Friday, September 16, 2016

9/16 Creation Col.: Nature's Value to Us, Convicts, Ex-0ffenders

The Value of Nature for Ourselves, Prisoners, Ex-offenders

"He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.  He restoreth my soul."
from Psalm 23

Where would we be without nature, our environment, God's creation?  A loss of experiencing the "outdoors" has been documented ("nature-deficit disorder").

So what are the advantages for us of having a relationship with natural settings, fresh air and sunshine, walking in forests, parks, and along shorelines, and eyeing green landscape aesthetics?

In "The healing power of nature" by Alexandra Sifferlin, these healthful effects can include the lowering of blood pressure; stress reduction; the increasing of awe, energy and a sense of rejuvenation or purpose; the promotion of cancer-fighting cells; potential help with ADHD (attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder) symptoms; and may aid with mental health (mood uplifts, less depression and anxiety).

Some studies propose that even the images, sounds and smells of nature within the built environment can offer benefits (source: TIME magazine, 7/25/'16, pgs. 24-26).

And just as time spent in the natural environment has therapeutic value for everyone from at-risk youth (Outward Bound programs) to veterans, new research suggests it can help ex-convicts, those who have spent years cut off from the outdoors, according to an article by Brian Mockenhaupt, "The Great Escape" (OUTSIDE magazine, 9/16).

Might nature be a key to their rehabilitation?  Relearning life beyond prison after incarceration is hard (the challenge of a job search, finding a place to live, breaking the cycle of bad habits and friends that can lead to more prison time).  "Sponsors", a mentorship group in Eugene OR (Lane County) tries to implement a program demonstrating what science confirms, that nature is good for us.

So, the thinking goes, combine the restorative power of nature and outdoor activities (horseback riding, rock climbing, confidence-building challenge courses, extended wilderness trips, bicycling, fishing excursions, etc.) with individual/group therapy.

Studies show that such, especially among young offenders, reduces the recidivism, and improves judgment and decision-making.

"Bringing offenders into the outdoors---even while they're still locked up---may vent just enough steam from the pressure cooker to get them back on track."

"Sponsors" is holistic, offering many re-integration services beyond the "back-to-nature" program.  Founded 43 years ago by Catholic nuns and community activists, its outdoor therapy program is now six years old, and the "graduates" are 80% less likely to re-offend after two years compared with other former inmates.

Within prison, inmates may have "yard time", fresh air but not much nature.  At the Snake River (OR) Correctional Institution, an experimental "Blue Room" effort by Nalini Nadkarni is the "first-of-its-kind effort to connect the most isolated prisoners with the natural world."

Research in other institutional settings (hospitals, nursing homes, public housing, etc.) showed that people respond favorably (physiologically, psychologically, emotionally)  to nature imagery.  Exposure to the projected nature imagery in the "Blue Room" had salutary effects (calming, resisting worst impulses) and thus fewer disciplinary issues.

Thus the healing power of nature for ourselves, and prisoners, and ex-offenders.  Inspiring models to emulate