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Billa Nanra: A Peace Education Program Success Story

Billa Nanra will share more of his experience with the Peace Education Program on June 2 when he hosts the Expanding Hope webinar. The webinar will feature a video of Prem Rawat’s meeting with him and other Peace Education Program participants at HM Prison Leeds. Learn more and register for this free webinar here.

Life after “slaying the dragon” is good.

In a few short years, Billa Nanra’s life has changed dramatically. He has gone from incarcerated heroin addict and dealer, to peace facilitator and leader. Nanra attributes the change to his participation in The Prem Rawat Foundation’s Peace Education Program. He credits the program with transforming his perspective of life and himself. It also helped him to kick a 22-year heroin addiction – what he refers to as “slaying the dragon.”

Now, Nanra helps facilitate the Peace Education Program both inside and outside his former prison. His commitment to helping others with the program is so strong that it earned him recognition as recipient of the New Leaf Network’s Volunteer of the Year Award last year. Using what he has learned, and sharing his experience, he is inspiring people around the world. Nanra was recently invited to speak about his experience with the Peace Education Program at the 6th World Congress on Probation and Parole at The Hague in the Netherlands. As a consequence of speaking at this prestigious congress, a large audience was introduced to the program.

Four years ago, he never would have imagined being where he is today.

Nanra, from Bradford, England, wound up in prison (HMP Leeds) after his drug addiction led to years as a drug dealer. He describes prison as “a dark, dark, world.”

 

The Light in the Dark

One morning in prison as Nanra waited for his methadone treatment, he discovered the life-changing Peace Education Program.

“I saw a poster, ‘the Peace Education Program,’ it caught my eye for some reason. It had words like, peace, dignity, inner-strength. I thought — ‘I’ll have a bit of that.’”

Nanra says that the program has changed his life in “ways I’d forgotten about how to live.”

Life began to change profoundly after attending a Peace Education Program in prison. It resonated with him on such a deep level that he was able to reduce his methadone in two to three months.

“I’d been trying to fill this hole within me for so many years, and now I’m filling it with something positive, something wonderful,” he says.

Now, he inspires others who wish to find a path to a better life outside of incarceration.

Watch the documentary video below where Nanra shares his experience with substance abuse, incarceration and the Peace Education Program.

Life on the Outside

According to Nanra, life in incarceration is terrible but life outside in mainstream society is no cakewalk either. He admits that it has been difficult to find work due to his criminal record. For the most part, people are wary and unwilling to trust someone who has been in prison. There isn’t a great amount of help either. “People palm you off,” he says.

Many still in incarceration have shared this fear with Nanra. These men wonder how they will survive “outside.” They wonder how their family or friends will respond to them. On top of that, they wonder what, if any, financial support they will have as they struggle to find work. Without support, it can be enticing to go back to the lifestyle that contributed to their incarceration in the first place.

Research highlighted in the Journal of Developmental and Life-Course Criminology notes, “social support as a fundamental factor in the desistance process.” In other words, continued support from the community is necessary to help prevent an ex-offender from re-offending.

 

Discovering the PEAK

After his release, Nanra had a hard time adjusting. He shares that the fears are based on reality: Nanra couldn’t get a job, and he didn’t have the trust of his family or others in the community.

At first.

With gratitude, Nanra attributes his current happiness and stability to the Peace Education Program that he first experienced in prison. Due to its powerful impact on him emotionally and psychologically, he sought to reconnect with it after his release. He had kept in touch with volunteer facilitators of the program and followed up on a hunch that the program might not just be for prison …  and he was right.

Nanra also found further inspiration in Prem Rawat’s PEAK course. Through the course he learned practical daily techniques that have helped him feel grounded – even amid life’s challenges.

 

Going Back Inside

After finding work assisting a program facilitator’s child who has autism, Nanra began feeling more confident about what he could do and whom he could help. Importantly, he started regaining the trust of those around him.

The credit, he says, goes to his changed view of himself and others. Further, participation in the Peace Education Program encouraged self-reflection, awareness, and inspired him to want to help people. He realized the program could benefit many others in incarceration.

So Nanra went back to prison. This time as a volunteer facilitator.

Nanra began volunteering three times a week facilitating the Peace Education Program in HMP Leeds. Despite enjoying facilitating at the prison, he relishes the feeling of being able to walk outside of its walls afterwards. “When I walk outside of the prison, I always notice how much sweeter the air is,” he says.

While those still inside may not enjoy freedom for some time yet, they are nevertheless reaping the benefits of Nanra’s compassionate work.

“I don’t judge them,” says Nanra. “I tell them I buzz off them as much as they buzz off me.”

Nevertheless, he shares an observation: “The interesting thing is you get these big tough guys who say ‘peace? I don’t need peace!’ and then after five sessions they are the biggest promoters of the program.”

A Program’s Progress

Unsurprisingly, as a formerly incarcerated person, Nanra is a wonderful role model for those inside wishing to change their lives. The program participants feel comfortable speaking with him, but, as he says “I keep it real with them.”

Indeed, the number of those wanting to participate in the Peace Education Program at HMP Leeds increased dramatically following Nanra’s first participation. It was initially being facilitated in one wing and then expanded to six wings of the prison.

Even more inspiring is what the participants are sharing about their experience with the program.

Here are comments from some inmates in the Bravo Wing in HMP Leeds: 

“Great sessions, learned things that will help me for my future. Made me realize what we have in our lives is a gift and it’s made me think wiser and have a better understanding for how I am gonna use my time.”

“I nominate Billa for the Butler Trust Award (an award for exceptional work within a community justice setting) as he has been a massive help to me with this Peace Education Program in prison and has made a great benefit to my mental health. Keep up the great work and thank you so much – appreciated.”

“Has been very good. Has helped me change a violent train of thoughts to a more positive track. With positive thoughts I am able to take a step back before reacting.”

“I have been attending the Peace Education Program which Billa has been running for quite some time now. I really look forward to the Monday afternoon sessions as they have helped me sort out my head.”

A Global Impact

Their positive experiences are echoed by a growing number of program participants in prisons across the world.

A comprehensive impact assessment at prison facilities in seven countries across four continents found that the workshops are “having a very positive effect on participants.” Results showed attitudinal improvements such as a sense of empowerment and a willingness to change, and behavioral improvements such as improved anger management and reduced violence.

The front entrance to His Majesty's Prison in Leeds, England. The old stone building resembles a castle and features a green, iron front door.

His Majesty’s Prison in Leeds, UK

Finding Peace in Prison

“What counts is being in the moment – today. Because that’s where you can shape and experience life. Even in prison.” – Billa Nanra

“Be in the moment” has become a mantra for Billa. Insights such as this, distilled from the Peace Education Program, have kept Nanra focused on positivity. The walls of a prison may prevent a body from being free, but they don’t prevent a mind from being free.

At a first-of-its-kind event at HMP Leeds, Nanra had the opportunity to share his insights and the stage with one of the people most instrumental in changing his life.

Prem Rawat, whose talks are at the heart of the Peace Education Program, was invited to speak at HMP Leeds on July 26, 2023. He spoke to an audience composed of prison staff and inmates. The message was that peace can be experienced, anytime, and anywhere. The invitation arose from the wish of staff and program participants to meet Prem Rawat, a world-renowned peace educator.

Thank You, Prem Rawat

Following their positive experience, many program participants wanted to thank Prem Rawat and the facilitators for their life-changing work. One had this to say:

“Since starting the Peace (Education) Program, I have started to look at the world in a different way. I always saw my life as being half-empty. I now look at it as being half-full, after coming on your course. So, I would like to thank you and the volunteers, Prem Rawat.”

In the prison, the program has had 750 participants to date. As the program has been running for 7 years, much data has been obtained on its effectiveness. Prison deputy governor Mark Scott has provided very positive feedback. Prison officials have noted that not only has the program led to improvements for the inmates personally but also, for the entire Leeds community.

At the event, Nanra, who had carefully prepared a speech, was suddenly feeling extremely nervous. He turned to an event organizer for advice. “Just speak from your heart,” was the answer given. So, that’s what Nanra did. Unsurprisingly, the audience approved of his raw, unaffected reflections on his own journey towards peace and self-knowledge.

Even more satisfying for Nanra was being able to deliver questions from participants to Prem Rawat. One thoughtful question was this: “How will I know when I’ve found peace?”

Prem Rawat responded:

“Peace – is finding home. Peace is coming home. Peace is finding you. Peace – is finding that little light that lights up on the shore. And just by looking at it, you know you’re safe. And sometimes you are in the middle of the storm. But as soon as you see that light, you know all will be well.”

International Interest

The inspiring story Nanra shares is having an international reach. Nanra has given Peace Education Program presentations both in virtual and in-person formats. As a result of a workshop for the Alberta Correctional Education Association (ACEA), 11 teachers and supervisors enrolled in the course.

Most recently, Nanra was interviewed on stage at the 6th World Congress on Probation and Parole at The Hague in the Netherlands. The interview drew a crowd and inspired interest in the Peace Education Program from probation and parole leaders from multiple countries.

Hear Nanra share his experiences and watch the video premiere of Prem Rawat’s event at HM Prison Leeds by registering for the June 2, Expanding Hope webinar: Learn more & register for this free webinar here.

Billa Nanra wears a black T-shirt with a quote from Prem Rawat: "What you practice you get good at."

The Future’s So Bright

“I just want to be happy,” says Nanra, who has been heroin-free for six years.

Some of that happiness comes from facilitating the Peace Education Program to help others overcome substance abuse and similar challenges he has faced. The podcast he created as another platform to share his story, is connecting with individuals around the world looking for guidance and hope. His raw honesty and humility as he discusses his personal journey is barrier-breaking. It is helpful for people who have, metaphorically, been where he was. Additionally, the podcast offers valuable insights that provide food for thought for the general populace.

Listen to Nanra’s audio podcast here: “How I Slayed The Dragon: Billa Nanra.”

Nanra is excited to continue his podcasts in which he plans to interview other formerly incarcerated persons who were Peace Education Program participants while in prison. He is also contemplating a “Slaying the Dragon – Part 2” podcast series which will provide an update on his journey – elucidating the challenges, the successes and everything in between.

Billa Nanra gives the peace sign with his hands while showing the back of his T-shirt which has the word

Billa signs up for peace

FUN FACTS:

  • His grandfather nicknamed him “Billa” which roughly translates as “Tomcat”
  • He is engaged to be married soon
  • His motivational music: 80s disco (especially hits by Sylvester), and live music
  • He supports the Manchester United Football Club
  • Billa speaks Hindi, Punjabi, and English
  • He uses “Namaskar” (a deeper meaning) not “Namaste” (more casual) for greetings

Learn More About the Peace Education Program here.

 

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