From: Sarah Senter
Sent: Wednesday, January 21, 2015 11:46 AM
To: Margot Neuman
While working as a Mental Health Specialist at a state prison for the Florida Department of Corrections, I had an opportunity to meet Mrs. Margot Neuman with the Ratna Peace Initiative. As I worked with inmate-clients doing outpatient psychotherapy and group therapy I had witnessed that men who were engaged in the “Buddhist group” from the religious program in the prison appeared to have been coping differently than men who did not; they appeared to remain calm in the face of chaos and were able to reframe the challenges they faced in a way that made sense for them. In an effort to understand what these men were doing to find this peace, I chose to sit in and observe the Buddhist group in the prison chapel.
On the day I sat in on the group, I had the pleasure to meet Mrs. Neuman when she came to volunteer her time, knowledge and skills with the group on Mindfulness. Each of the men talked about themselves and I noted that all of the men chose to share the challenges they used to face when they offended. They talked about excessive anger and rage, they talked about depression, they talked about shame and guilt and they all noted that after they became engaged in Buddhist study and more specifically the study of Mindfulness how they were more in control of those thoughts and feelings that played such a large part in committing crimes. Mrs. Neuman led the group in a mindfulness exercise. During the exercise, she reminded the group to return to their mind to center the thoughts and wanderings. Then the group was given a full hour to practice mindfulness without guidance followed by a question and answer session. It was a life changing experience for me and I worked on the practice myself each day following. It became clear to me that mindfulness was not a religious experience; it was a PEACE experience …
In fact, I was so impressed with the men who had been working with Mrs. Neuman, I engaged them to assist with the curriculum and the best way to present it to this particular population. These men, criminals as they are known to society, became leaders in a practice of engaging with their own thoughts and feelings in a meaningful way; a way that will eventually lead them out of the barbed wire and into a mainstream life filled with emotional regulation and thoughtful actions.
Mrs. Neuman’s guidance through the Ratna Peace Initiative helped teach me a more effective way to help others heal themselves and it has become a practice that I bring to all of my clients now, both in confined incarcerated environments as well as those in mainstream society who find themselves captive in their own mind. While my time with the Florida Department of Corrections has come to an end, I remain in touch with Mrs. Neuman and the Ratna Peace Initiative as a valuable resource for education about mindfulness and volunteerism. She and the Initiative are a great example of what is possible when we come together for a greater good.
Sarah Senter, MA, IMH10785
Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern, State of Florida
From: Hope, John
Sent: Monday, January 26, 2015 2:27 PM
To: Margot Neuman
The Ratna Peace Initiative under your oversight and leadership certainly has been much appreciated at the Sumter Correctional Institution. Your frequent visits with our inmate Buddhist Community have been very affirming and the men have benefitted greatly from your ministry of presence. The written materials that you have so graciously provided have also served to improve our library offerings and your teaching on Meditation Techniques, and the Meditation Retreats that you offered, have been invaluable, especially among our inmate population that continues to cope with Post Traumatic Stress issues. You also were very instrumental in bringing Sgt. Paul Kendel to Sumter CI and his on-going services to the inmates participating in the Veterans Program has been a blessing and a great help to those who are seeking inner peace while living under very stressful and trying conditions. Needless to say, in my twenty seven years that I have served as a Chaplain behind the fences, it is very rare to find compassionate persons such as yourself, who offer the quality of programming that you present to our inmates. Thank you for all that you do to serve the men who reside behind the fences.
John N. Hope, Sr. Chaplain
Sumter Correctional institution
9544 C.R. 476B
Bushnell, FL 33513