- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 14, 2016

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) - If there is one thing that can be counted on inside a community corrections facility, it’s the noise.

Not constant - except the hum of air conditioner fans - but always there: People talking; the KA-THUNK! of closing doors; footsteps here and there.

Every Monday at 6 p.m., however, the sounds seem to recede for participants in Vanderburgh County’s Therapeutic Work Release program who take part in the 15-20 minute weekly mindful meditation sessions.

Sounds that might be distractions any other day drift by unheeded, like clouds in the sky.

“We don’t really have no peaceful time in here. I have not had peace and quiet like that in a long time,” said Leonard Lemon, after a recent meditation session.

“Relaxed” and “quiet” were some of the words participants used to describe it afterward.

“It was peaceful. That 20 minutes passed faster than any 20 minutes I’ve had in here before,” said Shane Teare.

The two were among 13 men participating in the mindful meditation session.

It’s part of a relatively new focus on rehabilitation at the county’s community corrections facility, renamed Therapeutic Work Release when judges overseeing the county’s treatment courts took over responsibility for it.

In July 2015 Superior Court Judge Wayne Trockman and Circuit Court Judge David Kiely, who oversee the various county treatment court programs, took over daily administration of work release. Sheriff David Wedding remains responsible for security and maintenance at the facility, located next to the county jail.

Meditation is just one of the many programs at the overhauled work release program, which offers behavioral, educational, vocational and employment counseling, substance abuse treatment and classes covering everything from personal finance to GED preparation to fatherhood.

When defense attorney Chris Lenn heard about the shift from incarceration to rehabilitation at work release, he knew he could contribute something unique - mindful meditation practice.

He had already had some experience working with the local Mindful Heart Buddhist Sangha, volunteering to help lead meditation groups at the state’s Branchville Correctional Facility.

Lenn helped organize, and often leads, secular meditation sessions at Therapeutic Work Release.

“I thought it was important to be secular. The point is to bring in the practice of mindful meditation without any cultural or religious baggage,” he said.

In any given week, the group of work release participants meditating may include both return participants and those new to the practice. That suits Lenn fine.

“Basically, you’re always starting over because new people are there. It’s always brand new. It’s always being in the present moment,” he said.

The idea of mindfulness for stress reduction was pioneered by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn as way to help people deal both with physical pain and the stress of modern life, Lenn said.

“There is an element of self-love that develops. It actually changes the way that the brain works,” Lenn said.

This is done through focusing attention on something, usually breathing, while sitting still. As distractions such as thoughts, noise, physical sensations come to attention, the idea is to acknowledge them passively and let them pass, clearing the mind and remaining focused.

“The idea is to create a gap between external stimulus and their response,” Lenn said. “This is important because that is how many people wind up in trouble. They got there because of their unskillful approach to dealing with external stimuli, whether it’s drugs or alcohol or anger.”

What develops is the ability to take a moment and think before reacting to something.

“The key to it is to do it every day,” Lenn said.

To help with this, the meditation work release participants are encouraged to find time, even if it is just five minutes, to practice the technique, whether it is in a chair or in their bunks or during a break at their jobs.

Sometimes the quieting of the mind involved in meditation can reveal long-suppressed issues for some participants.

“When you settle down inside and start to calm down a lot of buried trauma, psychological trauma, starts to arise,” Lenn said. “What is great is there is a lot of support there with the counseling staff.”

Austin McShanog said meditation has been helpful for him.

“I have ADHD, so I tend to act before I think,” he said.

He said he has attended a dozen of the meditation sessions so far and they have helped him.

“I do it before I go to bed at night,” McShanog said.

Ed Madry said he has attended several of the weekly sessions and found them beneficial.

“I wanted to change my thinking,” he said. “I want to show my kids that it doesn’t always have to be chaos - let my kids know they can step away from things and think them through.”

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Source: Evansville Courier and Press, https://bit.ly/25ZV92Q

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Information from: Evansville Courier & Press, https://www.courierpress.com


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