Frequently Asked Questions
How is this practice different from other meditation techniques offered for prisoners?
There are many kinds of meditation practices, each has their own benefits. Vipassana, as it is taught by Mr. S.N. Goenka, is a highly practical and intensive way for a person to face reality and detoxify habitual mental negativities. This technique requires all interested adult students to complete a 10-day course. Also, there is no payment for volunteers and course services.
Is this a religious practice?
Because this technique has roots in the teachings of the Buddha, some individuals may be concerned that it promotes Buddhism. In fact, most people who practice Vipassana do not identify themselves as Buddhists. In this tradition, Vipassana is practiced by people from all walks of life and religious beliefs. In working with inmates and institutional personnel, great care is taken to assure that the introduction of Vipassana courses will not be in conflict with facility policies regarding religious practices.
Why is the course 10 days long?
Ten days provides sufficient time for a person to be introduced to the technique and to practice. It allows time for the mind to settle down and for a student to work deeply. The technique helps students learn how to make positive decisions and choices. To develop this practice is a lifetime job.
How is this different from relaxation and stress reduction techniques?
Reduced stress is one potential outcome of this practice but it is not the primary focus. People practice Vipassana to rid themselves of mental negativities that can be toxic to themselves and society. In this way, Vipassana can be seen as a kind of detoxification. It can be a difficult process, but one which leaves the individual in a more wholesome and balanced state.
Is the course open to anyone in custody?
Anyone is welcome to apply, however, course participation is subject to the guidelines of the institution. All applicants are screened and interviewed by course personnel and on rare occasions, teachers may be unable to accommodate certain psychiatric or physical conditions.
Is there a cost for students and the correctional facility to offer a course?
No. 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.
Are teachers and other course staff paid to offer a course?
No. The people who teach and serve during a course volunteer their time and do not receive any payment.
Who can make a donation?
Individuals, charitable institutions, and governmental entities that are interested in the rehabilitative goals of these prison courses can also make donations to support them.
How can I find additional information?
For additional information about the North America Vipassana Prison Trust and our programs, please contact us. We will be happy to hear from you and will get back to you as soon as we can.
Additional resources about Vipassana meditation in prisons, such as books and documentaries, can be purchased from Pariyatti. For example, The Dhamma Brothers is a documentary that shares the stories of men at the Donaldson Correction Facility in Alabama as they participate in the first Vipassana course offered at the facility. The book, Letters from the Dhamma Brothers, compiles letters from men that participated in the Donaldson course after it was completed. Changing From Inside is a documentary about a Vipassana course for women in a jail in Washington state.