Transforming the minds and lives of Danish inmates

“Earlier, my definition of masculinity revolved around earning money by whatever means and responding with violence whenever needed. After doing this program, the definition has changed for me. Now, masculinity means being a good father to my son, a good husband to my wife, a good son to my parents and to live with peace and harmony.”
- Alex, a prison inmate from Denmark

This remarkable shift in Alex’s definition of masculinity happened when he attended the meditation program, Prison SMART.

Alex is not the only one to have undergone the change in mindset. He is accompanied by many other inmates in Denmark’s prisons who underwent the Prison SMART program, which helps them find inner peace and enhances their understanding towards life.

Prison SMART, which started in 2000, is the flagship program of The Art of Living organization conducted for prison inmates across the globe. It is taught along with Breathe SMART, a program for inmates to be released, wherein the attendees learn Sudarshan Kriya, a meditation technique that has been found effective in reducing stress and empowering people to lead a violence-free and happy life.

To understand the impact of these programs on prison inmates, Professor Ross Deucher from the University of West Scotland conducted an in-depth interview with 12 Danish men who underwent the two programs. With a history of violent criminal offending, they had been convicted for drug dealing, armed robbery, drug possession, weapon possession, attempted murder and murder.

Professor Deucher found that regular practice of meditation and yoga had induced a deep shift in the psyche of these inmates. Instead of responding to a stressful situation with anger, these inmates now responded with calmness. These inmates who were bound by their guilt and sorrow of their criminal act, now felt a sense of freedom with meditation, making it easier to experience joy and peace.

One of the most interesting encounters that Prof Deucher had was with a young inmate who stopped taking anti-depressants after undergoing the program.

He told the Professor that he used to have flashbacks of the violent act he was involved in and had lost his wife and child while still in jail. After doing the program, he felt as if he was blessed with a new life. Professor Deucher found this was not the experience of just a few of the inmates, but many others who shared that they stopped taking medication for their mental health after the programs.

The study concluded that the use of techniques such as Sudarshan Kriya is effective in helping prison inmates manage their emotions and deal with their psychological conditions. After the programs, they are able to let go of their negative emotions, accumulated stress and destructive behavior, eventually stepping into the new phase of their life with reformed enthusiasm.

Prison SMART is an internationally renowned rehabilitation program which uses advanced breathing techniques and yoga effectively to transform mindset and attitude as well as behaviors of offenders, thus breaking the cycle of violence at the root and preventing re-offending.