James Docherty, Glasgow

Having survived early childhood trauma, I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) when aged five. For 15 years, I lived with addiction, alcoholism, criminality, homelessness and violence, and spent four years in prison. After leaving, I was introduced to mindfulness meditation by my mentor. This, together with other assistance, has enabled me to transform my life such that I’m now a healthy, contributing, drug-free member of my family and society. Mindfulness has been crucial in freeing me from substance addictions, supporting conflict resolution, and enabling me to be more fully present. It has allowed me to re-connect with Life.

Robert Falconbridge, HMP Dumfries

Prison throws up many challenges. Everybody copes in different ways in contrasting degrees and each prisoner will compile his or her individual list of hardships. The greatest one for me, aside from the loss of liberty and the separation from loved ones, is a near total absence of peace.

This is a noisy place. It is an unnatural concentration of humanity and it produces lots of sounds. Most are unavoidable: voices, footsteps, innumerable doors and gates – add to that the countless hi-fis, TVs, officer radios and endless ringing telephones and you end up with a seemingly never-ceasing cacophony. You get used to it to some extent but you can never tune it out. But there is one way where, with practice, I learned that the noise just doesn’t matter so much.

Mindfulness found me in February 2014 when Lily and Gordon pioneered a group at HMP Dumfries. We were all in uncharted territory. I’ve taken part in groups involving meditation, therapy and even improvisation drama but this was different: calmer, less tangible, enigmatic.

lt seemed simple: close your eyes, settle, let the distant clamour happen. It’s OK, it doesn’t concern us in here; it’s all about the here and now. Let the thoughts come, the anxieties, the frustrations, the grudges. They are part of life, but let’s not dwell on them right now. The stresses of this world will undoubtedly be waiting for us when we end the session, leave them at the door with your shoes.

It is not always easy to hone the skills needed, but the reward is a period of time in which you can simply “be”. Mindfulness has helped me regain composure after a stressful experience, or shake off the rigours of the day. Another huge benefit of my mindfulness experience is that it has facilitated my embarking on university-level study. I always felt I had the potential to do this and had promised myself I would do it all my life, but with mindfulness, I acquired the inner peace and the confidence to achieve this goal.

So thank you, mindfulness, for enabling me to turn a bad situation into a good. Thank you for affording me the luxury of peace in an environment that seems to be made of noise. Thank you for the skills I needed to fulfil my academic potential, improve my employment prospects, and yes, thank you for doing your bit in ensuring that once I get out of this place, I’ll stay out!