Zen Behind Bars 

Inmates release stress through meditation.

Some female inmates at the Mark H. Luttrell Correctional Center have a chance to escape — at least within their minds.

A select group of inmates housed there participate in monthly meditation classes offered by Memphis-based PremaHealing, an organization specializing in meditation, healing, and emotional processing.

Carol Crane, co-founder of PremaHealing, said the classes teach offenders how to avoid stress.

"We go in and teach them breathing exercises and ways to calm the mind. If they do have emotions arise as a response, they can use these techniques to process through those emotions, instead of having to react to them," Crane said.

PremaHealing began providing the classes six months ago after partnering with the support group Families of Incarcerated Individuals.

The classes are part of the Families of Incarcerated Individuals' "Doorways Reentry" program, which helps female offenders make a successful transition after their release. There are around 15 women in the class each month.

Marquetta Nebo, executive director of Families of Incarcerated Individuals, said the classes have helped many offenders vent personal anger.

"The emotional processes for meditation helps them release the anger they have bottled up in them," Nebo said. "Instead of verbalizing everything, they can do these techniques."

To qualify for the classes, offenders at Mark H. Luttrell have to be within 12 months of their release and recommended by correctional faculty.

PremaHealing and Families of Incarcerated Individuals are currently searching for additional funding to provide meditation classes for male prisoners at the Shelby County Jail.

"The literature seems to indicate this is worth doing," said Rod Bowers, assistant chief jailer for the Shelby County Jail. "The benefits the classes could bring include inmates being better behaved, fewer disruptions, arguments and fights, and just day-to-day improvement with the management of the facility."

Bowers said he didn't know how much it would cost to institute the program at the men's jail, but there would have to be long-term evidence that the meditation classes lower the rate of recidivism.

Crane said they decided to start the classes here after similar meditation classes at Donaldson Correctional Facility in Bessemer, Alabama, were shown to lower disruption and violence at the facility.

"We thought Memphis would be a perfect place to incorporate a meditation teaching in the prison system," Crane said. "Memphis has a lot of people who have experienced trauma, and there's a lower economic situation here, which causes a lot of people to end up incarcerated."

Nebo said she hopes they can acquire more funding, so more inmates have the opportunity to release bottled-up emotions and stress.

"The more avenues of therapy, the better," Nebo said. "We need to give [male and female offenders] as many options as possible if we're really trying to ... get to the root cause of their emotional problems or issues that cause them to do these crimes."

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