Dear BR,

For 8 years my wife and I have been doing literacy work, connecting with prisoners. We would like to invite the chaplain to help us, but we don’t want to rock the boat, because it’s easy to be sent out. Do you have any suggestions on how to use guided imagery in educational settings for these men?


Joe B.

Dear Joe,

Kudos to you and your wife for doing this important and meaningful volunteer work.

First of all, I’d like to say that our experience has been that most chaplains tend to be highly receptive to guided imagery – they are some of our strongest advocates in hospitals, prisons and also within the armed services and V.A. system, although of course there are regional, denominational and individual differences, as with anything else.
Additional points working in your favor:

  • Imagery alleviates a lot of suffering in prison – depression, stress, grief, insomnia, anger and PTS.  
  • It promotes relaxation and creativity.
  • It enhances learning.
  • It facilitates anger management and better self-control, so it tends to improve behavior. (Actually, this may be your best selling point to some of the officials!)
  • It provides a legitimate, safe and non-threatening means of mental escape for the prisoners.

You may be better served by calling it “stress management training” or “self-mastery skill building” – which it legitimately is.  If you use it at the start of your classes, calling it a relaxation exercise, it will relax the men and allow them to learn faster. (It’s the same with kids, only more so.)  There’s actual research to back this up, especially with developmental disabilities, adult hyperactivity disorders, and other barriers to learning, so I’m not just nattering on here.
Depending on the nature of your facility, you may have to get your audios into the system through the staff social worker or psychologist or chaplain, because, as a volunteer, you may not be allowed to directly bring in “contraband” in the form of a CD on your own.
Some penitentiaries require that CDs come in unopened packaging directly from the manufacturer to a staff person.  Some require that the imagery be played only in the provider’s office, with staff present.  City jails and prisons tend to be a little looser with these rules, and in some cases, you may be able to just load up your iPod and bring a whole collection in.
I hope this is helpful.  I do recommend that you go ahead and pursue this.  I don’t think asking respectfully will get you thrown out and you may be surprised by the response you get – especially from a chaplain.  And of course, if they say no, well, you tried.
Good luck with this!

All best,