Prison, Meditation, and Self-Efficacy

From an interview in the Spring 2000 issue of Inquiring Mind, an observation by Kiran Bedi about her experiment with vipassana (mindfulness) meditation in a New Delhi prison:

As a police officer and director general of Delhi prisons, I was responsible for creating security inside the jail, and I saw vipassana as a major measure of peace and harmony. Peace and harmony isn't created by the walls of a prison; it comes from the beings inside, and unless you address individuals, you cannot create a peaceful community. So I introduced programs that would enable individuals to be more peaceful. Vipassana addresses individuals.

As a prison administrator, you can create an enabling environment. If you have no library, you don't enable the individuals to read. When you introduce a library, some still may not read, but you are subtly sending out a message suggesting the value and availability of books. With the vipassana program, I was suggesting, "This is good. Try it."


... vipassana is not Buddhist. It was practiced by a man named Gautama who came to be called Buddha [Awakened One]. There's a very important distinction that we need to make. This program does not turn out Buddhists; it only makes buddhas.

In the same article Lucia Meijer, administrator of a detention site near Seattle Washington, comments on helping prisoners take responsibility and acquire self-efficacy:

I see them understanding cause and effect. If I do this, then such-and-such happens; so if I want things to happen differently, I need to do things differently. This is something we call self-efficacy. It's hard to develop self-efficacy if you grow up in a world where you have no control over anything, where things just happen no matter what your intentions or actions. Many of our inmates have histories of prior physical and sexual abuse, of growing up in very chaotic, drug-infested, violent situations. They haven't developed that self-efficacy because they couldn't make the connection between what they did and what happened afterward. When they sit a vipassana course, that connection may become clear for the first time.

She concludes:

You notice a difference written on the faces. In fact, you can tell if a person is a meditator. He's at peace with himself. He's got a natural smile already, because he's accepting the moment. The others are denying it and quarreling with it. That's the difference. One man is doing time doubly; the meditator is living time, not doing time.

^z - 2012-06-21