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Missouri parolees put on new path with meditation

Orville Sherman leans back while doing a hatha yoga posture during a session at the Enlightened Sentencing Project in St. Louis.
Orville Sherman leans back while doing a hatha yoga posture during a session at the Enlightened Sentencing Project in St. Louis. (Emily Rasinski/associated Press)
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Meditation works, he said, because it makes no attempt to counsel the offenders.

"This is the magic," he said. "No matter how much he or she has sunk down in the mud and dust of his environment, once he has started on this path, the process itself will cleanse him of his stress." One of his clients, Clark Moore, was facing seven years in prison for domestic assault because he blew the terms of his sentencing for fighting. He said St. Louis Circuit Judge Philip Heagney gave him a choice: probation with meditation or go to jail. Moore said he had no self-control. But meditation is changing that.

When a relative recently stole money from him, he said he kept his temper.

"I just called it a loss," he said minutes after he and 16 other participants sat so still in their chairs meditating the room filled with the hushed whoosh of lungs inhaling and exhaling.

Graduate Mark Edwards -- a man who said he had kidnapped his child in a raging custody dispute -- said he now meditates twice daily and three times on nights when he works as a disc jockey at local clubs. It rids him of his anger and chronic headaches, he said.

"With me being so mad, I was either going to get killed or get sent to jail," he said.

Donations support the program. Anklesaria, who earns about $30,000 a year from it, gets no local, state or federal funding, though several judges said he should.

Henry Autrey, a federal judge for the Eastern District of Missouri, said repeat offenders plagued his former bench in the St. Louis circuit court. When he began referring parolees to Enlightened Sentencing he didn't expect much. But then they started passing drug tests. The offenders also did a better job grooming themselves and most had "an apparent sense of calm in their eyes," he said.

"It's a beautiful thing to watch and observe when you hear people talking about their experiences who are calm, straightforward, plain-talking and plain-thinking without any confusion," he said. "Months before, they would have never been in a position to do anything like that."


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