Jeremy Irons Lends Support to Prison Yoga Program:

Jeremy Irons appears on Canada AM on June 4, 2007.

Jeremy Irons appears on Canada AM on June 4, 2007.

Updated Mon. Jun. 4 2007 11:00 AM ET News Staff

Actor Jeremy Irons says his work as an actor enabled him to connect with the prisoners he wants to help as part of a program that encourages inmates to meditate and practice yoga.

"I live on the edge," Irons told CTV's Canada AM. "I play characters who live on the edge and I like that. I'm very aware that it's a very thin line between being inside jail and being outside jail."

The actor is involved in Freeing the Human Spirit, a program that helps prisoners deal with their anger and stay out of jail through the practice of yoga and meditation.

Irons -- who has won an Oscar, an Emmy, a Golden Globe and a Tony -- became involved with the program through 83-year-old Moncton, N.B.-born Catholic nun and Zen master Elaine MacInnes.

MacInnes has been teaching meditation to prisoners since 1980. She received the Order of Canada in 1999 for her work in the area.

According to The Globe and Mail, Irons met MacInnes while she was living in England in the mid-nineties while he was taking one of her Zen classes.

"She's an extraordinary woman," Irons told The Globe. "Sadly, she's now 80-something, although you wouldn't know it.

"I wish she was 30-something because she has so much to give to life. I've only met four or five amazing people in my life, and she is one."

Irons has been involved as a hands-on participant with the Freeing the Human Spirit program for the past 12 years. The Freeing the Human Spirit organization and some prisons are located near his Oxford home.

"The idea is not only to help prisoners while they're in prison, but to prepare them for when they get out," Irons told Canada AM. "Because when they get out, they haven't got a house, they haven't got a job, their wife's probably left them.

"It's tough and unless you've got some sort of calm and centre for yourself, it's really difficult not to reoffend and go back in. So, it seemed to me to be a fantastic organization."

The program has been running in Canada for around four years, according to Irons. It is accepted in 27 prisons in the country and is currently being practiced in 14 correctional facilities. The program can make a genuine difference in the lives of the incarcerated, Irons said.

"When you're banged up in prison, as Paris (Hilton) will find out, I suppose, you're stuck in a cell on your own, a very negative experience," Irons told Canada AM. "But if you can turn that cell into an ashram, if you can learn to meditate and do yoga, exercise your mind and exercise your body -- then it becomes a positive experience."

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