Bodhisattvas Behind Bars? Reiki in Prison


In July of 2002 we met thirteen remarkable men behind the walls of the federal Administrative Maximum Security Penitentiary south of Florence, Colorado. These men are now Reiki practitioners awaiting Reiki Master Teacher training.
Two years prior to this meeting an inmate wrote a letter requesting that we come to the prison to teach Reiki to a group of inmates. It took nearly two years for the paperwork to be processed and our backgrounds to be investigated before we finally drove through the guarded gates of one of the most secure prisons in the United States. Our first view of the facilities revealed high concrete walls and double fences crowned with coils of gleaming razor wire. During the months leading up to the Reiki I & II class we began to send Reiki to the energy of the class, to the inmates, and to ourselves to alleviate the fears that were surfacing from time to time.

During those months preceding the class we also did some research and learned that this particular prison, which opened in 1989, consists of four separate correctional facilities including the
one we would teach in. It is a maximum-security prison on the same grounds as the “Super Max,” which was designed to take the place of the federal penitentiary at Marion, Illinois, which in turn replaced the prison located on Alcatraz Island.
Notable prisoners who have been transported to Super Max were Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski; Ramzi Yousef, mastermind of the first World Trade Center bombing; and Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
Due to confidentiality rules, we are not able to mention the details of the inmates we met while we were teaching inside the prison.

When we walked through the front door of the prison we were greeted by a staff member who had been instrumental in bringing this class to fruition. He impressed us as a kind, gentle man who has a genuine interest in helping the inmates.
Visitors to the Florence penitentiary pass through a series of security checkpoints. We walked through metal detectors and received identification stamps on our hands. Our driver’s licenses, cell phone, and car keys were taken by a guard. Next a massive steel vault door opened and we entered a long tunnel that passes under an area called the “dead zone.” As we walked through this passageway, our escort explained the procedures that would take place in the event of a riot. He was attempting to help us feel safe, but we each felt our solar plexus flip-flop and found ourselves spontaneously channeling Reiki to strengthen our light and alleviate the fear level that was rising within us.
As a familiar sense of calm generated by Reiki surrounded us, we felt at ease as we exited the tunnel through yet another massive steel vault door into the prison. We were then escorted down a series of hallways to what would be the Reiki classroom. Among the first things we noticed was how modern and light the facility was but also that the air was so stale it was a challenge to breathe. With only a few moments prior to class, we focused on energetically clearing the space and infusing it with Reiki as well as strengthening our own etheric fields with the full light of Divine Love, which we know to be Reiki.

Soon thirteen men quickly filed into the room, shook our hands, and took their seats in the circle we had prepared. We began the class by introducing ourselves and then asking the men, “How many of you are here because you have a genuine interest in Reiki?” And then, “How many of you are here because you don’t want to be doing whatever else you would have to do today?”

Most of the men were present because of an interest in Reiki, and three or four raised their hands to the latter question. We found it interesting that many great questions were asked by the men who didn’t think they had a genuine interest in Reiki.

We asked the men to introduce themselves by name. Some offered information about how much time they had left to serve. We learned that only a few of the men would ever leave this prison. This realization was hard for us to imagine, and as we grew to know more of the spirit of these men, we were increasingly disturbed to know this.
When we officially opened this class, we offered a prayer of invocation, as we do in all of our classes. We invited God, the angels, archangels, masters, and all of our highest spiritual guides to join us, and we gave thanks that each person’s personality and ego would step aside so we would each be a clear and open channel for the Reiki energy.
The energy we felt during and after this prayer was profound. First there was a sense that we discerned as heaviness, but then we realized that it was a spiritual strength so intense that it was felt as energetic pressure in the room. In a few moments that sense of pressure transformed into the awareness that many, many masters had joined us spiritually and that many masters were physically present in this room.

We have been practicing Reiki for nearly sixteen years and teaching for thirteen. We have facilitated retreats for hundreds of people, and still the energy we felt on that day with those thirteen men was the most profound sense of Divine Light and Love we have ever experienced.
As we began the teachings, we were more aware than usual that WE were not teaching the class. Reiki itself was speaking through us and sharing with these men in a very unique way. They were being honored for their contribution to the Divine Plan, which was something we would grow to understand later. The inmate who had written the original letter in 2000, asking us to come to the prison and teach, stated an intention for the group. He explained that, at that time, there were 1.2 million people in the U.S. prison system. He said that inmates are regularly transferred to different facilities around the country. It was their goal to learn how to practice Reiki, and ultimately to learn to teach Reiki to other inmates. As they were relocated to different facilities through the years they would be able to begin to infuse the entire prison system with the light of Reiki energy. They also stated that they would like to offer distant Reiki sessions as a service to the world.

We proceeded to teach the class and channel the attunements. With the men seated in chairs in a circle, we each were giving the attunements. The energy was feeling very powerful, yet peaceful. And then we simultaneously touched into the energy field of a man whom Laurelle was about to attune. We were both momentarily overcome with intense fear and a sense of very violent actions. We immediately reminded ourselves that Reiki never causes harm, that we were standing strong in the light of Reiki, and that we were in this place, in this man’s energy field, because God had sent us there. Michael held the energy for Laurelle while she centered herself with a soul breath and proceeded with the attunement. The sense of fear and the feelings of violence completely dissolved.
When the attunements were complete many of the men were visibly, emotionally moved. One man asked, “Can this energy be used to heal karma?” This led to a discussion of how they could use distant Reiki to begin healing energy surrounding their past actions and to help people whom they may have harmed. One young man in the group mentioned that one of the things he misses is the feeling of air passing through his fingers, when he would put his hand out a car window while driving. This led to some reflective statements by others regarding things that they miss. We then discussed how to use Reiki to connect with the energetic essence of these experiences that they enjoyed and bring this essence into the present moment.

One of our greatest joys while teaching this class was watching the men begin to practice on one another. We weren’t allowed to bring healing tables into the prison, so they practiced in groups of two or three working on the floor. They had the enthusiasm of children as they explored the energy. When one young man was having difficulty feeling the energy, a very strong-looking, tattooed man crawled over to him and began
to help by guiding his fellow inmate. Watching the caring interaction they had with one another was beautiful to experience.

Another unforgettable experience happened on the beginning of the second day. A Native American man, who on the first day was quite reserved and seemed somewhat skeptical, was the first to speak during our morning check-in. He told us that his original hesitation came from not knowing if he could trust us. He wasn’t sure that he believed that Reiki could never cause harm, and he didn’t want to participate if there was a possibility of harming someone. He explained that, when he was a very young boy, his great grandfather summoned him from school to his bedside as he was dying. This great grandfather shared a memorable experience with the boy about spiritual healing and energy. This man, now an adult, was “visited” in his dreamtime by this great grandfather all these years later. He was given the message that we could be trusted and he could believe us when we told him that Reiki would never cause harm. This particular student had a new enthusiasm for the energy as well as a broader understanding and perspective of the many ways that Reiki can heal.

When the days of training were completed and we said goodbye to these men, we had been profoundly affected by the experiences we shared with them. We think of them daily, we send them Reiki, they are a part of our heart and soul. We see their faces in our minds as if they were sitting here with us now. For more than two years Laurelle has been hearing a voice that states, “remember the ‘bodhisattvas behind bars.’” We learned that in Mahayana Buddhism the bodhisattva postpones attainment of nirvana in order to alleviate the suffering of others. The number of bodhisattvas is theoretically limitless, and the title has been applied to great scholars, teachers, and Buddhist kings. Bodhisattvas are considered key figures in universal salvation. Compassion, the chief virtue of the bodhisattva, is valued as highly as wisdom.
It has occurred to us that although these men have been found guilty of crimes worthy of imprisonment in a maximum security prison, their actions too are a part of the Divine Plan. Knowing their commitment to infusing the prison system with Reiki, we wonder whether their souls and the souls of those affected by their crimes were guided to the situations they are in so that these inmates could be of service in this way. Are bodhisattvas only great scholars, teachers, and kings?

We returned to the prison in July 2003 and again in July 2004 to complete their training. Both times events within the prison prevented the classes from taking place. The first time there was
a lock down for a week, and the second time they were too short staffed to have the required staff member in the classroom with us. We recognize that Reiki has its own timing, yet our hearts are with these men who are still waiting for their Master training. This penitentiary is only one of the many prisons that together are housing more than 1.2 million people. These thirteen men are a nucleus of transformational power within the system. If you have an interest in assisting with creating an explosion of Divine Love within the prison system, below are facts and information that you may find helpful.

The prison system It isn’t necessary to start by trying to introduce Reiki into a maximum-security prison. You may find it less challenging to bring Reiki into a local or state prison, or a minimum-security federal
prison. The following statistics from the Web site may help you understand more about the prison population:
Prison Population by Offense
Drug Offenses-.57.3%
Burglary, Larceny, Property Offenses-4.4%
Extortion, Fraud, Bribery-4.4%
Homicide, Aggravated Assault, Kidnapping Offenses-.3.2%
Weapons, Explosives, Arson-1.9%
Sex Offenses-1.0%
Banking and Insurance, Counterfeit, Embezzlement-.0.7%
Obstructing Justice-0.5%
Continuing Criminal Enterprise -0.4%
National Security -0.1%
Average Inmate Age -38
Sentence Imposed (calculated for those with sentencing information available)
5–10 years-.28.9%
10–15 years -.17.4%
3–5 years -16.1%
1–3 years -14.8%
More than 20 years -.8.9%
15–20 years-8.3%
Less than 1 year -.2.3%
Inmates by Gender
Inmates by Security Level (BOP facilities only)
Medium -.25.0%
6.0% of inmates have not been assigned a security level
Number of BOP Institutions-104
Total BOP Inmate Population-177,518

How to present Reiki to the prison administrators
Prisons have missions, as do most institutions. Presenting Reiki training so that it assists in the fulfillment of their mission statement will help in receiving approval to provide Reiki training. An example of an actual mission statement:“It is the mission of the Federal Bureau of Prisons to protect society by confining offenders in the controlled environments of prisons and community-based facilities that are safe, humane, cost-efficient, and appropriately secure, and that provide work and other self improvement opportunities to assist offenders in becoming law abiding citizens.”
Reiki training is an educational program that teaches stress-reduction techniques. Reiki techniques can be used to assist in anger management as well as for relief of physical pain
and to expedite healing of illness and wounds. Reiki technique can assist in preparing inmates for reentry into society. Reiki techniques can be used to assist in healing addictive behaviors. Reiki techniques can be used to enhance spiritual growth.

We suggest that you make contact with a staff member who will become an internal advocate for Reiki training. Suggested contacts are the chaplain, staff nurse, activities coordinator, or head of the inmate education department. We have yet to approach the prison to train their staff, but that is something we plan for the future.

What about financial compensation?
We offered this training on a volunteer basis and have not requested any payment for our service. If you wish to be compensated, be sure to include your fees and payment terms in the proposal that you submit. If you wish to be paid, be sure to consider your expenses, including any travel, supplies, and time lost from your work. Each time we return to the prison it involves a minimum of two full days of travel, plus the actual class time, travel expense, overnight lodging, and meals. When we return to our office we then must work to make up the time by catching up on the workload.
Although receiving financial compensation is extremely helpful, the greatest reward for this type of work is seeing the transformation that takes place in the hearts and minds of the inmates.

We still have visions of some of the men the first moment we met them. There were a few in particular whose eyes appeared almost lifeless as we first shook their hands. At the end of the class the light of their souls was radiantly shining from their eyes. Just for today we give thanks for the blessing of sharing Reiki with men who may truly be bodhisattvas behind bars.

Note: If you feel so inclined to assist us in completing the training program for the inmates at the Florence penitentiary please send Reiki to this program’s completion for the highest good of all. Michael Arthur Baird and Laurelle Shanti Gaia are Licensed Reiki Master Teachers and Karuna Reiki® Master Teachers. They have each been practicing Reiki for 16 years. Michael and Laurelle operate the Infinite Light Healing Studies Center of Sedona, AZ. Laurelle has authored “The Book On Karuna Reiki” and “Be Peace Now”. Michael is the originator of the Reiki Drumming Program. Together they facilitate classes, conferences and retreats for Reiki practitioners and teachers.