A powerful ego combined with poor self-image often leads to offending behaviour. Meditation and yoga help to lessen the power of ego and enhance self-image. It is our belief that these two safe and therapeutic disciplines can assist in the rehabilitation of inmates.
Freeing the Human Spirit is a program of the John Howard Society of Canada, a national organization that has, since 1962, been dedicated to working with people who are in conflict with the law by providing services ranging from assistance in finding employment and housing to anger management and substance abuse counselling. The partnership between the John Howard Society and Freeing the Human Spirit was inaugurated in 2013 when FTHS founder Sister Elaine MacInnes retired. Recognizing the natural affinity between the two organizations, she entrusted the sustained success of Freeing the Human Spirit’s meditation and yoga programs to the John Howard Society. The integrity of these programs will continue to be preserved while their scope will continue to grow.
We have two simple objectives that feed naturally into one another. The first is to promote and advance the physical, mental, and spiritual development of inmates in Canada through the practice of meditation and yoga, and the second is to support the meditation and yoga teachers who offer classes in correctional facilities. By encouraging this reciprocal relationship, we hope to reinforce our shared humanity.
What We Do
Even where isolation is overpowering, the human spirit can triumph. Based on a growing body of knowledge about the physical, mental, and spiritual transformation made possible by meditation and yoga, Freeing the Human Spirit has developed programs through which these skills can be shared in Canadian prisons.
Just as mindfulness meditation and yoga nourish the body’s flexibility, balance, and strength, so too do they revitalize brain functions, helping to alleviate depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive behaviour, and anger. Where brain functions are revitalized, addictions are quietened, stresses are mediated, and restorative justice is possible. The benefits of this reshaping are not solely felt by the individual—they are also felt by communities which are made considerably healthier and safer as a result.
Why We Do This
Freeing the Human Spirit is founded on the understanding that all people, regardless of their background, mental health, or current circumstances, have a shared humanity. We believe in restorative justice as a foundation for healing, and that this is crucial to a dynamic, sustainable society.
Conditions in prison are dehumanizing, often serving to reinforce unhealthy psychological patterns rather than to rehabilitate and eventually reintegrate inmates. As a result, recidivism rates remain high: Nearly one in three inmates released from Correctional Services Canada (CSC) will reoffend within two years of release . Without the support system that mind-body awareness can provide, inmates often experience intense alienation as they try to negotiate the outside world.
Research into the positive impact of inmate participation in meditation and yoga classes has been increasing in the past decade. We believe strongly that we are part of a progression that could have massive implications for the rehabilitation of inmates, who, despite their invisibility in the minds of many Canadians, live in large numbers (163,000 in 2010/2011). For more detailed summaries of some of this research, please see our Resources section.
We recognize the challenges many inmates experience—structural and personal abuse, homelessness, mental illness, low self-esteem, lack of purpose, depression, low levels of education, substance use, and financial insecurity. By the same token, we recognize that these challenges are not being sufficiently addressed by traditional correctional frameworks, which model isolation and violence. For the sake of a thriving society, it is time that alternative modes, such as those offered by Freeing the Human Spirit, be explored.