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Intensive Vipassana Meditation Practice: An Intervention with Promise for Traumatized Prisoners

"Very few prisons have mental health treatment programs, and the few available, which range from educational to cognitive and behavioral in nature, do not have the capacity to treat chronic trauma and PTSD. The daily environment of prisons - aggressive and often violent, with any indication of vulnerability or weakness potentially life threatening - means such programs cannot fulfill the requirements of safe and effective trauma treatment, especially for processing and integrating memories ... Similarly, mindfulness and meditation programs cannot provide safe and effective trauma treatment in prisons, although evidence suggests they can reduce inmates’ stress and anxiety and increase their self-regulation capacities. Here we present an approach that, although new to prison-based trauma intervention, is over 2,000 years old: an intensive, 10-day Vipassana meditation course which has been conducted inside a maximum-security prison since 2002. We briefly make the case that intensive, traditional and communal Vipassana practice makes good sense and holds great promise as a short-term prison-based trauma treatment that can provide stabilization, skills development, and safe and effective opportunities to process traumatic memories" (p. 1). Sections of this chapter include: introduction; prison culture-hyper-masculinity and violence; stages of recovery and treatment; trauma-informed correctional care; contemplative practices as trauma treatment-implications for prisoners; Buddhist psychology and Vipassana meditation; bringing Vipassana inside-the case of a maximum-security prison in Alabama; preliminary outcome research and two prisoner's reflections; conclusion and implications.