A correctional institution where persons are confined while on trial or for punishment

I have never been to prison, and I never want to go. From everything I have heard they are not sanctuaries of peace. Prisons are places we go when society – the people who have made the laws – find us guilty of something they have expressly forbidden, and believe we should be punished by segregating us from all the “good” people in the country (the people who don’t break the law). As with all man-made laws, they can be changed at a whim by the people in power. Ok? So now we’ve got that straight, let us begin.

You’ve committed a crime, it’s not your first. You’ve been breaking and entering into properties and stealing goods. Except you got caught – again. Now you’re up in front of the magistrate, and the case is being put forward by the prosecution. Burglary and assault.

“…that you were apprehended leaving a property you did not own with goods belonging to the occupants. On being challenged by two police officers you turned violent and lashed out, striking one of the police officer causing him to receive a cut to his face requiring seventeen stitches…”

Of course, you are found guilty, as the evidence is overwhelming.

“I sentence you to three years imprisonment,” says the judge sternly. “Do you have anything to say?”

And off you go. Into the back of a police van, your hands tied behind your back with metal handcuffs. You arrive at prison, hand in your civilian clothing, and are issued with prison clothes. You will now be locked up for three years.

Your only companions have also committed crimes. No one cares why you committed the crime. No one cares a damn about you. You are prisoner 904566 and you will obey. You will do as your told. You will not speak unless spoken to. If you fall out of line, you will be confined to solitary. You are not here to enjoy yourself. You are here to repay your debt to society.

Who will you be when you come out? Will you be a new man? A man who has changed his life forever and wishes to dedicate his life to peace in service of his fellow man? Doubtful!

How about this. You do your time, you meet other people who are “professional” criminals, get a few tips, maybe even do a few drugs when you’re inside (seems there’s plenty available), develop hate for people in authority, become even more hardened, and as soon as you come out, meet your mates for a few beers down the pub, and start where you left off! Am I getting close?

Prison doesn’t work. How can it? You cannot lock up troubled people for 24 hours a day together, they only become more troubled, and more institutionalised. The only thing prison does is take people off the streets so they don’t cause any more trouble to the general public, and in the case of murderers and rapists this seems sensible. I wholeheartedly agree that people with problems in their thinking should not be on the streets terrorising others.

For your information, I class anyone who is not compassionate to others as having problems with their thinking. Shocked? Why?

Preceding every action is a thought. “I am going to rob that old lady,” and I do it. But there is a split second before the action where awareness could let compassion in, and you do not carry the act through. So take the robber or the murderer off the streets, the public are happy, they have got “justice,” and the government is pleased, as part of their manifesto was to reduce crime.

Everybody’s happy. Right? But no one enters into the mind of the person who has been locked up.

Helping people think more compassionately is not the job of the corrections department. Their only job is to contain and control. So you lock the man up for ten years, then you let him out again. How is his thinking? If it hasn’t changed, do you not think he will just do the same thing again? Most people in prison are repeat offenders.

The angry prison

I do have empathy with the victims of crime, and I know it is terrible to be on the receiving end of such violence, but don’t you think that the only way to help stop violence is to help people think better? So they never again have the thought of hurting other people?

Locking up burly, tattooed, testosterone fuelled, angry men together is a recipe for disaster! It can only create more violence. You cannot meet violence with violence, you must meet violence with compassion. I know that this seems paradoxical, but it is the only way to take the anger out of it.

Spaces such as prisons are full of angry energy. The bars have anger, the barbed wire has anger, the metal doors and locks have anger in them, the prison guards are full of anger. The whole building is in anger, and that’s before you put any prisoners in!

Wow, with all of this negative energy, how can you expect to heal people’s minds, which is essential if we are to prevent people committing more crime. Please spend a moment before you apply your conditioned thinking to this problem.

We need to open ourselves to major issues like this, not close them off with worthless unhelpful statements like “he did the crime, he should do the time,” or “prison is too good for them,” or “we should string up the lot of them.” We are compassionate human beings, not a lynch mob, and before we hang everyone for stealing, we have to look back at our past, and in some countries to their present.

How many people do you think have been hung, shot, tied to an electric chair, or beheaded over the years for crimes committed against society? I haven’t got any figures, but I’d take a guess at “a lot.” These people may have stolen something minor, insulted the king or the ruler, or may have murdered someone. In any case, we (the powerful rulers) decided that the only thing to do with these people was to kill them.

An eye for an eye, as some old book once said. We even summarily shot soldiers in the british army for cowardice!

Today, each country has its own scale of punishments varying from a public flogging through to having “electricity passed through your body until you are dead.” Sorry, just in case you didn’t realise, these are the “good” people who were doing all the killing. The people “lucky” enough to survive the death penalty are locked up in prison for varying terms, normally a couple of months through to life (twenty years plus).

One thing you should know is that locking up prisoners costs an awful lot of money. But don’t worry, the taxpayer funds it all. Oh sorry, that’s you isn’t it?

During people’s time in prison, they may do some work, learn a new trade (depending on how long they’re in for) or they may be locked up in solitary for long periods at a time. They may experience inhuman cruelty (on the part of guards, and other prisoners), mental torture, physical abuse, and may be sexually attacked or raped (this is the men we’re talking about). They may find themselves having to pay for “protection” from other prisoners, and may become involved with drugs.

At the end of their prison term, they will be released back into the community, usually under the watchful eye of their probation officer who will make sure they “reintegrate.” Chances of successful reintegration? You tell me. Conditioned and institutionalised, with no change in thinking, what are their chances? How will they lead a more peaceful and balanced life? Will they continue to bring pain and suffering to the rest of the community?

The way our justice system works is ancient; it doesn’t deal with people, it deals with crimes. It is a processing and enforcing system for people who have gone against the laws of the land (even if they are unjust, or breach human rights). No one is an individual. You are just a criminal. You are just a case number.
“So how do we progress?” you ask. “How do we keep people who are dangerous off the streets? We must imprison them. They must pay their debt to society!”

But dangerous people are only dangerous because their mind is in turmoil. If we have to keep people segregated for a period of time, we need to start approaching the process with compassion and understanding.

I am not suggesting we forget the victims of crime, but if we don’t help the person who has committed the crime, we will have many more victims, the costs will be enormous, and we will not have progressed.

The first thing you have to know about violent offenders is that they probably didn’t come from a stable family home where they were showered with love every day. They are more likely to have come from violent homes themselves, and unable to show love and compassion to others. If they don’t get help to work through trauma, it is unlikely that they will become compassionate individuals on their own. Instead, they will continue to be violent, and if exposed to regular prison, will try to assert their authority by guess what? Violence.

Meet violence with compassion

We already lock up too many people. It doesn’t help in the long term. We cannot deal with a problem by just locking people up. We need a fresh open-minded view. This is the view you and I will create here.

Crime and the causes of crime, are in a separate topic as is punishment so we will start this creative dialogue where people have already been found guilty of a crime. We have to assume we will still have laws and courts for the foreseeable future, and that some people will still be locked up for the security of the public (we must exclude the mentally ill from this process as they must be treated like anyone else with an illness).

The other people who are usually locked up including fraudsters, and petty criminals, should now not be locked up.

Segregation should only be used when the person’s use of violence would cause people to fear for their immediate safety. So that will cut down the number of people we need to look after dramatically. I am not suggesting they get off scot free, but follow this program at a day centre. What do you think so far? I can feel you getting uncomfortable already.

The reason we believe that most people should be locked up is out of revenge and “justice,” not because we fear them, so go with me on this for a moment.

If we have to build somewhere to help people with problems of violence, it needs to be in a place where there is love and compassion, not a prison where the man-made metal bars are as violent as the prisoners themselves. This should be a place which nurtures the person’s mind and body.

Before you start saying “We need to be tougher on crime, not softer,” answer me this. “Has the present prison system stopped people offending? Are people afraid to murder people in case they go to jail?” Given the number of prisoners currently on death row in the usa, I would have to say no. Would you agree?

Instead of grey walls to hurt prisoners and remind them of what they have done, we need soft colours and gentle curves, not harshness and austerity. Think I’m mad yet? The place must be calming and the doors should close softly, not the violent sounds of metal against metal. The food should be vegetarian, to remove the violence of the death of the animal. Instead of prison warders, I see monks! Not preaching religious texts, but as teachers; teachers of meditation, one of the best ways to calm the violent mind.

The still mind knows no violence and is open to compassion and love. The present system encourages people to be violent. It is not a deterrent, it just helps governments get re-elected by citizens afraid of being attacked in their homes.

Perhaps we could teach them martial arts like tai-chi, a chinese system of slow meditative physical exercise designed for relaxation, balance and health. A tai-chi practitioner knows he has the capacity for violence, but knows he will never use it and can help the violent man to understand his violence and transform it into a positive energy. What do you think? I’m just thinking out loud here.

Meditation, whether sitting or walking, calms the mind and creates harmony around us. It does so by slowing the brainwaves down. How does it do that? Don’t ask me the technical stuff, it just does.

To any prisoner, a question…

Dear prisoner

Imagine you, the violent man, walking with mindfulness (the trait of staying aware of (paying close attention to) your responsibilities ), strong of body, calm of mind, filled with compassion for other beings. Dedicated to creating in life, not destroying it.

Who is this man? This man of peace, who comes forward into the light?
You. Free from violence, having transformed it into positive energy.
Who would you prefer to be? The meditator who walks tall and strong through the earth, helping people and being respected for his gentleness and compassion, or the violent criminal, who gets the respect he wants by beating people to a pulp, by murder, and by intimidation? Who is the weaker man here? Please consider it.

Can I help you to transform yourself, can I give you the spark you need to go through to the other side of violence, which is compassion?
One thing I am sure of, is that the authorities, no matter which party is in charge, have no intention of dismantling these grey prisons of violence. In fact they probably intend to build more. They only see the short term solution of locking people up, that is what they think the public want, so that is what they do.

It doesn’t matter if this same process has failed continually for hundreds of years. Like all politicians, they try to reform everything, but if the apple is rotten from the core, what is the point of reforming it, it is still the same apple. This needs an internal revolution on the part of everyone to see prison for what it is – a breeding ground for more violence.

Don’t wait…

Don’t wait for the new meditation centres to be built. Don’t wait for the painters to come in and paint your cell in pastels, don’t wait for the monks to come in and teach you compassion, these things may never happen. If you are ready to transform your life, I mean really ready, you will have to go it alone. The first thing you will need to do is probably the hardest thing you will ever do, and that is to become soft, and open to new energies – positive ones.

You will have to start by sitting, not talking, and just being quiet. You can also do this whilst walking. It is amazing the anger and violence that dissipates just by being silent. You don’t have to try this, it’s purely voluntary but if you’re going to be there a while anyway, you can see it as a training ground, much like the monks do.

This is no longer a prison to cage you, this is your personal retreat! If the monks can spend ten years in isolation enduring hardship, then I’m sure you can.

No longer are the bars there to keep you in, they are unimportant. You are on a journey to self-awareness, a journey that will take you past the most dangerous demons in your mind. They will be more dangerous than any man you have ever faced. Do not engage these demons, just watch them go past silently. They will pass and eventually, through meditation, they will disappear.
Forget the walls that close you in, you are imprisoned by your mind. Your thinking is what imprisons you into a life of violence and crime.
It does not matter where you are. Until you transcend that violence, until you free yourself from your own thoughts you will be forever in your own personal prison. Sit a while..

your friend

Oh, and if you are reading this and you work for any corrections centres or government agencies anywhere in the world, please could you help me out by distributing about five million meditation cushions and providing a nice quiet space for “your prisoners” to practice in? The future victims of crime and the prisoners will thank you for it. Oh, and so do I.

by alan macmillan orr

“The Natural mind – waking up”


Chinese (Simplified)