Discovering Ethics

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Discovering Ethics

Discovering Ethics: A Path to Virtue


The function, even the very survival of any society depends upon the members of the social community being just or ethical in their dealings with one another. Although we often hear of the role of morality in determining what is right or wrong, good or bad, it is our sense of ethics that is the driving force in whether or not a social institution or organization is both sensitive and responsive to the issues of the day. It is the understanding and application of ethics that either facilitates or denies justice.

The class Discovering Ethics: A Path to Virtue is a study of the book Ethics for a New Millennium by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, along with A Study Guide for Inmates that is adapted by inmates in Texas under the sponsorship of Volunteer Chaplain Terry Conrad and Project Clear Light, from a similar Study Guide for Ethics for the New Millennium written by a group of people affiliated with a Study Circle of The Dalai Lama Foundation. Both of the study guides are published and distributed by The Dalai Lama Foundation through The same inmate group has also produced a Facilitators Guide and an Ethical Toolbox that are used to train inmate facilitators and provide prison specific homework assignments to class participants.

The Discovering Ethics class is a complete program that has been run successfully in the Texas prison system for over two years. The in-class discussions and homework allow class members to significantly deepen their understanding of the cause and implications of their thoughts and actions. No longer seeing themselves a victim of a system that inconsistently designates “good” and “bad,” “right” or “wrong,” participants gain a deeper understanding of how they can live happier and less troubled lives by being more kind, considerate, thoughtful and compassionate.

Class members are offered a simple meditation practice at the opening of each class. In class they read, analyze, discuss and reflect on numerous personal and social issues that play out in their interactions with others every day. Rather than being taught or told what ethics is, each key concept is discussed in small break-out groups with the goal of coming to synthesis on the various and sometimes divergent points of view of other class members.

The Benefits of Contemplative Study

Numerous studies and articles document the effective application of spiritual and educational offering to offenders in reducing security concerns, infractions while in prison, and recidivism. For thousands of years, meditation and contemplative practices have been the basis for the enlightened transformation of millions of men and women from every strata of society. In recent years through programs in prisons throughout the world these practices have found application and remarkable success in reducing security incidents and positively effecting recidivism.

Meditation and contemplative practices are a powerful path of social change. Through such practices, one gains insight into how our thoughts drive reactive habits of negativity, and how a less self-identified relationship with our thoughts and impulses is possible. This allows for a more balanced view of feelings and emotions, which in turn reduces fear, a sense of isolation, alienation, that cause anxiety, anger and resentment. Reactive, defensive and aggressive attitudes can result from poverty, dysfunctional families, learning disabilities and other non-supportive and indifferent growth environments that effect behavior in potentially harmful and antisocial ways. By providing access to programs that offer the spiritual tools of study, reflection contemplation and meditation, antisocial conditioning will be relaxed.

According to a report by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, 1999, the effects of prison meditation programs resulted in decreased violence, better conflict resolution, the reduction of stress, anxiety, depression and the normalization of sleep patterns. Meditation programs in prisons worldwide report the reduction of security concerns, significantly fewer infractions, greater attention to cleanliness and personal hygiene, and improved communications between inmates and staff. Inmates that maintain a regular meditation practice are more motivated for self-improvement, demonstrate more honesty in their interactions with others, and are more accountable for their actions.

Institutional and Offender Objectives

World wide, prison populations are exploding; hundreds of thousands of offenders will be released into communities over the next ten years. Current statistics unfortunately indicate that over two thirds of these ex-offenders will be back in jail within four years. This is due to the fact that the majority of all prisons lack adequate programs to prepare offenders to successfully return to productive lives. The amount of financial and human resources that are expended each year in the re-arrest, prosecution and re-incarceration of ex-offenders is both staggering and tragic. The impact to victims, their families and the social community is incalculable.

Without the personal and relational tools and skills to change their interpersonal dynamics and economic options through an effective rehabilitation experience, it is unrealistic to expect that either an inmate or an ex-offender will behave any differently after years of incarceration. In the face of dwindling state budgets and the increasing cost of security, there are precious few resources left for offering such programs by prison administrators. The Discovering Ethics program is just such a resource to achieve the following:

Institutional Objectives

  • To reduce the social and institutional costs of crime and recidivism,
  • To increase the efficiency and maximize the effectiveness of the prison unit operation,
  • To reduce security concerns and infractions within the unit,
  • To prepare offenders to successfully reintegrate into the social community upon release,
  • To work with administration, security personnel and staff to establish policies and attitudes supportive of rehabilitation programming,
  • To educate and inform the families of offenders and the public at large of the role of a prison Ethics Program is for society and how that can be achieved.
  • To seek volunteer and financial contributions from free-world organizations to facilitate the implementation of an Ethics Program in prisons world wide.

Rehabilitative Objectives for Offenders

  • To learn about the importance of ethics in living a more peaceful and trouble-free life whether in prison or out.
  • To foster a working fellowship between offenders, their families, staff and free world volunteers that is based on kindness and compassion.
  • To involve family and community members in the transformational process that will allow a broad based support for the successful reintegration of the offender into the social community upon release.