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The Founding of Lifespring

Reflections on the Worth of Lifespring

The Business Acceleration Workshop

The Basic Training In Federal Prison

How to Realize Your Dreams and Improve Your Life

A Graduate's Story

The Basic Training In Federal Prison

The tall, beautiful young woman called for the mic. With her eyes glistening with tears, her lips trembling, she said, "I've asked the Lord a thousand times why He sent me to prison. Now I know. It was for this! The words were spoken by 22-year-old Janelle at the close of a Lifespring training at the federal prison for women at Pleasanton. They came as a postscript, almost an afterthought. The training session had come to an end and the room was being cleared for the final candlelight ceremony when she suddenly asked to speak.

Janelle had passed up the final invitation to share her feelings with the group but, as the mics were being removed, something inside her compelled her to speak. She had to let us know that she had been deeply moved, and that the clouds of guilt, resentment, and self-hatred had been lifted from her troubled soul.

Janelle was just one of 44 women who completed the Lifespring training at Pleasanton. Some 68 had enrolled, but 24 had dropped out for one reason or another. Some because they lacked commitment to themselves, some because they could not face the truth, others because they could not surrender to the firm self-discipline required by Lifespring.

The training took place in the campus-like setting of the federal institution from which Patty Hearst had been released several months earlier. The prison itself stands on revenge and oppression. Its brochure describes the correctional program as "based on a supportive atmosphere relatively free from the corrosive effects of the traditional prison environment. The social climate and the correctional techniques employed serve to stimulate motivation, learning, personal responsibility. The philosophy stresses security, privacy, staff-inmate interaction, flexibility of program, and freedom of movement..."

The prison is surrounded not by walls but by transparent steel link fencing that reveals broad green fields and distant hills. There are trees, flowers, broad lawns, and long paved walks between the modern redwood and glass buildings. Each woman has her own room and the key to her door. They prize these keys, to which they attach fancy key rings, some bearing photos of their family or friends.

As a journalist who has long been an advocate of penal reform and a severe critic of our crude and destructive penal system, which makes people worse instead of better, I was pleased to be able to visit Pleasanton as a participant and reporter of the Lifespring training sessions.

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