When Francis Scott Key concluded the Star Spangled Banner by penning the words “the land of the free, and the home of the brave,” he likely didn’t consider the fact that, today, America is now close to being considered the land of the free and home of the stressed. An estimated 1 in 2 Americans have experienced a large stressful event in their lives in the past year according to NPR. Similarly, an APA study found that almost three-quarters of Americans reported having felt stressed over money in the past year.
As you may expect, incarceration is far from a walk in the park. Prisoners, like most Americans, often find themselves feeling overwhelmed at points of their lives. However, unlike your average American, an inmate cannot choose to simply go for a walk, listen to relaxing music or watch some mind-numbing television to unwind at his or her leisure. Inside of a prison, as you’d likely expect, is more of a breeding ground for stress than it is a stress-relieving environment.
However prison programs across the country often have the goal of doing just that–helping to calm down inmates, get them into the right state of mind, and prepare them for the post-incarceration world.
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of prison programming is finding programs that prisoners are interested in that benefit them, and are intelligently constructed. What’s smarter, then, than SMART? Featured in 45 countries around the world, Stress Management and Rehabilitation Training, or S.M.A.R.T puts a large focus on helping inmates manage their stress and emotions with the hope of lowering the rate of recidivism across the globe.
According to the SMART website, “Prison SMART teaches skills that reduce stress, heal trauma, and provides practical knowledge of how to handle negative emotions in order to live to one’s highest potential and contribute to society in a positive way.” The key behind the success that SMART has seen since its inception in 1992 is the program’s adaptability. A primary focus of the SMART programming, which claims to have benefitted over 350,000 people, are breathing exercises. These exercises, however, aren’t limited to only prisoners, but families, victims and entire departments within prisons.
While “deep breathing” might seem like more of a side effect of a lengthy jog than a programming effort, the benefits of the SMART program are impressive to say the least. According to the website, participants in the course have relayed that they get better sleep, feel less anxious, depressed and conflicted, have better self-control and a more positive outlook, among many, many others.
The practice of Sudarshan Kriya, the deep breathing technique employed by SMART has had enormous benefits on prison inmates, guards, and many others, and can be added to the list of meaningful prison programs that are giving aid to inmates around the world.