department of Correction poses the question, “Do we want to save those lives or do we want to discard them?”
The combination of the media portrayal of prisoners beings monsters, mandatory minimum sentencing, “tough on drug and crime” legislation and lack of humanity has created an atmosphere of apathy and ignorance that has birthed an out of sight, out of mind mentality.
“People in prison are us. They are not monsters and more importantly, whether we want them to or not they are getting out. Do you want them to come out angrier, meaner and more dangerous or do you want to do whatever you can to change their behavior while they are here.” ~ Roberta Richman
So, what do we want?
What if prisoners were given the opportunity to learn how to change their reality? What if they were taught to see a possibility for a shift, a change, a transformation? Anyone who meditates knows the power of the practice and knows that transformation is possible.
“People don’t understand the value of what they call the soft stuff and I sometimes think without the soft stuff, no matter how much hard stuff, you are bound to fail.” ~ Roberta Richman
To learn more about The Path to Freedom, the Prison Mindfulness Institute, the Prison Dharma Network or for more current research click here.
Carolyn Gilligan is a daughter, sister, best friend, listener, lover, ice cream eater, sometimes writer, easily excitable, embarrassingly gullible yoga teacher in training who drinks too much coffee, makes a lot of mistakes and has too much fun for her own good.