How is this practice different from other meditation techniques offered for prisoners?
There are many kinds of meditation practices, all of which have their own benefits. Vipassana, as it is taught by S.N. Goenka, is a highly practical and intensive way for the individual to face reality and detoxify habitual mental negativities. One way to distinguish this practice from others is the requirement for a ten-day commitment and the policy of no remuneration for volunteers and course services.
Is this a religious practice?
Because of its ancient roots in the teachings of the historical Buddha, some individuals may be concerned that it promotes Buddhism. In fact, most people who practice Vipassana do not identify themselves as Buddhists. Vipassana in this tradition is practiced by people from all walks of life and religious beliefs. In working with inmates and institutional personnel, volunteers take great care to assure that the introduction of Vipassana courses will not conflict with facility policies regarding religious practices.
Why is the course ten days long?
Actually, the ten-day course is the minimum; it provides an essential introduction and foundation to the technique and allows sufficient time to learn and practice how to make positive decisions/choices. Ten days allows time for the mind to settle down and to work deeply. To develop in the practice is a lifetime job.
How is this different from relaxation and stress reduction techniques?
Reduced stress is certainly one 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 sense, Vipassana can be seen as a kind of detoxification— a sometimes difficult process but one which leaves the individual in a more wholesome and balanced state.
Is the course open to anyone in custody?
Anyone can apply 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.