I was in prison and you came unto meThey sit all day in a prison without bars.Young men, overflowing with energy, whose greatest dream is to walk out of that prison and breathe free air again.There's nothing to stop them except a double chain link fence.And a guard outside with a high powered rifle and orders to shoot to kill.These young men are locked inside another prison, too, one whose bonds are not visible to the physical eyes: a prison of doubt, insecurity, fears, guilts, feelings of ineptitude and low self esteem.As Epictetus said nearly 2,000 years ago, “No man is free who is not master of himself.”These youthful offenders at Indian River Correctional Institution at Vero Beach, Florida, now have new tools to work with, to start them down an open road to freedom, to help them break the bonds that bind them, so that when they are released from the physical confinement, they will be able to remain out of trouble and free.The need to be able to direct their pent up frustrations and energies into constructive channels is obvious. Their inability to do this is what landed most of them in this hostile, fear-filled world of prison.One inmate came into this new program with his face hurting from a beating administered by another inmate.Another participant missed part of the program because he got into trouble and landed in “Lockup.”Yet two months after the program ended, none of the 14 participants has gotten into any further trouble despite some very difficult challenges for some of them.Calling it the “most exciting class I ever took,” one inmate said, “It helped me with a lot of my problems and now I know how to relax without any problem.”This from a young man who has been bombarded with rehabilitation programs and efforts since being sent to the model “Youthful offender facility.”The program that helped the 20year-old inmate achieve a new degree of self-control is Silva Mind Control, which has gained international acceptance since being introduced to the public in 1966, but which has never before been researched in a prison environment.The first time I ever saw IRCI, it reminded me of a well-kept junior college campus. Lots of green on the lawns, young men relaxing among the beige colored modern buildings. Then a guard glanced at a group sitting on the grass, and called to them: “I don't mind if you sit there, but stay on the sidewalk. I don't want you sitting on the grass.” I felt myself bristle at that, and I felt like saying something.The inmates all moved off the grass without comment. At least no verbal comment... just with their eyes. I began to realize why the natural youthful enthusiasm seemed subdued here.We all face tremendous amounts of stress in our daily lives. Some people find constructive ways to handle this energy. Others turn it into problems, like disease, alcoholism and addictions, neuroses or anti-social behavior that can land you in prison.Some people go out and get drunk so the energy can be used up getting rid of a hangover.Something has to be done with that energy, even if that “something” is harmful and destructive.Silva Mind Control, a product of more than 22 years of research by scientist Jose Silva, shows people how they can use more of their mind to solve their problems, to gain greater control over their mental energies.We have more than two million graduates in every state and in 42 countries around the world, and now 14 youthful offenders in a prison in Vero Beach, Florida.We presented the four-day Silva Mind Control program the last week in June 1979, on a scholarship basis. It was sponsored by the Universal Light of Christ Church in Satellite Beach, with the cost of materials paid by donations to the church by people who wanted to help.We were always pushed for time. It seemed like we'd no sooner get started than it was time for prison officials to count bodies or something. The first two days I was so rushed I did not even manage to cover all the material. It seemed like I was always starting the day talking about something I should have finished the day before. None of these distractions seemed to influence the effectiveness of the program at all.How effective was it?It will be a while before the long range results are known, but Chaplain Gene M. Little, who participated in most of the program along with the inmates, called it “A very positive program. I enjoyed it very much.” He said none of the men has gotten into any trouble since the course, and inmates themselves report they are much more relaxed and their grades in their high school and college courses are improving.Chaplain Little will keep track of participants after they leave prison for up to five years, to determine effectiveness in the best way possible: recidivism - do they get into trouble again? There are lots of really talented guys in there. Some compose music and perform at various churches in the community. There are some some really top notch artists too. And some are the inmates good enough to be professional actors.They are always looking for something to do, some way to use that tremendous energy they have inside. They were always eager to help me carry things, to help Chaplain Little do the things he needed to do. Yet they bicker with each other. That bothered me at first. I wanted to fuss at them, during class, about being nice to each other.Then I realized their behavior was consistent. The all-male environment precludes much physical contact. You can't just go up and hug a fellow inmate, like you can your father or brother. But they could “touch” me symbolically by carrying my equipment. And “touch” each other by pushing and shoving. Part of the ceiling was missing from the chaplain's office where somebody had broken in. All that was missing was his cigarette lighter. That lighter now provides one of the inmates a way to make contact with the chaplain.“We selected participants with varied backgrounds,” Chaplain Little explained. “In this group, we had all educational backgrounds, different types of offenses, different levels of interest in this program, everything I could think of.”“This will allow us to evaluate effectiveness for various inmates under various circumstances,” the chaplain said.Usually I like some distractions, some outside noise, during class. It helps people learn to concentrate better. But here it went to extremes. We had people prison staff coming into the rooms we used. Noisy air conditioners. And that intercom system. During the mental training exercises, we'd hear things like this: “Attention, please: will the following inmates please report to the control room...” During one exercise, one of the participants was called out. All they wanted was to give him a new cap! Somehow, it seems like the more distractions there are, the more effective the program is. They were the best group of psychics I have ever seen at the completion of the program.While it will take some time for prison officials to properly evaluate the program, inmates are ready to render their verdict.“It has helped me control myself in the world and around people,” one said.” I have a different outlook now,” another noted. “Mind Control has helped me to understand myself more, helped me in solving problems... I am doing better in my school work. It helps me to remember stories that I read.”Another inmate recognizes it is not a panacea. “I had heard that you could gain a lot of self control (through this program)... I did find that to gain anything from this you have to first want to gain and be willing to totally participate.”Another added, “I have learned to solve many of my problems with my own mind instead of having to go elsewhere. I think everyone should go through Mind Control who can.”“It has helped me to see that I can be something if I work at it,” another said.I've never before seen such honesty in a Mind Control class. These guys really let you know what they felt about things. They didn't try to fake it like most of us do, so we won't hurt people's feelings. It was a bit unsettling for me at first, but I really enjoyed it. They didn't mind a bit of mischief, either, like changing the speed on my tape player slightly, things like that.“Now that I have finished the class, I'm controlling my mind more and more in a very positive way,” one noted. “The class.. .was very, very helpful for me.”“Inmates here at IRCI, and at every correctional institution, are subject to incredible amounts of stress as compared to ‘free' people,” one inmate noted, “but thanks to Mr. Bernd and the Silva Mind Control Method, I have learned to relax even in this violent environment.“I would recommend Silva Mind Control method to anyone who finds it difficult to cope with every day stress, and I would also recommend Mr. Bernd as an instructor.”Even inmates who did not participate were impressed. “The way the ones who did take it reacted, I could easily see that it would be a very constructive and beneficial program for me (and as many others as possible) to involve themselves with,” one commented.What is the future of Mind Control in prison? That may be up to the public. The state is cutting back on rehabilitative programs. We may have to continue to rely on help from outside to continue this work.The end of the program was really a mind-blower for me. These men, who had sat apart as individuals for three and a half days suddenly found themselves wanting to be close to others, and to me. The things they did that final afternoon must have surprised them a lot. It even surprised me.They kept shaking my hand over and over, and were even being nice to each other.I was really “high” when I left the prison. A major purpose of Jose Silva’s work is to help humanity, to make the world a better place to live. I felt like the inmates were ready to get to work on that goal.A policy of revenge and retribution has never been an effective deterrent to crime. That sort of thing has not worked for thousands of years. Fear is a poor way to change behavior. In England, pick-pockets used to ply their trade among the crowds that went to see other pickpockets hanged!A rehabilitative approach must replace the vindictive one if we are to make sure that someone who has committed a crime does not, in the future, commit another one.
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