Understanding Spiritual Well Being, Forgiveness, Mindfulness and Meaning in Life among Offenders
Deka DB1, Rejani Thudalikunnil Gopalan*2 and Bhave TA3
1 Gujarat Forensic Sciences University, India
2 Mahatma Gandhi Medical College and Hospital, India.
3Gujarat Forensic Sciences University, India
Submission:October 23, 2019; Published: November 04, 2019
*Corresponding author:Rejani Thudalikunnil Gopalan, Mahatma Gandhi Medical College and Hospital, RIICO Institutional area, Tonk road, Sitapura, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India
How to cite this article:Deka DB, Rejani Thudalikunnil Gopalan, Bhave TA. Understanding Spiritual Well Being, Forgiveness, Mindfulness and Meaning
in Life among Offenders. J Forensic Sci & Criminal Inves. 2019; 13(1): 555852. DOI: 10.19080/JFSCI.2019.13.555852.
Prisons are society’s correctional institutes. Their existence is to reform the individual from wrongdoing to doing good deeds, from greed to generosity, from being revengeful to being forgiving. Rarely do we associate concepts like spirituality with prisoners. However, it should be noted that the loneliness and suffering in the prison can be a way of awakening deep spirituality as explored in a project “Doing time, doing vipassana” in Delhi’s Tihar Jail Khurana & Dhar . Inmates behind the bars are always seen with a negative connotation, never tried to explore the positive side. Hence the present study aimed to understand the concept of mindfulness, spiritual wellbeing, forgiveness and meaning in life among offenders. The research design used was Cross sectional design. Sample size: Forty-eight adults with illicit background were selected from the prison. Purposive sampling was used for selecting the sample. Assessment tools used includes: The Heartland Forgiveness Scale (HFS), The Toronto Mindfulness Scale (TMS), Spiritual Well Being Scale (SWBS) and Meaning in Life Questionnaire (MLQ). Results identify that 80.1% of the participant shows positive attitude towards meaning in life, 39.6% of the participants shows higher level of forgiveness indicating that one is usually forgiving of oneself, others, and uncontrollable situations. More than quarter of sample (27.1%) reflect higher levels of dispositional mindfulness and 10.4% of the offenders seem to have higher level of spiritual wellbeing.
Keywords: Spiritual wellbeing; Forgiveness; Meaning in life; Mindfulness
Abbreviations: HFS: Heartland Forgiveness Scale; TMS: Toronto Mindfulness Scale; SWBS: Spiritual Well Being Scale; MLQ: Meaning in Life Questionnaire
Earlier, Prisons as observed, not only ‘total institutions’ in the sense that they encompass inmates’ lives to an extent qualitatively greater than other social institutions, they are physical places (mostly surrounded by high walls) with a specific history and ethos that are designed to be places of punishment. Prisons bring troubled human beings, often with a long history of violence as victim or offender; Prisons concentrate large numbers of people in crowded conditions with little privacy and few positive social outlets  but in 1987 the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that prison inmates retain constitutional rights, including that of religion. This ruling was reinforced in 1993 by the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act Turner . Prisons hold healthy people dealing with issues of loss, fear, shame, guilt and innocence, alongside people with mental illnesses, varying levels of maturity, sociopathic tendencies, and histories of impulsivity and violence. The sense of danger and the generally oppressive nature of prisons make it all the
more remarkable that prisons can also be places of reflection, exploration, discovery, change and growth Connor & Duncan .
There are many prison stories of conversion leading to successful desistance from crime and a generous life of giving to one’s culture, community, and country. In their article “Why God Is Often Found Behind Bars: Prison Conversions and the Crisis of Self-Narrative” , make two important points. Their first point is the lack of social science knowledge about religion and spirituality in this unique context of incarceration. “The jail cell conversion from “sinner” to true believer may be one of the best examples of a “second chance” in modern life, yet the process receives far more attention from the popular media than from social science research.” Their second point is that the discipline of “narrative psychology” can provide explanatory insight into the phenomenon of religious and spiritual conversion in prison. Prisoner conversions, they argue, are a narrative that “creates a new social identity to replace the label of prisoner or criminal, imbues the experience of imprisonment with purpose and
meaning, empowers the largely powerless prisoner by Religion,
turning him into an agent of God, provides the prisoner with
a language and framework for forgiveness, and allows a sense
of control over an unknown future.” Maruna . Currently,
several general religious/spiritual programs are represented by
institutional religions in prisons and a wide variety of specific
religious/spiritual programs available at most large prisons.
One of the studies indicates a sizeable proportion of inmates are
regularly involved in some type of religious/spiritual activity
and that these activities are associated with positive social
behavior O Connor & Perreyclear . Inmates report a number
of reasons for being involved in organized and personal religion/
spirituality as it provides meaning and direction in life. It helps
cultivating feelings of faith, hope, and peace through religious/
spiritual experiences like personal meditation and prayer,
and also provides opportunities for social support through
community worship and interaction Turner .
Spirituality, a word used in an abundance of contexts that
means different things for different people at different times
in different cultures. Although expressed through religions,
art, nature and the built environment for centuries, recent
expressions of spirituality have become more varied and diffuse
Hassed . Spirituality can be defined as one component of
wellness, “a continuing search for meaning and purpose in life; an
appreciation for the depth of life, the expanse of the universe and
natural forces which operate; a personal belief system” Benjamin
& Looby . Research has begun to explore how positive
emotions, which are typically short-lived, have such powerful
effects in people’s lives. broaden-and-build theory emphasizes
that positive emotions enable people to thrive because they
momentarily broaden their attention and perspective to help
them discover and build cognitive, psychological, social, and
physical resources. Thus, it seems that positive emotions not
only increase satisfaction and well-being in the moment, but
also help people build resources that lead to experiencing life as
more satisfying and fulfilling in the long term.
Humanistic psychology gives importance to the science of
human experience, focusing on the actual lived experience of
persons Aanstoos et al, . Spirituality changes over time, in
fact, substantial changes can occur during life transitions or in
the face of traumatic events Park & Ai . Spirituality includes
various themes among them few themes are included in the
present study to understand the universal concept of spirituality
among the offenders. Spiritual well-being broadly refers to one’s
sense of inner peace, connectedness to others, and reverence for
life, and encapsulates both religious well-being and existential
well-being Mc Clain & Arnold [11,12]. The spirituality issue is
very wide, and its measurement is quite complex; the spiritual
wellbeing (SWB) is one of its aspects that may be evaluated.
SWB is understood as the individual’s subjective perception
of well-being in relation to his/her belief. The development of
measurement instruments of SWB was based on the concept of
spirituality that involves a vertical, religious component (a sense
of well-being in relation to God), and a horizontal, existential
component (a sense of life purpose and satisfaction); the latter
does not imply any reference to a specifically religious content.
The spirituality is about issues concerning the meaning of
life and the reason for living; it is not limited to some types of
beliefs or practices Sousa et al, . Spirituality may or may
not entail formal religious practices but relates more generally
to people’s propensity to seek meaning in their lives, grow,
and transcend beyond the self Mc Clain et al, . Existential
well-being refers to a person’s present state of subjective wellbeing
across existential domains, such as meaning, purpose, and
satisfaction in life, and feelings of comfort regarding death and
suffering Cohen et al, . Spiritual well-being is described as a
dual status which includes: 1) a vertical dimension referring to
well-being in relation to God or a higher power; i.e. referring to
the religious element, and 2) a horizontal dimension referring to
the purpose and satisfaction from life; i.e. referring to a spiritual
or existential component Blount & Ellison .
Meaning in life “Ultimately, man should not ask what the
meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he
who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he
can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he
can only respond by being responsible.” Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s
Search for Meaning has conceived of meaning in life as a process
of discovery within a world that is intrinsically meaningful. His
theory postulates the following: meanings are not invented and
can only be found outside the person. The search for a personal
idiosyncratic meaning is a primary human motive. Fulfilment
of meaning always implies decision-making and this is not
understood to result in homeostasis, unlike need satisfaction.
According to Frankl, meanings are not arbitrary human
creations, but possess an objective reality of their own. There is
only one meaning to each situation and this is its true meaning.
Individuals are guided by their conscience to intuitively find this
true meaning. Frankl’s theory postulates that if individuals do not
pursue meaning they may experience an existential vacuum or
meaninglessness. Under prolonged conditions the experience of
meaninglessness can lead to conditions typified by boredom and
apathy. On the contrary, when meaning is pursued individuals
experience self-transcendence and profit from its concomitant
sense of life satisfaction and fulfilment Wong et al, .
Forgiveness considered as one of the pro social behavior
that an individual should possess or can acquire with time
Snyder & Lopez . Mahatma Gandhi contended that “The
weak can never forgive; Forgiveness is an attribute of the
strong”. Forgiveness aids psychological healing through positive
changes in effect, improves physical and mental health restores
a victim’s sense of personal power Exline & Fincham [18,19], In
an offender it is considered to be a process (or the result of a
process) that involves a change in emotion and attitude. Most
scholars view this as an intentional and voluntary process, driven
by a deliberate decision to forgive [20,21]. This process results in decreased motivation to retaliate or maintain estrangement
from an offender despite their actions and requires letting go of
negative emotions toward the offender. Forgiveness helps bring
about reconciliation between the offended and offender Hoyt &
Paleari [22,23]. It promotes hope for the resolution of real-world
intergroup conflict. Theorists differ in the extent to which they
believe forgiveness also implies replacing the negative emotions
with positive attitudes including compassion and benevolence
[24,25] Mindfulness is a time-honored way of improving one’s
well-being, happiness and sense of fulfilment.
By moving our life more into the present moment, we relate
to the past and the future in a different way and our habitual
unhelpful thinking about past and future events drops away,
becomes less insistent, and we find right here, right now a
more vibrant and alive place to be Thompson . According
to Bishop et al,  mindfulness is, “A kind of non-elaborative,
nonjudgmental, and present-centered awareness in which each
thought, feeling, or sensation that arises is acknowledged and
accepted as it is.” Mindfulness was developed for much more than
dealing with difficult situations in life. It is a whole philosophy
of life. Mindfulness means paying attention to the present
moment, non-judgmentally and in so doing fully experiencing
life. Everyday Mindfulness describes how you can use the
ancient techniques of mindfulness in a modern-day context
to deal with difficult situations in your life and experience
an increased enjoyment and sense of well-being. It may also
inspire you to seek further and discover the deeper experiences
of mindfulness and meditation in general. Since one of the
practices is to scan the whole body for sensations, occasionally
people experience their body for the first time, resulting in a
richer experience of emotions and life. Thus, in the present study
the aim is to explore the level of understanding about spiritual
wellbeing, forgiveness, mindfulness and meaning in life among
the offenders. Understanding these concepts among the inmates
would help develop a positive attitude towards the inmates
as well as the professionals can accordingly provide various
recreational methods in prison for sound mental health of the
Through purposive sampling method, total of 48 inmates
were included in this study. This sample consisted of 31 male
prisoners and 17 female prisoners. The participants were taken
from Sabarmati Central Jail, Ahmadabad.
To explore the level of mindfulness, spiritual wellbeing,
forgiveness and meaning in life of the offenders the following
questionnaires were included by the researchers along with a
form of socio demographic details:
Socio demographic details: Socio demographic sheet
was prepared for gathering the participant’s demographic
information and other information related to social and cultural
background. It includes questions related to age, sex, years of
education, socio economic background, marital status, domicile,
type of crime accused of, inquiry into history of substance abuse
and years of stay in prison [33,34].
Spiritual well-being scale (SWB): A 20-item measure that
assesses perceptions of spiritual quality of life. The measure has
two subscales: (1) Religious Well-Being and (2) Existential Well-
Being. Responses range from strongly agree to strongly disagree
on a 6-point Likert scale. On Reliability tests, the coefficients
of 0.93 (SWB), 0.96 (RWB) and 0.86 (EWB). As an index of
internal consistency, the alpha coefficients found were 0.89 for
the general index, 0.87 for the subscale of RWB and 0.78 for the
subscale of EWB.
The meaning in life questionnaire (MLQ): The Meaning in
Life Questionnaire assesses two dimensions of meaning in life
using 10 items rated on a seven-point scale from “Absolutely
True” to “Absolutely Untrue.” The Presence of Meaning subscale
measures the how full respondents feel their lives are of meaning.
The Search for Meaning subscale measures how engaged and
motivated respondents are in efforts to find meaning or deepen.
The MLQ has good internal consistency, with coefficient alphas
ranging in the low to high .80s for the Presence subscale and mid
.80s to low .90s for the Search subscale [35,36].
The heartland forgiveness scale (HFS): is an 18-item, selfreport
questionnaire designed to assess a person’s dispositional
forgiveness (i.e., one’s general tendency to be forgiving), rather
than forgiveness of a particular event or person. The HFS
consists of items that reflect a person’s tendency to forgive him or herself, other people, and situations that are beyond anyone’s
control (e.g., a natural disaster).
Mindful attention awareness scale (MAAS): The MAAS
is a 15-item scale designed to assess a core characteristic of
dispositional mindfulness which is a receptive state of mind in
which attention, informed by a sensitive awareness of what is
occurring in the present, simply observes what is taking place.
This is in contrast to the conceptually driven mode of processing,
in which events and experiences are filtered through cognitive
appraisals, evaluations, memories, beliefs, and other forms of
cognitive manipulation. Internal consistency levels (Cronbach’s
alphas) generally range from .80 to .90.
Initially approval from higher authorities of jail was
taken, after that data collection was started. The prisoners
were explained about the nature of the study, with their
consent, the questionnaires were administered. Any doubts
regarding the questionnaires were clarified during the process
of administration. After obtaining the required sample, the
offenders and the jail authorities were acknowledged for their
support and co-operation.
Results were analyzed using descriptive statistics. The
table above shows the frequency and percentage of the
Sociodemographic details of the offenders. In the table it can
be seen that 64.6% of the participants were male and the rest
35.4% were females. Level of education varies from primary
to graduation level as few of them were perusing education
through distance course in the jail itself. The jail has facilities for
educating the prisoners if they wish to continue their education.
Among the prisoners 52.1% of them were graduates and 25%
of them have completed till higher secondary. Remaining
10.4% and 12.5% have studied till high school and primary
level respectively. In the table it can be seen that 79.2% of the
prisoners were married. Almost 89.6% of them belong to urban
areas and the socio-economic status varies from lower (25.0%),
middle (47.9%) and upper (27.1%) class. In the jail 70.8%
were there for severe crime such as murder, rape and the rest
29.2% of them were punished for minor crime. Almost 56.2%
of them were there in the jail since last 4 to 5 years and 33.3%
of them were in the jail since last 6 to10 years and 10.4% of the
participants were there for more than 10 years. The above table,
the overall scores indicate that 10.4% of the offenders seem to
have higher level of spiritual wellbeing and the rest 81.3% and
8.3% of the offenders seem to have moderate and lower level of
spiritual wellbeing. On Religion well-being (Sub scale I) 14.6%
of the participants were on higher level whereas the remaining
75.0% and 10.4% of the participants were on moderate and
lower level of wellbeing respectively. On Existential well-being
(Sub scale II) 25.0%, 66.7% and 8.3% of the participants seem to
fall on higher, moderate and lower level of well-being .
The Table 1 above shows that 39.6% of the participants
shows higher level of forgiveness indicating that one is usually
forgiving of oneself, others, and uncontrollable situations
whereas the rest 60.4% shows moderate level of forgiveness
indicating that one is about as likely to forgive, as to not
forgive oneself, others, and uncontrollable situations. As per
the subscale scores, 37.5% , 52.1% and 41.7% shows higher
level of forgiveness indicating that one is usually forgiving of
oneself, other people, or uncontrollable situations, respectively
whereas 62.5%, 45.8% and 58.3% shows moderate level of
forgiveness indicating that one is about as likely to forgive as to
not forgive oneself, other people, or uncontrollable situations,
respectively. In the above table the overall score shows, 80.1%
of the participant shows positive attitude towards meaning in
life whereas 19.9% seems to have negative attitude towards
meaning in life. As in the Sub scale I, i.e Presence scale 62%.5
and 37.5% of the participants shows positive and negative
attitude towards existing meaning in life respectively. As in the
Sub scale II, i.e Search scale 62.5% and 37.5% of the participants
shows positive and negative attitude towards exploring meaning
in life respectively . Unlike the other three scales, scale used
for mindfulness (MAAS) do not have any subscales therefore the
overall score indicate 27.1% of the participants reflecting higher
levels of dispositional mindfulness whereas 72.9% reflecting
lower level of dispositional mindfulness.
A science of positive subjective experience, positive
individual traits and positive institutions promises to improve
quality of life and prevent the pathologies . A prison is
usually seen with a negative connotation people think that life
is barren and meaningless inside the prison. Earlier prisons
concentrate large numbers of people in crowded conditions
with little privacy and few positive social outlets Homel &
Thomson . but with time prison started providing various
activities for the inmates, in order to develop pro social behavior,
positive thinking and overall personal growth so that they can
readjust in the society after they complete the tenure. Life’s
meaning is an ever-unfolding and ever-deepening process for
an individual. In the present study majority of the participants
(80.1%) (Table 2) show positive attitude towards meaning in
life. It can be said that participants with positive attitude feel
their life has a valued meaning and purpose, and they are still
openly exploring that meaning or purpose. 19.9% (Table 2)
seems to have negative attitude towards meaning in life [40,41].
Participants with negative attitude probably do not feel their
life has a valued meaning and purpose and are not actively
exploring that meaning or seeking meaning in their life. As per
in the Sub scale I, i.e Presence scale 62%.5 and 37.5% (Table 2)
of the participants show positive and negative attitude towards
existing meaning in life respectively. Presence of Meaning is
positively related to well-being, intrinsic religiosity, extraversion
and agreeableness, and negatively related to anxiety and
depression. As in the Sub scale II, i.e Search scale 62%.5 and
37.5% (Table 2) of the participants show positive and negative
attitude towards exploring meaning in life respectively. Search
for Meaning is positively related to religious quest, rumination,
past-negative and present-fatalistic time perspectives, negative
effect, depression, and neuroticism, and negatively related to
future time perspective, close mindedness (dogmatism), and
Earlier studies have shown that offenders with various types
of workshops or training can lead to development of pro social
behavior like forgiveness also helps improving interpersonal
relationships. Present study show that 39.6% (Table 3) of the
participants shows higher level of forgiveness indicating that
one is usually forgiving of oneself, others, and uncontrollable
situations whereas the rest 60.4% (Table 3) shows moderate
level of forgiveness indicating that one is about as likely to
forgive, as to not forgive oneself, others, and uncontrollable
situations. None of the participant’s overall scores indicate
that unforgiving nature of oneself, others, and uncontrollable
situations. As per the subscale scores, 37.5%, 52.1% and 41.7%
(Table 3) shows higher level of forgiveness indicating that one
is usually forgiving of oneself, other people, or uncontrollable
situations, respectively whereas 62.5%, 45.8% and 58.3% (Table
3) shows moderate level of forgiveness indicating that one is
about as likely to forgive as to not forgive oneself, other people,
or uncontrollable situations, respectively.
Only 27.1% (Table 4) of the participants reflect higher
levels of dispositional mindfulness in the study and almost
72.9% (Table 4) of the participants reflect lower level of
dispositional mindfulness. Previous studies have suggested
that mindfulness higher or lower disposition can improve with practice. Mindfulness practice also produces positive effects on
psychological well-being. In the present study, the scores indicate
that 10.4% (Table 5) of the offenders seem to have higher level
of spiritual well-being and the rest 81.3% and 8.3% (Table
5) of the offenders seem to have moderate and lower level of
spiritual well-being. On Religion well-being (Sub scale I) 14.6%
(Table 5) of the participants were on higher level whereas the
remaining 75.0% and 10.4% (Table 2) of the participants were
on moderate and lower level of well-being respectively. Similarly,
on Existential well-being (Sub scale II) 25.0%, 66.7% and 8.3%
(Table 5) of the participants seem to fall on higher, moderate and
lower level of wellbeing.
“Positive approach towards the offenders”, few studies in the
past have tried to explore the concept of spiritual well-being,
forgiveness, meaning in life and mindfulness among the inmates
in the jail. Results in the study reflect that almost eighty percent
of the prisoners do feel their life has a valued meaning and has
a purpose. Most of the participants seem to be positive towards
forgiveness indicating that one is usually forgiving of oneself,
others, and uncontrollable situations. The results indicate that
majority of the offenders show neutral attitude towards spiritual
well-being and only few offenders (27%) reflect higher levels
of dispositional mindfulness, the rest reflect lower level of
mindfulness disposition .
Future studies in this area can focus on larger sample size
and also studies can explore in depth with the various concepts.
Study can be more comprehensive if comparative study with
other non- offender groups are done.
Various spiritual and positive factors such as spiritual
well-being, forgiveness, meaning in life and mindfulness can
lead to positive change in cognition, emotion and behavior.
Thus, the findings of this study can help plan intervention and
rehabilitation module for the offenders so that with training and
knowledge they can be helped to readjust in the society and lead
healthy life with positive thoughts and actions.
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