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The Inside Story: Prisoners Feedback on Meditation The Inside Story: Prisoners Feedback on Meditation

The following includes personal testimonies from several prisoners who participated in the program instigated by Dr Vincenzo Fatta, at Casa Circondariale di Pagliarelli in Palermo, Italy.
Names were included on the original copies of these testimonies, appearing here in translation, but have been replaced by initials to protect prisoners' privacy.

     I don't know if it's the same for my fellow prison mates but concerning the impressions that we exchange after the [meditation] sessions I have noticed something.... For example, I am quieter, less tense. I even manage to sleep better at night.
     I am more accepting of whatever is happening around me in the moment, even considering the fact that we prisoners certainly don't have one of the best daily routines – always enclosed and, for most of the hours in the day, on the bed watching TV. Certainly, as far as I am concerned, I think it is because of a greater sensitivity towards people and a perception of what I'm receiving from this course.
It is as if I am also lighter in the body, cleaner inside and freer mentally; also freed from the negative thoughts that tend to come up when you are in jail.
     I have a wider vision of everything that is around me, even a greater perception of the senses...as if I could see more, or could feel more things or hear different sounds. I also have a greater acceptance of the reason why I am here, awareness of my mistakes, and sometimes it seems like I am becoming another person.
     It's as if I am throwing everything I have inside into a garbage container and a fresh breeze is coming in. I don't know exactly what it is but of one thing I am certain – you may not believe me – today I feel good with others and myself, and I am sure the change comes from this course and from the exercises that the [meditation] master [Dr. Fatta] teaches us.
     What I can say to my prison mates is to try to believe in what you are doing through the meditations. I am sure that every person, through the meditation course, can feel better.
BA 12 May 2000

     Right now I'm going to express the results of the course that I have participated in.
My first session began in the month of March. Since that session, I can confirm that I have a feeling of peace with myself...as if I have become unburdened of all my thoughts and my stress. Being inside my cell most of the time it's easy to be a bit tense. Thanks to this fabulous technique [Dynamic] I got to the point of controlling myself. This is important for me. I have been facing a lot of stress related to a lot of traveling because of my court cases.
     When I was transferred to another institution, Catagna Biccocca, I was feeling very stressed; I had a knot in my stomach. Then, in the cell where I was, I started to use this fabulous technique learnt from two excellent masters of meditation techniques and relaxation, and I started to melt, as they taught me the first phase.
     Then I started with the second phase: releasing and throwing all the things that we don't need, just like throwing out trash. Phase three: slowly, starting with hyperventilated breathing, deep breathing, very energetic, until I become master of my body, till I become my own healer.
     I can say that through this technique I am achieving, with my body, something I didn't even know I was capable of. I hope I can return to this course to be reborn as another person. What I am searching for, thanks to this technique, is to be a free man, even if enclosed within these walls.
PS 9.5.2000

     Detained in the Pagliarelli prison, I have been permitted by the prison administration to attend this course, of which I had never heard before and in which I had requested to participate. I certainly did it only to escape a bit from my daily routine. I didn't believe it would be possible to discover such benefits and more awareness of the body.
     I am not saying I have felt mental tranquillity but some mental relaxation, yes; inner peace and less aggression towards my fellow inmates. I only know that I have grasped something that I can't explain to myself. I only know that it has happened and is happening right now, with more and more ease, since I have been doing the various exercises that the master is teaching us and which it is also recommended we do in our cell, when we are alone. We can gain benefits in everything.
     It was specifically in my cell that I achieved some of those benefits; I say "some" because I am sure today that it is possible to achieve much more.
I repeat that, today, in myself there is more acceptance of what is around me.... That acceptance was difficult before because of the tension I had inside, which was ready to explode at the smallest provocation...also because of the daily life we have in jail. Today I can say that in spite of everything, I feel free inside, with less weighing me down.
     I firmly believe that this is one of the few techniques that could really give something to prisoners. To the people who start the course I can only say that it is not just a game, as it can appear. You need to trust, and to put yourself into what you are doing, with more and more focus. Then you will really see the benefits.
     In this technique I think that everything is connected with the breathing exercises that we do; I actually think it is the main ingredient of the whole thing. I, like many of us, have been puzzled, wondering if I was becoming an idiot in doing this course, and particularly if I was becoming mad.
     I only know that I have grasped something that I could call "new life energy," a feeling of freedom, of freedom inside the body...as if regenerating myself, and becoming more reflective. So these are probably the most appropriate words...free from the chaos that the world makes us accumulate inside.
     You can think whatever you like about what I am saying – that maybe I am imagining things, that maybe I am saying stupid things or lying. Yesterday I would have taken this very badly but today, because of what I am learning, I don't mind, because I just know what it is really possible to achieve when I go into this [Dynamic] technique whole-heartedly. I only know that outside this situation I will continue it.

The Experience I Had
     I reached the peak of this experience when I was alone in my cell in the course of the group, maybe because in the session itself there is always some distraction because of mates commenting about things. Or maybe because you watch what others are doing; you watch them moving, and then you can't concentrate, and so you can't catch hold of that energy that enters you.
     I repeat that without doing the breathing correctly you cannot go onto the next stages. Think what you want, I am saying to you that today I managed to escape...even if only with my mind, and I think also with my body, and to sense smells more clearly, to hear better...as if I am developing my senses more and to reclaim things that I had lost the significance of, and which, for me, had just been smells or simply daily noises. It's as if today I feel them in another way...I savor them....
     I think that I have found something: the inner guide, a new balance, as if another energy is inside which I am assimilating more. It's also as if I am discovering my body...knowing myself more deeply...an inner guide, a god that is close to me.
     I think that today there are many of us searching for something that we cannot find, and maybe we don't even know ourselves what we are searching for, what we want. I think I have found some answers to many things. But what I know is that since doing this technique I am quieter, more balanced.... One finds one's self, one's own being...something forgotten and lost that we had stored inside and that we could not unearth.
     The stages of breathing, according to my interpretation, through the fresh oxygenation that we take in, release the negative energies within the body and refresh the body and mind.
     I am sure that if you really try this method you can discover what I have found and felt: the importance of connecting with yourself; of discussing, of exchanging and sharing, and coexisting. Today I feel wiser, more reflective, with less anger inside, more natural and authentic. I am also less shy in confronting people and talking...even when the other feels differently from me. I was a very reserved person, closed inside. Today I feel more open and free.
     Some exercise can look stupid because of the kind of movements – like the shaking of the body. I am not saying that it is not; even the shouting of words without any meaning that we let go of from inside.... They are to release the energy that we have inside which is so much more than what we can imagine, old energy that is inside accumulated like in a storeroom of junk. So, one is to throw it out, to make space for new energy. It's like remaking a car, like putting a new engine in it or giving it a new body.
     It is important to achieve all this that you have to trust in what you are doing; then you will see the benefits of it. I don't know if behind all this there is a trick, or if it triggers some physical phenomena that I don't know of, but I only know that I myself don't use tricks. There is just me with the different stages of the meditation that I have learnt from the master and apply as correctly as possible and with as much totality as possible, creating my small space, disconnecting from everything outside.
     I think I have reached a good level, if I could put it this way, and I am ready to go further...to push myself beyond. I hope I made myself clear, but some of these things are indescribable if you don't have a direct experience.
FP May 8 2000

I confirm that I attended the meditation course. And I have to say that initially, in my opinion, I didn't find it very interesting. As time went by, I had to change my mind because without knowing it, inside my being something was changing.
Now we are half way through the course and I sincerely feel like another person. I think I have learnt that some steps are very important for me, viz: the reconnecting of the whole body, the inner tranquillity and, more than anything else, the mastering of ourselves. I am convinced that it is thanks to these wonderful people who, with so much patience, managed to take on so many roles in order to be able to teach us this wonderful thing, unknown to us before.
We can make a resource of this golden teaching when we are outside this institute also, and, if it were up to me, I would make an ordinance that all prisoners of this institute could attend this course, to find wellbeing and friendliness.
GBM 10 May 2000

I declare that since the first day that I had the fortune to attend the meditation course I have to admit that physically and, even more, psychologically, I found such an inner serenity, for which I don't think an adjective exists in the Italian language to describe.
Some of us think that we are sages just because we have given some good guidance to others. But unfortunately I have to say that, after so many sessions of this eastern discipline, I realize that in effect we ourselves don't have enough experience to be able to guide others!
In fact this discipline is teaching us to firstly connect with our body; in fact we almost always are disconnected from it and, as a consequence, we live in continual stress. I am fully convinced that from this course I can extract benefits even outside this institute. So I hope that I can continue for some time to learn this unique discipline more deeply, to be able also to transmit it to others too.
FV 10 May 2000

Read more about Dr Fatta's work in:
...Free Inside: A Meditation Course in Jail
...Doing Time As a Meditation
...Prison: A Lesson in Inner Freedom - La Republica

...Back for more

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