“Compassion Works for All” Guides Prisoners to a Better Life

Meditation and mindfulness are often touted as being keys to health and well being in the busy, stressful world we live in today, and having these skills is even more important for people who are in prison, because they have so little control over what happens in their daily lives.

Anna Cox, LCSW, a Buddhist and retired psychotherapist from Little Rock began visiting prisons in 1993, teaching meditation and helping prisoners to cope with loss and difficulties of life in prison.

How Compassion Works for All Helps

In 1997, she began to publish “Dharma Friends,” a free, Buddhist-based newsletter that is now distributed to more than 3,000 inmates and 1,000 others in all 50 states and beyond. The newsletter teaches compassion for one’s self and others, and includes meditations, teachings, letters, art and more.

In addition to the newsletter, Compassion Works for All touches the prison population by teaching meditation and communication classes and offering personal counseling at some Arkansas prisons, said Morgan Holladay, executive director.

“There are very few resources for people in prison, which is why we primarily work inside units,” she said. “Every human has the capacity to transform themselves into vehicles of compassion. We work with people who probably haven’t heard that message often, if ever, and we empower them to rewrite their narrative. Through meditation, self-exploration, conflict resolution processes and other transformative tools, people in prison become leaders who envision change, healing and peace on a multiplicity of levels.”

One story Holladay likes to share is that of Kristopher Davis, who met Cox while serving time at Cummins prison and who now works with the organization, answering letters from inmates who need help and guidance.

In addition to their work with prison outreach, Compassion Works for All also teaches meditation to people in the outside community with weekly meditation sessions at libraries in Little Rock.

How to Help Compassion Works for All

Holladay said the group has house parties throughout the year that allow them to share information about their mission to “offer healing and hope by living and teaching compassion, especially to the disenfranchised and people in prison.”

Most recently, an exhibit of art by prisoners was hung in River City Coffee in Little Rock, and the group hosted an ice cream social with Loblolly Creamery.

People who would like to volunteer with the organization can check the website for current needs, which include prison visits, letter writing, help with special events and office work.

Donations are used to produce and mail “Dharma Friends” as well as funding classes inside prisons, facilitating incarceration-prevention programs and more.

For more information, contact Holladay at mholladay@compassionarkansas.org.

NewsMorgan Leyenberger