In late November 2014, Prem Rawat came to Zonderwater Prison for the second time to speak to inmates who have participated in the Peace Education Program (PEP). According to Anne Wolfson, who manages the PEP workshops in South Africa, “There was great excitement and anticipation of Prem coming to this facility, where people have been listening to the Peace Education Program for years.”
A men’s choir greeted Prem as he arrived in the room where about 320 people were waiting eagerly. All but 20 were inmates from the maximum security unit of the 3,000 capacity prison. One theme of Mr. Rawat’s talk was the power of choice, in any circumstances:
“You have a secret weapon. And it is the most powerful weapon on the face of this earth. That weapon is your choice. It’s all yours. Nobody can touch it. Deploy it. Choose. Choose peace over chaos, love over hate, respect over disregard. Choose clarity over confusion. And you will discover your power. It’s the same power you’re going to need when you get out of here.
PEP has been running in Zonderwater for about five years, long enough to have a track record of being valued by participants and staff alike. There is growing evidence that for many the change observed has been long lasting, even for those who have been released.
After the event one inmate expressed, “This program has changed my life. Happiness, freedom, kindness—I did not know how to feel them. I did not know where to find peace. Solitude and melancholy were destroying me. Today I have clarity.”
Another commented, “I am now fulfilled. I needed to hear from the horse’s mouth. He answered my questions and he touched my heart. The PEP course has changed my life.”
Mrs. Magabane, one of the officials, said, “Many events happen at Zonderwater, and they put a smile on the offenders’ faces for a while. But what happened today will stay with them forever.”
After responding to questions, Prem walked out to cheers from the audience as the choir resumed their music with harmonized choral responses and rhythmic clapping from the audience.