• Film: Freedom Behind Bars

In the United States and Canada, Vipassana Meditation courses are taught within prisons and other correctional facilities. Vipassana, which means to see things as they really are, is one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation. Prison courses are held within the walls of the facility and have the same structure as courses offered to the public at our established meditation centers around the world. These courses follow the tradition of Mr. S.N. Goenka, in which an introduction to Vipassana is taught through an intensive, silent, 10-day course. Courses are available to anyone interested in learning the technique.

The first prison course in North America was taught in 1997 at the King County North Rehabilitation Facility in Seattle, WA. Since that time, several courses have been taught at facilities around the United States and Canada. Currently in the United States, the Donaldson Correctional Facility in Bessemer, AL hosts an ongoing program of three to four courses every year. In Canada, an ongoing program at the Manitoba Youth Detention Facility offers 1-day courses for youth a few times a year. For additional information, see the detailed history of Vipassana taught within prisons and correctional facilities.

Courses have been taught in prisons in many other countries as well. Courses were first offered in India in the early 1970s. Over the years, prison courses continue to be taught in India and have also been taught in other countries such as Brazil, Israel, Mongolia, Myanmar, New Zealand, Taiwan, Thailand, and the United Kingdom. For additional information about courses taught in other parts of the world, see the International Vipassana Meditation for Correctional Facilities website.

As with all Vipassana courses in this tradition, courses held within prisons are completely free to the students that participate and the corrections facility. There is no cost, even for food and accommodation. Expenses are covered by donations from people who have completed a course and wish to give others the opportunity to benefit from Vipassana training. Similarly, the people who teach and serve during a course volunteer their time and do not receive any payment. Individuals, charitable institutions, and governmental entities that are interested in the rehabilitative goals of these prison courses can also make donations to support them.

Because of the focused and intense nature of these courses, there are requirements that must be observed within the prison while the course is underway. This requires cooperation between the prison staff and the Vipassana teachers and volunteers. The teachers and volunteers that manage the course stay in the facility with participants throughout the entire course. In order for a course to be held at a facility, one or more personnel from the facility must take a 10-day course at one of our established meditation centers. This requirement is necessary so that the facility’s staff are directly familiar with what the inmates will experience in the course and understand the reasons for the course rules and requirements.