I’ve had the great honour of volunteering at our local prison for the last two years. This started off sharing some of the practices and tools of yoga, but in the last few months has morphed into sharing the work on mindfulness, as if it had been given wings.

It all happened in the Drug Treatment Unit of Mangaroa Prison in Hawkes Bay. I’d recently told the prison that I was only available to help with one yoga series this year.  But these guys, and their eagerness and dedication to continue, were compelling. I talked to them about offering an eight week mindfulness course that I teach. I said it would be demanding and that they would need to advocate for this programme to pull it off.  They did. Along with the fantastic volunteer coordinator, and against many odds due to course requirements and space, we made it happen.

To say I have a million words and none at the same time would be true.  It has truly has been a huge gift to my life.

The feedback from the men who took part showed the course was highly valued, and the men feel they benefited in different ways, from reducing stress levels and anger to improving sleep and focus.

But for me, the success was clear in many subtle ways. I mean, how do you quantify the great courage it takes to look into your own personal darkness – to sit with feelings of deep shame and come out with a different look in your eye? How do you describe how someone that would once enter the room highly agitated, head down, eyes darting, could now be that guy who makes sure everyone else is doing their daily practice? How do you describe someone sharing that they now understand what I meant when I asked them to feel into their future selves — because it is the same feeling he has when he remembers his small son looking up at him?

The volunteer coordinator came to our final closing celebration and award ceremony. The men each stood and spoke. She said she had never heard feedback like it. She wondered how I managed not to cry. The truth is I have cried many times – but at that time I was so very proud of each of the seven men that had the courage and tenacity to stay with this programme.

Here are some snippets of the feedback from the men who took part:

“This is a mean as course for reducing anger. My focus has improved a lot. I’m listening more and sleeping better. I learnt a lot about myself, being positive and positive affirmations. It has helped me in so many ways and will be part of me for the rest of my life.”

“This course has helped me settle my mind, notice my thoughts and stop me from reacting. I’ve learnt more at mindfulness than anything else in prison. ”

“Thank you for your time, wisdom and energy. For someone like me who is a bit ADHD, it’s teaching my brain new ways to process through life. I only wish I had have come to this earlier in my life.”

Interactive Volunteer Stories Map

This story was shared as part of our interactive map of volunteer stories from across Aotearoa, which we launched during #NVW2019. This map is filled with stories from volunteers throughout Aotearoa, New Zealand. This map celebrates the contribution of volunteers in their communities throughout Aotearoa. It aims to inspire people to engage in volunteering, Mahi Aroha and social action and to realise the benefits of weaving their communities together through their actions.