KPLU radio profiles a new meditation class offered to maximum-security inmates at Washington's Monroe Correctional Complex. Seven students, including violent felons, listen as teacher Cathy Iacobazzi asks, “What would it be like if you took all of the opinions that you have about yourself and just set them aside for right now?” She encouraged them to focus on one thing: breathing in and breathing out.
The meditation class is part of the prison's Reintegration and Progression Program, which includes aggression control training and lessons on healthy living. Now in its second 10-week term, it has shown promise, prison officials said. Six of the 13 inmates who completed Iacobazzi's first class have been released from the maximum-security unit to the prison's general population after “the light came on,” says program manager Mike Walker.
Seven maximum-security inmates sit in a room with their eyes closed, not making a sound.
Shackles bind their hands and feet, confining them to a metal chair bolted to the ground. A guard stands nearby. Yells and clanks from the hallway stray in through the open door.
This is what meditation class at the Monroe Correctional Complex looks like. The students, murderer and rapists among them, listen as volunteer teacher Cathy Iacobazzi walks them through a practice session.
“What would it be like if you took all of the opinions that you have about yourself and just set them aside for right now?” she says. “Right now, the only truth that you need to know about yourself is: I am the one who is breathing in. I am the one who is breathing out.”
But inner calm doesn't come easily for most. After a session of 10 rounds of breaths, one inmate asks: “Does practice make it easier? Is it like riding a bicycle?” Another inmate says the lunch he ate prior to class is sitting heavy, stealing his focus.
“It's a brutal kind of practice,” Iacobazzi tells them. “It takes a lot of work. But the results you get — being able to focus … what a benefit. And you get to choose to do that. It's your choice. You get to do that. No one can stop you, no matter where you are.”
The students ask questions, express their doubt. But when she asks them to try again for another 10 breaths, they close their eyes and breathe
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