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 Blog Inspirations 

A Volunteer Psychotherapist Does PTSD Therapy in the Prison Visiting Room

Under Amma's guidance, I've been compiling a Circle of Love Inside prison outreach book. The chapters are written by Amma's prison outreach Circle of Love Inside letter-writers, mostly laypeople who write to support one or more inmates along their spiritual and personal growth paths while behind bars.

For one of the chapters I interviewed Deborah Welborn, a psychotherapist inspired by Amma’s limitless love and compassion to offer her services as a volunteer for Circle of Love Inside. Over a four-year period Deborah exchanged weekly letters with Joel Williams (author of A House Burning). She also conducted monthly therapy sessions with him in the visiting room where he was incarcerated (after 24 years in prison Joel was recently released on parole).

Here is an excerpt from the conclusion of our interview, a view of the prison visiting room:

Savitri: Would you tell me a little about how you changed during your time working with Joel?

Deborah: Work with Joel brought about a stillness and respect for the difficulties and perceived limitation of life inside prison. Life inside is a reality based on living and acting as if you are not affected by the anger, the tensions, the hatred held by inmates. Witnessing this fear-based life of the possibility of someone profoundly harming you or who could take your life was cause for an internal pause. The letter-writing and face-to-face sessions opened my heart to seeing with humility the humanity of men and women who lived behind the wall.

I think my change was a much deeper appreciation for what men and women in prison lived with, living so isolated, with none of the freedom that I thought they had, and where contact with family or being able to use—in my own naivety I thought they would somehow be able to use the internet, that there would be certain restrictions on how to use it, but there was none of that. They had television programs; they could watch the news; they could see what was going on. I began to have an appreciation for their limited access to the world and what was happening.

In the beginning, when I stood in the prison visiting room with 100 to 150 visitors and inmates, I found it to be a dry and disheartening experience. But over the years, seeing all the children there, who come to see their fathers, their uncles, and their entire families, I found their happiness to see one another to be infectious, and as a result my perception of the reality of the situation changed.

The families would come in with a grandparent and parent, and children and sit around a table and everybody brings this huge bag of quarters so they can buy food from the vending machines. The children play games, fathers laughing with their children, and playing a game and then you can see some parents that are very old, maybe grandparents, and you can see the sadness while they are trying to carry on a conversation with their sons. And there are all these relationships that come into this room. Some came every weekend, Saturday and Sunday and that’s the only contact they had.

The children would grow up knowing their father or their uncle in the blue denim shirt and the blue jean pants and they came in at a certain time and guards standing around the room. I was just sitting there and seeing that and feeling that, that this scene is so normal for these people. And what a huge difference this was from my own my normal walking life and waking life. This was something I did not know on that level. And some of these people I saw year after year, and the children running and playing. It was their life.

That effect on me was that when the inmates come into the visiting room they change. They see their lovers or their wives, or family, and it means so much to them. And when they go behind that wall, they change 100 percent. They come through a door that a guard opens and locks.

Savitri: Could you tell a bit more about how your experience in the visiting room expanded you?

Deborah: It is multi-level. One is the question of what karma is this? Why is it that this whole, as I see the essence of karma, has this particular person being born into this life, to this deviant behavior that’s going to lock them up forever?

And so I was feeling sadness, and then just watching it all, and that this is just the leela, the stage play of life—that this is just the way life is—I don’t know about karma really, but this is how their life is playing out, and I think of God as manifested in everyone and everything.

That this is the way consciousness is being manifested in this life and it’s very hard, and sometimes and it seems impossible that a person can see that they can change behind walls. But they can and there is no time like now.

Savitri : What an amazing and powerful story. Thank you.

Amma wishes that all her children will be able to love, forgive and accommodate others…mere words of sympathy are not what the world needs. What the world needs are hands that are ready to serve selflessly. Seeing the extent of the pervading darkness, one should not withdraw, thinking, ‘What possible change can my efforts make in this situation?’ If we can light the lamp of faith and love in our hearts and walk forward together, then we definitely can bring about a change in society.


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