In the early seventies Australian psychologist Sigari Luckwell began work at Fremantle Prison, in Western Australia, as a vocational guidance assessor a counselor. Simultaneously she began her training as a Jungian analyst, which she completed in 1982.
Having also gained her Masters in Clinical Psychology, she then worked with the Government Mental Health Service, including six months of psychodynamic childwork with Nancy Stewart a student of Anna Freud. Sigari also worked as a Clinical Psychologist, initially in Child Guidance, then went onto full-time employment at Graylands [Psychiatric] Hospital for three years.
Over the next few years, Sigari added Dance Therapy, rebirthing, courses in meditation, and cranio-sacral work to her already impressive list of skills.
Currently she conducts individual therapy sessions, runs groups for Anxiety Disorders and the occasional specialist group in painting or movement.
Introduced to the Osho active meditations in the '80's, Sigari has offered meditation-based courses at Adult Education Facilities including Edith Cowan University, when she was lecturing there on LifeSpan Human Development.
Here Sigari tells of her experience introducing Osho Active Meditation to inmates of a regional Gaol in Western Australia.
It was while I was running a ...21-day Dynamic Meditation course in Bunbury that I was approached by a woman, Marianne, who works at Bunbury Prison as an Education Officer.
She felt that meditation would be immensely beneficial for the prisoners, but that Dynamic would be a bit over the top in that setting. We decided that the Kundalini Meditation would be a good starting point. I did not have to do anything about presenting it to any official body: Marianne took care of all that for me.
There were precedents: a local woman who runs the Buddhist Center in town had been running weekly Yoga classes at the prison for some years, and they had been very well received. I just had to provide police clearance and maybe Marianne told the authorities of my previous work at Fremantle Prison.
The program ran for seven months. I began with a group of about eight prisoners. Over the months many stayed and some left while new ones arrived. The number was quite consistent: getting up to ten or more on some occasions and down to five on others. They just loved it.
We continued Kundalini for the first ten weeks almost exclusively and after each meditation there was always time for sharing. It was beautiful to be part of that process.
There were two long-term prisoners who attended almost every session without fail. It was one of these men who said, at the end of Kundalini one day, "I feel as if I have been at a celebration!" That was a very touching moment, as were many others at that time.
I began trying many other meditations: Mandala (which they loved and requested on further occasions), Nadabrahma, Gourishankar, Devavani, No Dimensions (also popular) and even Gibberish. We drew the line at line at the Laughing Meditation, as the prison officers were always curious and somewhat skeptical about what was happening.
Altogether, about thirty or forty different prisoners attended during those months, twenty of them consistently so. Some of them were involved in a sex-offenders' program that was also running at the time: they found the meditations helpful in coming to terms with what the program was bringing to the surface. Some of them would cry and laugh quite openly in the sharings.
I always felt very grateful to be part of this process, which ran from July 1999 to March 2000. Since then I have been invited back a couple of times to lead guided meditations as part of a course a dozen or so prisoners are doing.
Some were genuinely surprised by the depth they contacted in just one brief session of meditation. That is something that strikes me over and over again: that people are surprised at how deep they can go very quickly, and they have a recognition of their being, even if that glimpse is lost by the next time. Sometimes they would liken the experience to a good drug trip!
Feedback from the staff, the prison officers, was mixed. Individually most of them were interested and friendly, as they would escort me to and from the front gate; some were genuinely keen to know more for themselves. Only a few were uninterested or downright aggressive, and I just kept silent round them. One week, when one officer at the Education Center was very rude and obstructive, I told him so.
On the whole the staff were fine (I never had anything much to do with the admin. or superintendent, just signing in and out at the front gate amid much light-hearted banter from the officers about "spiritual rubbish" and "shrinking the prisoners' heads."
Bunbury is a small town (pop 40,000), and I also work as a counselor for the Employee Assistance Program. The Ministry of Justice is one of our clients: occasionally the front gate of the prison would be opened by an officer that I was seeing for counseling. But it was okay and no big deal for them or for me. I believe that the staff and I gained each others' respect over the months.
To anyone wishing to present a similar project elsewhere: it helps to have friends in the right places. This is true in the prison and where I work right now, in the Health Department. I often send around posters for meditations etc to certain individuals in particular government and non-government agencies, inviting them to come along and try the meditations for themselves. Most meditations are attended by clients.
The best approach I have found for introducing anything new is to talk to people individually in management about what I would like to do: I usually mention the benefits I have noticed myself and comments from others. I keep it really simple and short. Then I put it all down on paper (again, very simply) and propose a short course of six to eight weeks. The proposal usually covers benefits for those under stress, finding out more who you are and becoming more self-accepting, etc. I also make reference to other parts of the world where such courses have been run to good benefit, and include copies of these if they are available.
I find it helpful to be very clear about the practical arrangements in the proposal and to note the dates, time, place etc, so that it is almost already in process. In the prison system I had to go with what suited them, but, on the whole, I like to present administrators with a fait accompli that they just have to say yes to. If I make it very simple and clear, there's not too much trouble.
The biggest thing for me personally is just knowing that this is what I would like to do and going for it. More often now I am asked to run programs...and that's great!
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