Tom O'Connor talks about Transcendental Meditation in prison: Meditation, Spirituality, Humanism and secularism

Video transcript

I've worked in corrections for about twenty years and I have two strands in my training. So for about nine years before I got into corrections, I lived as a Carmelite which is a catholic religious order where I studied philosophy and theology and was ordained as a deacon in the Catholic Church. So I have a religious, spiritual background. 
In the last twenty years I have also been trained in corrections in terms of treatment - what works with people what doesn't work with people to lift them out of crime. 
So I have a whole treatment correctional side of me and I've always seen my work as crossing these two domains and the research into the field. So I'm able to read research and do research but what I love doing is actually working the field and bringing that work into the field and implementing it in a way that brings about some change and development in the field.

Question: Why should Transcendental Meditation be in the prison system?

We have so many people in prison who are impulsive; their nature is to be impulsive. And they have no self control. And what we know, we just know this from the research or from observing them. When they present a choice, and they see 20$ bill, I could steal that, they do it, they just act an impulse, they couldn't say: "I could steal that or I could not steal it, or I could just go to my work, because if I don't go I'd be late, forget the 20$ bill". You see that impulsivity?
So if we could have an impact on that, we just give people a little gap, everything happens in the gap, but in our folks there's no gap. So if the TM can just allow people to think differently, have a moment to think "will I take it, or won't I take it? » If we can do that, than I trust that the people themselves will not take it; because they want what we want. Because the research says that when people change any behavior, anything at all, whether its getting out of crime, whether its reducing weight, weather its going on a diet, whether its exercising, 40% of the success in the change process is the people themselves.
So if you could just create an environment of healing. An environment that allows this goodness to rise. The public could save a great deal of money and really we could create a lot better society, a much more humane prison, and a much more effective prison.

Question: How can Transcendental Meditation work with religion? 

I knew that the men needed something in their lives and we have all sorts of people, men and women. Some of them are very involved with their own faith group. Some are not particularly drawn to religion at all, in fact they're a little afraid of it, but they are drawn to nature, they're drawn to spirituality, maybe a higher power, that's a second group. 
And then there are some people who are clearly just not even interested in that, they're just interested in humanity and life. So you might call them humanists or secularists they don't have any interest in religion or spirituality. 
But each of these three groups makes meaning in their own way. One is religious, one is spiritual and one is for humanity. And I knew that we needed something, a program, a way of helping all these groups and that's what attracted me to the Transcendental Meditation.
Because Transcendental Meditation is truly not a religion, there's nothing religious about it. So what it can do is, it can work with all tree groups. If you're religious; you're a Catholic, you're a Muslim, you're a Buddhists, do TM and take that into your tradition. If you're spiritual, you love nature; you believe in a higher power, do TM and take that into your tradition. If you're a humanist and you believe that the world is bound by humanity by our life on this earth, do TM and take that into your tradition.
So that's the beauty about TM, it's perfect for us in a prison situation, because anybody can do it. It's easy and it's accessible to anybody, no matter how you make meaning in life.
That's why I was really interested in it, because I know we have so many people of so many needs, I said: "boy, this is something that everybody can work with no matter what their belief". And the other thing I like about TM is that it has nothing to do with the believe system, there's no philosophy you need to believe, there's no belief you need to believe, so you don't have to change anything you think about. You just learn more about your self and how to get in touch with who ever you are.

Our Approach: Freedom Behind Bars

The origins of criminal behavior, while difficult to pinpoint precisely, can often be traced back to the long-term impact of traumatic stress. Unless a rehabilitation program for the men and women behind bars effectively targets this disorder, too often the rehabilitation will prove ineffective, and incarceration and recidivism rates will continue to climb—resulting in considerable pain and suffering for the victims of crime, significant expense to taxpayers, and substantial waste of human potential to those incarcerated.
For 35 years, Transcendental Meditation has been taught with significant benefit to inmates and guards in some of America’s toughest prisons, including San Quentin, Folsom, and Walpole. This program has been warmly received by the prison population because it is easy to learn and requires no belief or change in lifestyle. And the results are immediate: deep relaxation and relief from stress, anxiety, and depression. This has been found to result in fewer rule infractions as well as reduced recidivism rates.

The David Lynch Foundation employs specially qualified teachers of Transcendental Meditation who are prepared to work in the prisons, to help with the genuine rehabilitation of offenders by lifting the oppressive stress within the prison community that undermines existing rehabilitation programs.

If you would like to support the David Lynch Foundation’s programs for prisons and rehabilitation centers, please contact Chris Busch at

If you would like more information about implementing a program, please contact Lynn Kaplan at

Some research

Decreased Recidivism:
Effects of the Transcendental Meditation program on recidivism among former inmates of Folsom prison: Survival analysis of 15-year follow-up data. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 1987: 36, 181-203.

Decreased Recidivism:
Long-Term Follow-Up
Walpole study of the Transcendental Meditation program in maximum security prisoners I: Cross-sectional differences in development and psychopathology. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 2003: 36: 97-126.

Improved Psychological Health of Inmates :
The application of the Transcendental Meditation program to corrections. International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice, 1987: 1, 111-132.

Decreased Substance Usage
Treating and preventing alcohol, nicotine, and drug abuse through Transcendental Meditation: A review and statistical meta-analysis. Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, 1994:
11: 13-87.

Improved Criminal Behavior and Decreased Substance Abuse:
Review of Literature
Effectiveness of the Transcendental Meditation program in criminal rehabilitation and substance abuse recovery: A review of research. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 2003: 36, 47-65.

The David LynchFoundation

Since 2005 the David Lynch Foundation has shared Transcendental Meditation with our most stressed populations. If you are inspired by this video please make a donation using the Donate button on the right. The David Lynch Foundation runs entirely on donations and there is a long list of schools and organizations eager to participate. Change begins within!
For more information on how to learn the Transcendental Meditation technique, please visit

Tom O'Conner « Meditation in Prison supported by the David Lynch Foundation », 6 oct. 2010, < >, Other link : < youtube >