The following email was seen recently on the Prison Dharma yahoo group. Thanks, Jim, for your lovely words!
I teach meditation to inmates at a local jail which houses county, state and federal inmates. My path is Zen Buddhism so the flavor of my sharing about meditation is Zen. Some of the several hundred inmates that I've spent time with were Buddhist but most were not. I'm not so sure it matters.
The Buddhist path is the same whether incarcerated or not so how one's situation is 'improved' or affected is the same. Meditation and following a path of awareness, which allows one to be present, provide a perspective of life that is different from our typical ego-driven perspective. This perspective comes from insight which we all experience if we allow ourselves to open. Most of this insight comes from the meditation. If an inmate chooses to nurture a daily meditation practice once released, they will likely see situations more clearly instead of being so strongly influenced by actions or experiences of the past or by anxiety about the future. With a regular practice one recognizes when troublesome thoughts are arising and then can let them go as needed by coming back to the present. Likewise, when the mind drifts during meditation one needs only recognize this then let it go by coming back to the breathing. With some time, the ability to let go of troubling thoughts is developed and this, in my experience, is the key. The skill of letting go is perhaps the most valuable I've seen in these situations. One must realize that it happens a ten thousand times a day.
Buddhism embraces the Three Treasure of which one is Sangha. Sangha is essentially community, and it is well accepted that support from community groups is helpful. So it is good if a former inmate can connect with a local sangha.
I hope this is helpful. I am happy to discuss it more.