Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
There is a difference between what Keith offered in his last comment on this post and what you, Jim, have referred to as "formless styles of contemplation." The practice of the latter is an approach, a context or setting, an empty space that is prepared within, with the hope and faith that Christ will come to teach us himself. On the other hand, what Keith was ministering in his last comment was the spirit of Christ, the Substance, the One for whom the setting or context of emptiness is prepared, the One who is waited for.
I can understand your assessment that the prisoners in their extremely distressed states wouldn't be able to provide the context or setting by means of engaging in a formless style of contemplation, that in fact some guidance (discipline) in the form of "story-telling, prayer, and simple practices" would have helped them create mental order and thus some quiet and peace in their souls.
On the other hand, Christ the Substance (not the empty space of formless contemplation) functions as a force, and as no other force can, to bring peace, order, right-mindedness, both in his first coming as shown in Scripture (Legion, the demoniac comes to mind; the boy who repeatedly threw himself into the fire is another), and in his on-going second coming: For example, how many stories are there in Fox's Journal of criminals, jailers, ne'er-do-wells, miscreants, and priests who are brought to repentance and right order by the spirit of Christ, the power of the Lord, as preached by the man is leather breeches?
Although favorable socio-economic factors seem to go hand-in-hand with attendance at today's Quaker meetings (and therefore a weekly method of a formless style of contemplation), it has been my experience that these favorable outward factors frequently act as deterrents, not boons to receiving eternal life, that is knowing Christ Within. This view could be supported in many ways; one way is to look at Jesus's wistful comment following the departure of the rich, young ruler: "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!"
The Quakers of the first generation considered our faith to be universal, pertinent to all nations, kindred, people, and tongues. I believe that their (our) faith is still universal - knowledge of God, and Jesus Christ, the heavenly prophet who is sent by God to teach his people himself. Whether we need discipline to prepare for the arrival of the Parousia, or whether we need to set aside discipline varies from person to person; and within each person, from time to time.