The training was pioneered in the largest male maximum security prison in Kenya

Mindfulness training for prisoners set to transform Kenyan jails

A project which has transformed the lives of hundreds of Kenyan prisoners through teaching them mindfulness is set to expand, potentially leading to fundamental changes to the country’s jail system.

Members of the public can help support the training, which has been delivered to 1,000 inmates and staff in the country and has led to a dramatic reduction in drug and alcohol abuse and helped mend fractured family relationships.

The training was pioneered in the largest male maximum security prison in Kenya. Now it has expanded to almost 20 jails and institutions. A crowdfunding project has been launched to allow training in mindfulness – which involves training the mind in order to pay attention to the moment – to take place in potentially every prison in the country.

The project was founded by academics at the University of Exeter in 2015. Dr Inma-Adarves-Yorno who conducts the mindfulness training, said: “The passion of those involved is incredible.  Conditions are harsh and resources are minimal. Prisoners live in poor, overcrowded conditions. Despite that the inmates and staff have embraced the training and are taking it to others, personally demonstrating the power that mindfulness can have to change their lives.

“I would describe what is happening as a revolution. It is taking over the prisons, and those who come into contact with it in such a positive and incredible way.”

Dr Michelle Mahdon, part of the project team, said: “We’ve found evidence that this project is making a real difference to people’s lives. It has given them purpose and meaning, even if they have to spend the rest of their lives behind bars. They are better able to deal with their emotions, they are less aggressive and they want to make the world a better place.”

The programme is designed to make prisoners “mindful leaders”, who use mindfulness to lead their lives and inspire prisoners and even their family and friends to do the same.

A survey of 140 prisoners who had taken part in the project last year found 80 per cent reported feeling less stressed, and 86 said they were less angry. Three quarters said they were less likely to engage in conflict, and 84 per cent said they were better able to manage their emotions. A total of 89 per cent said they had more respect for rules and regulations, of those who said they used substances 85 per cent said they had reduced their use of drugs and 82 had reduced their use of alcohol.

As part of their work to train others in mindfulness prisoners have helped produce a mindfulness handbook, composed songs, including their own mindful leaders programme, and have produced poems, a play and drawings. They also take part in mindful drama and debate clubs.

One inmate Joseph Lodiaka Lokodir told researchers: “Before the introduction of mindfulness at Naivasha I was a negatively driven man. I felt isolated, impatient, authoritative, lonely. I couldn’t forgive, I was pessimistic and always hopeless about my tomorrow. I now think positively and try to learn my emotions, I deal with others in a more hospitable way than before, I take my time to try and make new opportunities in every circumstance that comes my way.”

Project manager Emma Jones said: “While the training is given for free on limited resources some are still essential such as pens and paper. For the cost of one take away coffee in the UK you could give five people the resources to make the training a success.  This crowdfunding will help to give vital equipment as well as funds for inspirational projects such as music to take the message and training further.”

The crowdfunding is live until the end of August and aims to raise initially £4,500 and a total of £11,500. To find out more see: https://exeter.hubbub.net/p/mindfulleaders/

Date: 1 August 2018

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