Devotees teach meditation in U.S. prison

24 August 2006 — Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA

Since 2003, devotee Steve Schmidt has been spending his weekends teaching Amma’s IAM Meditation Technique™ {news } to groups of devotees throughout America, mostly in devotees’ houses. Two months ago, however he entered a completely different teaching environment: the Santa Fe Juvenile Detention Home in New Mexico.

“We didn’t really know what to expect,” says Schmidt, a 60-year-old lawyer who has been a close devotee of Amma since 1987. ‘I mean these kids are part of a secured facility. They have all been sentenced by the Federal Court and have the potential to be in the facility until they are 21. But when we walked in the room on the first day, all of them were dressed in sweat pants, sitting in a circle on yoga mats. They looked like they were really ready for it.”

Currently 25 detainees are enrolled in the program. Every week, Schmidt and his teaching mates, Jonathon Crews and Scott Voorhees, spend one hour guiding them through the technique and answering any of their questions.

“It’s exciting to be able to do this,” says Crews, a practicing therapist and long-time devotee of Amma. “These are kids who obviously got off on the wrong track. But as they are still young, they have a much higher capacity for rehabilitation than adult prisoners.”

Schmidt agrees, “I see this as an opportunity to put a positive force in these kids’ lives, an opportunity to make a difference in their lives and to possible turn their lives around. They still have their whole lives ahead of them.”

Two groups of inmates are being taught the technique: the secured wing and the unsecured wing. Schmidt says the average age of the kids taking the class is 17, and that the majority of them are Native Americans.

Schmidt says that the detention-home authorities have been extremely open and cooperative: “The man coordinating this on the detention home’s part told us that he thought the whole thing was very valuable. He told me, ‘They need all the help they can get.’”

Schmidt explains that currently the detainees have extremely regimented schedules in order to keep them busy. “As soon as they wake up, they go to breakfast,” he says. “But the detention-home authorities are considering adjusting and making time for the kids who learn IAM to meditate before they eat.”

Recalling the first session back in June, Schmidt says the effect of the meditation on the kids was palpable. He says, “After we finished with the meditation the second time, there was a quiet that pervaded the whole atmosphere.”

Teaching-mate Crews felt agrees: “Yes, they got so quiet. The first time we chanted ‘Om,’ there was a lot of goofing around and chuckling, but when we chanted it to conclude the class, they were really focused.”

Schmidt says that the juvenile detainees claim improved energy and peace of mind since regularly practicing IAM.

–Kali Charan