"Tell em we ain't animals, Doc. Be our voice out there"
Dozens of men told me this in the weeks before I left, many of them men I did not know. As I walked the long walk to the receiving area from which I would be released, men called out to me from the concrete buildings of the compound. “Tell em Doc. We ain’t animals.”.
In the recent prison riot and hostage taking at Vaughn Correctional Institution in Delaware, the prisoners number one demand was for education, any sort of education. These men know that the recidivism rate nationwide is approaching 80% after three years. They want to learn to think differently. They do not want to return to prison. Virtually all of them are acutely aware of the three strikes laws which will put them away for most of their lives. As it is, our society is locking up potentially productive men for most of their twenties and thirties. These men are being warehoused at a cost of $38,000 a year per men in direct costs. The indirect costs far exceed that in terms of destroyed families and lost income from productive wage earners and social welfare costs for their families. Furthermore, the children of incarcerated men are very likely to eventually become incarcerated themselves.
These men will be released. And they will commit more violent crimes. Our country now incarcerates more men than the entire country of China, which has a billion more people than we do.
“We have the tools, we have the knowledge and the understanding to teach ex-offenders to not return to prison. We are not implementing what we know works. We have to do this, to prevent these men from victimizing others, and to save their lives”.
Khalil Peterkin, Founding Co-director of the Recidivism Prevention Group and former Clinical Supervisor of the Key Drug, Alcohol, and Criminal Thinking Treatment Program at Sussex Correctional Institution.
The Recidivism Prevention Group is a not for profit company dedicated to implementing known strategies to prevent recidivism. Melvin Morse MD and Khallil Peterkin MS are the founding directors. We use strategies drawn from the field of mindfulness meditation, leadership programs for corporate executives, known proven strategies such at Alternatives to Violence and Victim’s Impact, as well as *Tonglen, an advanced meditation technique. We firmly believe that education and job opportunities, while essential for ex-offenders, will not be effective until ex-offenders change the way that they think. This will occur through meditation and mind training, that is, spiritual solutions.
Mr. Peterkin is a devout Muslim. Dr. Morse is a mixture of Jewish Renewal and Quakerism. They have an interfaith approach to spirituality. Ultimately, spirituality, for them, is living a productive and moral life. The ultimate spirituality, as defined by the Reverand Dr. Martin Luther King Jr is inherent in his statement “Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men”.
"And how much youth was uselessly interred within these walls? One really has to tell the whole truth. The people here are exceptional. Why they might have been the most talented, the strongest of our people. But their tremendous strength is spent in vain. Abnormally, unjustifiably, irrevocably. But who is to blame?"
These words were written by Dostoevsky about the Russian prison system, but they could have been written by me. Sad beyond measure. Can our society really afford to waste its most valuable resource: The unused productive potential of young healthy men's lives as fathers, husbands, and wage earners.
Ex-offenders need the guidance of discovering that “Great soul” that exists within every man.
Many of the inmates questioned whether or not the insights gained with Tonglen are "real", meaning can they be trusted as a transformative tool and not simply a product of the imagination. I taught these inmates to remote view. They directly experienced the wonder of accessing information from this universal consciousness which they would have no ordinary means of obtaining. In this manner, they learned that the insights gained from Tonglen and meditation are also real.
This alone often resulted in men stating with awe, "there must be a god." and "I don't want to hurt people anymore".