Guiding a Centering Prayer Group in Jail

by Tom Cook

I have been guiding a Centering Prayer (CP) class for the last year at DuPage County Correctional Facility in Wheaton, Illinois (USA). I have been amazed and inspired by how approximately 20 men show up every week on Tuesday afternoon to learn about and practice CP. I have noticed a steady hunger and desire for this experience of silence and CP by the men inside the jail, and the numbers don’t lie. Despite the transient nature of jail, we consistently have 20 people every week attend this CP group and there is actually a waiting list now for the class. To me, this speaks to the power and presence of the Divine speaking in the silence and how creating such a space for this to happen inside a jail (or prison) is much needed and wanted by those inside these facilities. For those who don’t know, jail is a very loud place and silence is rare-or perhaps impossible-in such an environment. The CP class offers a regular and dependable time of silence to help support the spiritual growth of the men in the jail.

The Chicago chapter and the Prison Outreach Service Team (COPOST) of Contemplative Outreach (CO) have both been a tremendous support to me in guiding this CP class in jail. The CO Chicago chapter made it possible for me to attend an upcoming advanced CP retreat to further my own personal growth with the practice of CP. In addition to the financial assistance, which was instrumental, knowing the chapter takes an interest in supporting prison outreach means a great deal. And COPOST has provided both networking opportunities and material support: they were able to supply much needed copies of Keating’s Open Mind, Open Heart that we read and learn from together on a weekly basis in our CP class. It is my hope that more people will begin introducing the practice of CP in the jail/prison environment where it is much needed and there is an organic hunger to connect with the Divine in silence, as well as that others in the extended community will watch for ways to support these efforts.

If you are interested in learning more and exploring possibilities, please email the Prison Outreach Service Team,