Reiki In Prison

by Michelle McCarthy, RM/T, IARP, HTP

I think all of us Reiki practitioners would agree that once we begin our path/relationship with Reiki our lives change in ways we could never imagine. I am no exception to that. 

Last November (2000) I held a Reiki presentation in an animal training facility. I have spent 30 plus years in the grooming industry and have seen wonderful things with our four legged companions and Reiki. However, this workshop had a different ending from others I had done for people and their "precious furs." A woman approached me afterward and said, "You know, I think this would be great for my dog, but I work in a jail and I think my men would love this! Would you consider coming out and speaking to them?" There wasn't a moment's hesitation; I said, "Yes." Immediately after, I thought my knees would buckle. You see, I had been the victim of an attempted robbery at gunpoint AND I had been physically assaulted on another occasion. And my first thought was, "What have I just done?" Isn't it amazing how the Universe puts us in situations to help us heal?

In February 2001 I took my first steps into the Hampshire County House of Corrections in Northampton, MA. I toured the facility, filled out paperwork to be approved for volunteer status and left some information and a sign-up sheet for an introductory workshop to be posted for the men to see. The articles had to do with Reiki and Alcohol/Drug Addiction Recovery and Reiki and Unconditional Love. Well, in less than 36 hours I received a call that the sign up sheet was taken down because it was full! We went on to do 4 Reiki Intro Workshops and thus began the Pilot Program for Reiki.

We held our first class in June with 4 inmates and 1 staff member. What a joy and an honor it is for me to volunteer in this facility with these men. It has helped me tremendously with my own healing and prejudice that I felt toward the people who attempted to rob and assault me. 

The men who are involved are part of a Life Skills Program within the facility. These are men who will be released within a few months to a few years. As such they take certain classes that will help them in the real world, such as anger management, parenting and health classes that teach them about STD’s, HIV, etc. Our second class was held in September with 5 inmates and our next class in November had 5 as well. The original 4 men have already been released.

Almost immediately after our first class, I began contacting people to see if they would donate books and table(s) for the men. It was important to me that the men have access to as much information/ reading material as they could get. Without it, they would have just their student manuals from me. Since this is a correctional facility, the men do not have access to me outside of the jail, therefore, it was important that they be able to get any information they needed when I was unavailable. And of course, they have been "taught" that the best “knowledge” of Reiki comes through using it!

The responses to the requests I made were overwhelmingly supportive and I am so grateful to those in the Reiki community who so generously gave. William Rand, Jane Anne Narrin and Mari Hall donated many copies of their books, as did individual people from around the globe who live in Reiki themselves. Used tables were donated from a school of massage in Boston, Massachusetts. I had tableware made and purchased pillows and fleece covers for these tables. 

This has been an incredible learning experience for all of us. Thus far, what has transpired has been amazing. The men use Reiki regularly to reduce their own stress and to help them sleep. When they feel anger, they place Reiki hands on themselves to reduce it. They are working on other inmates within their community as well. In fact, one man wrote a proposal for a Reiki Clinic that he wishes to hold one evening a week. As a result of their commitment to use Reiki and to share it with others, they are now permitted to go into the rooms of their fellow inmates to do private sessions.

The jail brought in the press in October for a dedication ceremony and a workshop for the entire Life Skills Group. Many of the donated books were on display. The tables were up and the men eagerly got on them to experience Reiki first-hand. 

I am so grateful to be a part of this program. Through this volunteer work, I have healed from fears and hurts long held in my cells. The men are eager to learn. They are willing to share and are committed to this practice – and I look forward to seeing and learning from every time we hold a class. What was begun as a Pilot Program in a jail, a totally un-traveled road for me, has become a passion – a way of making a difference in the world, not only for me, but also for the men who will become our neighbors. I offer them my congratulations for taking a giant step towards healing and honor them for their open minds, and their willingness to support their inmate population with Reiki. They are truly an inspiration and I love them all!