Courses for Inmates
The Vipassana Prison Trust offers 10-day residential Vipassana meditation courses for adults in detention. Adult courses are available for inmates 18 years or older and take place inside the prison or correctional facility. Before the course begins, each student is interviewed by the assistant teacher. Courses begin the night before the first day, followed by 10 full days of meditation, and end the morning of the 11th day by 7:30 am. Students follow a demanding daily schedule, which includes approximately ten hours of sitting meditation (with numerous breaks interspersed throughout the day). Students also maintain silence, not communicating with each other throughout the course.
Over the course of the 10 days, four components in the Vipassana continuum are taught. These include the following:
- Sila – A foundational ethical code
Students practice abstaining from actions that cause harm. They undertake five moral precepts: refraining from killing any being, stealing, lying, all sexual activity and the use of intoxicants. These precepts, as well as observing silence, allow the mind to calm down sufficiently to perform the task of self-observation.
- Anapana – A concentration practice (observation of the breath)
Students develop a more stable and concentrated mind by focusing their attention on the natural breath.
- Vipassana – Seven days of insight meditation
Students develop insight into the direct link between their body and mind through the observation of bodily sensations. By developing a balanced mind and learning not to react to these sensations, mental negativities are gradually eliminated. This direct experience has a profound, purifying effect on the mind.
- Metta – loving kindness
Students practice kindness for themselves and all other beings.
3-Day and 1-Day Courses
Short 1-day or 3-day courses are available from time to time for old students who have completed at least one 10-day course. These courses are intended to help old students maintain their practice over time.
1-Day Anapana Course for Youth
One-day courses in Anapana meditation are taught for youth in detention. They are available for youth from 13 to 18 years old. These one-day courses are derived from the 10-day residential Vipassana meditation courses conducted by the Vipassana Prison Trust for adults. While adult courses teach four components in the Vipassana continuum over 10 days, youth courses teach the first two components in a 1-day course. The first two components are Sila and Anapana, which encompass the foundation and initial steps for the practice of mindfulness meditation. Sila is a foundational ethical code and Anapana is a concentration practice (observation of the breath). All classes end with Metta, a meditation of loving-kindness.
Youth courses typically require a six-hour block of time for initial learners, including lunch and breaks. Older or more experienced students may undertake longer periods of meditation. Each course consists of six modules of progressive instruction and practice, as well as stories and discussions to clarify and illustrate important principles. Modules may be from 30 to 45 minutes long, with short breaks in-between, and a longer break for lunch. The length of each module and the frequency of breaks will vary depending on the age of the students and their ability to maintain attention. Class sizes are flexible, generally between 10 and 20 students, and either all male or female.
Impact of Courses for Students
By learning and practicing these elements of Vipassana, participants can be expected to experience a calming effect with increased self-awareness and the ability to make choices that are less driven by anxiety, anger, and impulsivity. We are also aware that with increased focus and sensitivity, a very small percentage of students may experience disturbing memories, thoughts, and emotions. We do our best to minimize these occurrences through careful screening procedures, by meeting with individual students prior to the course, through close observation of students during a course, and by working closely with facility staff should a problem arise.