Indian guru Prem Rawat to help Northern Ireland prisoners channel inner selves
Northern Ireland prisoners are to be schooled in finding their "inner human" by a self-styled Indian spiritual guru.
Prem Rawat has been invited to pilot his peace education programme for 10 weeks at Maghaberry, where killers such as dentist Colin Howell and loyalist Michael Stone are held.
If his spiritual scheme is deemed a success, it will be rolled out in across Northern Ireland's other jails.
Rawat (59) said he felt prisoners still needed to be seen as human beings and not monsters, no matter how bad their crime.
He said: "We can of course label people as hardened prisoners or unredeemable, but as long as a human being breathes they do have a heart.
"Perhaps their humanity has been influenced by a lot of ideas or bad things that have happened to them over a period of years but, in the simplest terms, the human is still there.
"My effort always is to bring that feeling back to people so that they may feel it and truly get in contact with themselves - the self.
"My peace education programme has been a resounding success in the prisons it is running in, across 73 countries.
"It is about to start here in Northern Ireland and I hope it will help to make a difference to those who participate."
Rawat's programme operates in jails in the US and South Africa, with Thameside Prison in England the pilot for the scheme in the UK.
Rawat concentrated on talking about the need to see past crimes when asked if he had worked with notorious prisoners.
He said: "My advice on peace is the same to every human being whether they are a person on the street or someone in prison.
"Whoever we are, as a human being we have to get in touch with ourselves.
"If we are not in touch with ourselves we will cause harm to other people and cause harm to ourselves. My advice is the same to every person, to get in touch with ourselves so that we can achieve our true potential in life.
"My peace education programme deals exactly with this issue of helping people find themselves."
Born in Haridwar, north India, Rawat is the youngest son of Hans Ji Maharaj, an Indian guru and the founder of the Divya Sandesh Parishad, later known as the Divine Light Mission. After his father's death, eight-year-old Rawat became the new 'satguru', or true master of the movement.
He formed a meditation practice he calls the "knowledge", and his peace education prison programme rests on convincing inmates they need to turn "inwards" and focus on discovering personal resources such as inner strength, choice and hope. In 2001 he established The Prem Rawat Foundation to fund his work and his humanitarian efforts.
He has addressed more than 15 million people on the subject of peace, including events at the United Nations.
Last night he spoke to a crowd at Belfast's Waterfront Hall at an event entitled This Feeling Of Belonging.