Women’s Prison Association brings TM to women with criminal justice involvement
November 9, 2015
The Women’s Prison Association (WPA) is a social service organization based in New York City that works with women at all stages of criminal justice involvement. We promote alternatives to incarceration and help women avoid future arrest by making positive changes in their lives. Inside prison, we are a resource of support to women as they plan for release. After incarceration, women come to WPA to build the lives they want for themselves, their families and their community.
WPA partners with women to achieve a range of goals from finding safe and affordable housing, to obtaining employment, reuniting with their children, complying with criminal justice mandates, gaining peer support, accessing health services, and learning skills for daily life such as household budgeting.
At WPA, we envision a space where reliance on incarceration as a default response to crime is replaced by constructive, community driven and enhancing responses. To help further this vision, we partnered with the David Lynch Foundation (DLF) this summer and introduced the Transcendental Meditation (TM) program to our clients and staff. So far, both clients and staff have reported significant changes in their lives after regular meditation.
Our DLF TM teacher was the incredible, flexible, patient and thoughtful Rachel Katz. We couldn’t ask for a more perfect teacher to give us a new tool for addressing an old problem. At Rachel’s suggestion, we first trained direct service personnel so they could develop a better understanding of the TM practice through firsthand experience.
Amongst our first group of trainees was Alicia, a case manager who asked to be excluded due to prior trauma.
As a post-traumatic consequence of an accident, Alicia felt very uncomfortable closing her eyes. But after spending time with Rachel and learning about TM in greater detail, Alicia decided to try TM. During her first TM session, Alicia kept her eyes closed for a only a few minutes, but by the time she completed her four TM training sessions, her eyes remained closed in meditation for ten minutes!
At WPA’s Huntington House, we provide housing and services for women and their children. We help clients find employment, permanent housing, and strengthen the bonds between family members.
To earn trust and confidence with the Huntington House residents, Rachel joined our weekly arts-therapy class which incorporates aspects of meditative relaxation. After some visits, the invisible barriers came down and Rachel was able to connect with residents and speak about the benefits of TM, particularly for women who experience high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, and anger. She quickly found a group of seven enthusiastic women looking for an alternative and additive technique to help them transcend and stabilize in society.
The results have been noteworthy. One participant, whose name has been omitted for privacy purposes, wrote in her feedback report:
I meditate everyday, twice a day. I see the benefits everyday when dealing with my child or anyone else. I have more patience and understanding. I have more energy. Since meditation, my sugar levels have regulated (I am diabetic). It seems like everything has fallen into place because my thought process has changed: things that used to matter don’t matter any more because I seem to have lost my negative energy. I just totally appreciate you introducing Transcendental Meditation as a daily routine in my life. Thank you.
Wrote another client with narcolepsy, a sleeping disorder that causes uncontrolled and excessive daytime sleepiness:
I feel restful at night and energetic in the morning. The way I deal with problems and problem solving skills seems clearer. My reactions to conflict have changed. Transcendental Meditation has been a blessing and I know it can only get better.
Her two teenage kids have since learned Transcendental Meditation as well, so that they can meditate together as a family.
As Manager of the Women’s Prison Association Foundation and Corporate Relations, it has been a pleasure and relief to see our clients with an easy-to-learn relaxation technique that can be a tool to help lower their stress, anger, even blood pressure, while boosting levels of happiness, satisfaction, and peace.
There is nothing we want more at WPA than to see our women staying out of prison and stabilizing in society with their family and community. With regular Transcendental Meditation, I believe we can achieve this together.
About The Author
Rebecca Pak is Manager of Foundation and Corporate Relations, and has been at WPA since stepping off the plane from Brisbane, Australia where she worked for one of the country’s largest retailers. In her role, Rebecca manages WPA’s portfolio of 40+ foundations and corporate partners. Since starting in 2011, she has grown the agency’s number of corporate partners from 2 to over 20. She has been integral in ensuring that the agency has private dollars to respond to program needs. Rebecca holds a Bachelor of Criminology and Criminal Justice degree from Griffith University, and lives in the Lower East Side, a short distance from her second home, WPA’s historic Hopper Home. This article was first published on the David Lynch Foundation blog.