Unconditional Freedom, a registered 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to restoring dignity to marginalized individuals, is thrilled to announce a generous gift of $280,000 from Kate Wiggs to support its transformative Prison Monastery program. Kate’s gift will fund the Prison Monastery’s expansion into new facilities in 2023.
Wiggs, an experienced art therapist and a doctoral candidate in Psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara, California, has been deeply inspired by the program’s mission and its unique approach towards incarcerated individuals. Wiggs first became internationally known as the inspiration for her father’s phenomenon Polly Pocket toy doll accessories in the 1980s and 1990s. Wiggs began training as a therapist in 2011, and has dedicated her life to helping people who are incarcerated.
“As soon as I heard about the Prison Monastery, I immediately knew it was a project I wanted to be involved in,” Wiggs said. “The approach here is radically different from anything else I have ever heard of and considers the incarcerated population with what feels like a genuinely appropriate level of care and respect.”
The Prison Monastery was first launched in September 2020 with the vision of turning prisons into monasteries. Its mission is that prisons become institutions for human flourishing, for both those in custody and staff alike. The program began with a workbook titled The Art of Soulmaking, which teaches prison residents contemplative practices, along with meditation and yoga. This workbook is now used by over 20,000 incarcerated individuals across the United States. The full Prison Monastery methodology, which includes a farm and earth-based ecological restoration project on the prison yard, a farm-to-table food program, regular yoga, meditation, Art of Soulmaking classes, programs to enable contribution by prison residents back to society, and a corollary program for Corrections Officers called Guards to Guardians, quickly expanded into a pilot project, which ran for two years at the Mendocino County Jail and was the subject of a documentary. After a successful two-year pilot, Unconditional Freedom then relocated this program to the Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) at Chowchilla in February 2023. This holistic model has yielded remarkable results, fulfilling the social contract of human restoration and penance while positively impacting government, local communities, and the lives of hundreds of Corrections Officers.
“I knew this was a place where real freedom was being nurtured, freedom that begins with treating people with dignity and ends with asking how they want to share their genius out into the world,” Wiggs said. “As a therapist and student of Jungian psychology, the way we heap indignity onto incarcerated people is a simple reflection of how hard we reject the parts of ourselves of which we are ashamed. Not only is this harmful for everyone involved, it’s deeply ineffective for fostering true change in people.”
“Kate Wiggs’ gift will have a major impact on the lives of the incarcerated individuals we work with, many of whom have spent decades in prison and find themselves in dire conditions, with very little nourishment and support,” said Bob Wilms, Development Director of the Prison Monastery Program.