In one way or another, we all need to heal. Some people have had traumatic childhoods riddled with physical or emotional abuse. Extreme poverty and hunger have adversely affected other individuals. Some people have lost a child or loved one while others have had dear friends and family members incarcerated. We all have some sort of baggage that we would benefit from sifting through, processing, analyzing, and prevailing over in the end.
Retreats provide a wonderful opportunity to sit back, reflect, and gain some peace of mind and perspective. Recently, I traveled to Panama for a taste of a yoga and meditation retreat. I spent a long weekend in a secluded location with nonexistent cell phone service and very slow internet service. If you stood in the one exact spot for an extended period, you may be able to send an iMessage if you were lucky, but nothing more. Unless you wanted to experience disappointment, it was best not to expect the ability to surf the Internet or update your Facebook profile.
Prior to going on this retreat, I knew absolutely no one attending. I could not tell you if there would be people from the United States, people from Australia, people from Canada, or any other country. I did not know the nationality of the other attendees prior to my arrival. I did not know if the other individuals were in the twenties, thirties, forties, or fifties before I stepped foot in Panama. I did not have any idea what to expect.
I found myself in a car on a seven-hour drive with a motley crew of young adults that would normally never have met had our lives not crossed paths in this exact moment. The yoga instructor was a young woman from Amsterdam. A man from Lebanon and a woman from the United States, both who lived in Panama currently, accompanied us. At the retreat, there were Panamanians, Americans, Austrians, and Canadians. While we were all on different life paths, we had common objectives for the long weekend—relax, rejuvenate, heal, grow, and exercise.
Over the course of the weekend, transformation occurred. This growth occurred through conversation over delicious, gourmet, healthy homemade meals; long walks on the beach; listening to our bodies through the practice of yoga and meditation; and taking the time to do exactly what our bodies craved. The constraints of modern day society—the hustle and bustle of the city, the stress of demanding jobs, the drive to greatness—leave little time for people to truly rest and recover, much less spend time with a group of people from various cultural backgrounds. A healing atmosphere does wonders for the soul.
You may be pondering how this relates to prison reform. Let me explain to you where I am going with this. We are all people. Whether you are an investment banker, a doctor, a mechanic, a retail worker, or a farmer, we all have common needs and desires. We all crave recovery in some aspect of our lives. While of course there is no such thing as one-size-fits-all when it comes to life, certain endeavors are likely to bring positive results. For instance, the quality of your life will be much higher if you are an honest person instead of a liar. Likewise, while many religions exist in the world, in general, a majority of people believe that having some sort of a belief in a power greater than their selves will produced a richer life experience and positive results.
Overall, periods of rest, tranquility, and reflection are good for the soul. Similarly, associating with individuals from various backgrounds opens our minds and exposes us to new ideas. Generally, humans can gain much insight in these types of settings.
Therefore, knowing the benefits of retreats and community, society should extend these concepts into prison programming. Just because someone is labelled as a “criminal” does not mean that they are immune from the growth and self-improvement that results from common human enterprises.
I am sure that some people reading this article are rolling their eyes right now. After all, a common misperception is that retreats are a luxury for the rich, for the elite. This is not so. While you can easily find retreat resorts that cater to the wealthy, there are also options that are affordable to all. Additionally, the concepts applied on retreats are applicable worldwide. You do not need to spend $5000 to go a fancy locale to reflect, process, analyze, discuss, and heal. People can accomplish these goals anywhere, even behind bars.
Jails and prisons need more self-improvement workshops that are available to inmates on a regular basis. Whether these programs are weekend warrior meet-ups or groups that meet once a week for a set amount of time, self-discovery and reflection workshops will deliver results. These results may not be instantaneous—in fact, I can guarantee they will not be immediate—but overtime, a shift, a transformation, will occur in at least a majority of regular, willing participants. Instead of making jails and prisons an environment where healing and self-care is nearly impossible, we should be relishing such programs that exist behind bars and encouraging administrators at penal institutions to adopt countless more.