Mindfulness in Folsom Prison

Some of the most dangerous prisoners are freeing themselves from solitary confinement by practicing mindfulness.

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“Prisons are unbelievably noisy—there’s no quiet,” says Tony Bernhard.

He would know. He’s been teaching mindfulness to the inmates at Folsom Prison outside of Sacramento California for the past four years. He was invited to teach mindfulness to the staff at Folsom and then, when they decided to start offering it to prisoners 4 years ago, he switched to teaching inmates. He works with people in the general population and also the men who are kept in what the prison calls therapeutic modules. “These are the guys who are being held in solitary because they are too dangerous to be allowed in the presence of another human being unmanacled,” says Bernhard.

“When I first saw these units, these cages that the guys are in (think oversized phone booth with a little seat and table), I was uncomfortable. But I’ve come to see the utility of them. I see them as a positive. I’ve watched the prisoners go off on each other from one cage to another just….breathtakingly fast,” recounts Bernhard.

Without the cages, he knows he wouldn’t be able to meet with half the men he sees. And those men wouldn’t be able to learn the mindfulness skills…