Doing time in prison is extremely stressful. Initially, one is stripped of his individuality and given a prison number, which becomes his new identity. From there, one is subjected to the harsh reality of sleeping on a two-inch mattress, placed on a steel bunk inside a small cell shared with another inmate. This alone can be stressful.
Subsequently, one must endure prison shakedowns, lockdowns, incidence of violence and a host of other stressful events too numerous to mention here, while navigating through a hostile, sometimes volatile prison environment. One endures the pain of losing family members, friends and holidays spent with loved ones. He comes to know this as “prison life.”
However, through the practice of mindfulness, life in prison can be very tolerable, not to mention the benefits derived there from.
Mindfulness was introduced to South Bay Correctional and Rehabilitation Facility in 2010 by Jane Faysash, Mitch Doshin Cantor, of the Southern Palm Zen Group in Boca Raton, and Gus Castellanos, a local mindfulness stress reduction teacher.
Mindfulness practices are about awareness, clarity, focus and concentration. It trains the mind and attention to stay present with whatever arises on a moment-to-moment basis.
Castellanos, a neurologist and former inmate, attends monthly mindfulness sessions with inmates at South Bay Correctional Facility. He says, “Bringing mindfulness to a group of incarcerated persons may sound counter-intuitive; [because it’s] practicing present moment awareness when faced with multi-year lifelong sentences. However, an abundant of anecdotal experience supports the fact that mindfulness, meditation, contemplative and yoga practices are found to be quite beneficial for the incarcerated.”
“Clinical research shows that mindfulness practices improve immune, cardiovascular and hormonal systems as well as emotional health. Additionally, neuroscience research reveals changes in the brain pertaining to critical thinking, emotional and self-control, memory, empathy and stress reduction,” he says.
To his point, evidence suggests that the benefits of mindfulness leads to highly significant improvements on self-esteem, mood disturbances, and reduced hostility.
Jackie James, an inmate facilitator in the mindfulness program, walks the class through a series of mindfulness practices such as the mindful body scan, mindful eating, and mindful check-ins to name a few. “These practices have become essential to my state of mind, as well as my state of well-being” he says.
Mitchell McLeod, a fellow inmate, is the class’ Physical Therapeutic Yoga instructor. He leads the class in yoga exercises.
“I’ve studied and practiced yoga for years and I know firsthand the benefit it brings to our prison environment. It is highly therapeutic and most of us cannot cope without it,” he says.
It is the general consensus of those currently in South Bay’s Mindfulness class that, practicing mindful living and therapeutic yoga does in fact improve one's physical and mental health making “prison life" less intolerable.\