Dr Vicenzo Fatta has a degree in philosophy ("I did my thesis on Krishnamurti and Oriental Philosophy") and has worked as a therapist in Sicily, using the psychosomatic approach. Along with business partner Giovanni Rosselli, for the past several years Vicenzo has been running a meditation center in Sicily, offering courses, trainings and meditation intensive events.
In addition, he had worked for some time with drug addicts in Palermo. There, he introduced Osho Dynamic and Osho Kundalini meditations, as well as some breath techniques. He recalls the feedback from those who tried the first two, saying: "Some of them said it helped them to express the tension and emotions that they were feeling stuck with." He has also presented meditation elsewhere – for example, in schools and in clubs.
When it came to doing a presentation at a jail, Casa Circondariale di Pagliarelli in Palermo, he decided to concentrate on creating a proposal for a whole program there. He was touched to share meditation in this particular environment because people's conditions were really difficult: "I wanted to see how people can be helped to find the dimension of inner freedom when their outer freedom is restricted," says Vincenzo.
"I made an outline of a project for the prisoners and sent it to the local authorities in Sicily and to the director of jails in Sicily. In it, I emphasized the possible benefits that might help the prisoners. Such as relaxation and purification. Such as using their time for inner exploration. Learning to respond rather than react to situations. Feeling happy with their aloneness; letting go the weight of so-called negative emotions; feeling more peaceful, friendlier towards themselves and so, with others.
"So the whole thing was presented as a key for the educators, to supplement their work, rather than offering an alternative way.
"The first response was of interest and curiosity. I was invited to meet some of the local magistrates and the prison director. At that meeting we talked a lot and at a subsequent one-day presentation they actually tried some body-awareness techniques and breath awareness. I explained in depth the psychology of meditation: becoming a witness, a watcher of problems instead of trying to solve them; of creating a space where people could learn this knack.
"I explained that it was important to allow some form of expression, of emotional release first, since it is difficult to witness in the presence of strong emotions...which they understood.
"This was totally pioneer work because the orthodox psychological approach has no understanding of this dimension.
"I worked with the staff educators, the medical staff and the jailers. Just to get permission you have to go through so much bureaucracy! But finally we were given a room and whatever else we needed.
"All the prisoners were invited, with the exception of those who had psychiatric problems or were physically sick and diseased. For three months, two or three times a week, I presented Dynamic, Kundalini, Gibberish, breathing technique, singing and silent watching. I also used soft hypnosis: the Osho Forgotten Language of Talking to the Body technique. I presented it all in a very scientific way, with no reference to esoterica or religion.
"In the beginning the sessions were very structured. There was some strong confrontation initially because I was encouraging people, if they wanted to participate at all, to be total. I was saying these techniques are not for everyone, but for those who are still alive inside and who want to experiment. That was deliberately provocative. Some people went away...but then came back!
"Slowly the atmosphere became very very friendly. As you can imagine, the whole atmosphere of a prison is very controlling, and we wanted to create something totally different – a space of let go – and we told the prisoners that this time of meditation was for them to be free to experiment.
"I had some problems with the jailers because they were intruding too much, wanting to control. I told the magistrates and director that I didn't want this, and then it was stopped and the prisoners felt freer to experiment and let go.
"Slowly slowly, as I encouraged them, the participants started to perceive the meditation room as an oasis where they could, in a protected way, express parts of their personality...where they could talk freely about themselves and experiment the meditation techniques.
"As for how their jailors have reacted: the prison officials now view the meditation courses in a contradictory way. They see the potentially beneficial effect. They themselves, working in the jail, are also prisoners in a way, and among them there is a high level of disturbance and stress, so they would like to do the meditations. But because of their role and their training, it is difficult to come to some agreement with them as to what they could do. In spite of the noble intentions of the legislator (Legge Gozzini), the prison institution is still very oriented towards punishment and control, rather than treatment and support."
Vincenza now has similar programs operating concurrently in three jails and is looking to extend this to a further seven. With the Ministry of Justice and Goals supporting his work "the thing is expanding much more than I had anticipated. Now I am looking at doing it in seven more prisons, so I am interested in having more instructors join me."
Read more about Dr Fatta's work in:
...Free Inside: A Meditation Course in Jail
...The Inside Story: Prisoners' Feedback
...Prison: A Lesson in Inner Freedom - La Republica
...Back for more
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