ISKCON Prison Ministry Turns Lives Around

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By: Madhava Smullen ISKCON News on Dec. 5, 2014

Prison inmates, who have hit rock bottom in their pursuit of
material happiness and have plenty of time to think about their
choices and the real purpose of life, are one of the most
receptive and enthusiastic audiences to Krishna consciousness.

Since relaunching in 2009 under director and full-time
volunteer Bhakti-lata Dasi, the U.S. branch of ISKCON Prison
Ministry has been reaching more and more of this audience
throughout the country’s correctional system.

And with another year reaching its end, the results are purely
inspirational. With December still to go, Bhakti-lata’s office
in Alachua, Florida alone has sent out 3,020 pieces of
devotional literature to inmates, consisting mostly of Srila
Prabhupada’s books as well as Back to Godhead magazines and
books by other devotee authors.

She has also sent out pictures, calendars, sacred neck beads,
over 200 spiritual CDs and DVDs (which inmates are often
allowed to play in their chapels) and nearly 100 sets of japa
beads. And she would have sent out a lot more, she explains, if
many prisons didn’t ban beads because of their possible use as
weapons.

Meanwhile other ISKCON Prison Ministry volunteers in ten other
U.S. states have also been sending inmates many more books,
spiritual accessories, and of course letters explaining the
basics of Krishna consciousness and answering questions on
spiritual life.

Pancha-Tattva Sankirtan Party, by inmate Bhakta Brian
Babinski

“I estimate that this year about 500 inmates received one or
more letters from IPM volunteers in the USA,” says Bhakti-lata,
who also includes a picture and a transcript of one of Srila
Prabhupada’s lectures with each letter.

Inspired by the letters and books they read, inmates begin to
attend programs arranged by ISKCON devotees in prisons all over
the country – currently, devotees in Florida, North Carolina,
Virginia, and Utah all hold regular programs.

These usually consist of a kirtan, an arati if allowed, a
Bhagavad-gita lecture with time for questions, japa chanting
time, and some prasadam distribution when allowed – often just
some fruit or candy.

Meanwhile Chandra Das not only organizes weekly Krishna
conscious programs at the Snake River Correctional Institution
in Oregon where he works, but also engages inmates and prison
employees in caring for “Radharani’s garden,” where they grow
flowers to offer to Krishna.

There are, of course, very active prison programs beyond the
U.S. too. Chandramauli Swami and others hold programs at
prisons in Brazil, Chile, Bosnia, Croatia, and Slovenia;
Krishna-kripa Das in Spain holds regular programs for which
he’s allowed to cook full opulent prasadam feasts in the prison
kitchen; and there are also very active prison programs in
India, Spain, Australia and other countries.

Inmates especially inspired by Krishna consciousness also
organize their own weekly programs in a room of their prison
chapel.

“There are dozens of such programs going on in U.S. prisons at
the moment,” Bhakti-lata says. “Some of them really blossom. In
Petersburg, Virginia, for example, Bhakta Richard started a
program three years ago that now regularly draws 20 to 25
inmates.”

These programs, along with the letters and books they receive,
have a major impact on inmates’ lives. Two inmates who work in
a prison kitchen offer every vegetarian dish they make so that
the whole prison has prasadam (sanctified food offered to
Krishna). Other inmates prepare taffee in their cell from hot
water and the small cream containers they receive, then offer
it and distribute it to other inmates regularly.

Caitanya embracing Sanatana, by Bhakta Robert Humple

Many write letters to ISKCON Prison Ministry that positively
glow with realization and gratitude.

“Thank you for the books Life comes from Life and
Chanting Hare Krsna,” wrote Bhakta Joel S. from
Coaltownship, Pennsylvania. “They are beautiful. I love
Prabhupada’s books. I love how they are put together,
illustrated, organized; I love everything about them,
especially Krishna’s mercy which flows freely from them.”

“I want to be with Krishna and bask in Krishna’s love, and
light,” wrote Bryant Mau from Corcoran, California. “As I write
now I listen to the sounds of my soul and I know Krishna is in
my heart, I can feel it. I want to dance and chant.”

And Benjamin B. from Buckeye, Arizona, wrote, “I try to plant
as many seeds of Krishna consciousness as I possibly can. At
the moment, I have one inmate in my pod with whom I am studying
KC with. I put him in touch with Balabhadra Prabhu in Boise.
When I received the Chaitanya Charitamrita he also received
some wonderful books. He was really excited, he ran to my cell
to show me what he had received. It was beautiful to see his
utter joy!”

Even after prison, ex-inmates continue practicing Krishna
consciousness and finding solace in it. Despite struggling with
her mental stability, Jackie, in a half-way house in South
Florida, calls Bhakti-lata regularly and and is fond of reading
about Krishna and sharing Prabhupada’s books with other
ex-inmates. She also chants between 3 and 16 rounds nearly
every day and shares the maha sweets she receives from the
Alachua temple with her roommates.

So where do all these inmates hear about ISKCON Prison
Ministry? Some hear of it by word of mouth, some by reading
about IPM in a prison resource guide, and some through more
serendipitous experiences.

“One inmate was praying for guidance one night,” says
Bhakti-lata, “And the next morning he saw that someone had
slipped a Bhagavad-gita under his cell door!”

Often, chaplains are the connection between ISKCON Prison
Ministry and the inmates, arranging for them to get books and
spiritual paraphernalia. Many are grateful to IPM for caring
for the spiritual needs of their Hare Krishna and Hindu inmate
population, and some begin to really see the benefits of
Krishna consciousness.

Lord Nrsimha, by Bhkata Ferril Mickens

“Thank you so very much for your ministry…  and for the
enrichment and education of the general population of the
facility,” wrote Rev. Richard G. Barnes of MTC Imperial
Regional Detention Facility in Calexico, California. “It is
appreciated more than words can say.”

“We have had a very positive response about Krishna from some
of the institutions,” wrote Reverend Michael Sims of Ellendale,
Tennessee. “I enjoy talking with the inmates and hearing of
their spiritual progress.”

One Virginia chaplain was so enthusiastic that he had an inmate
who was practicing Krishna consciousness come into his office
and order an amazing $1,500 worth of books and accessories from
Hare Krishna websites in one sitting. Now, after several
ordering sessions, his prison has every one of Srila
Prabhupada’s books, as well as Deities, mridangas, kartals and
a harmonium along with instructional videos, incense, kurtas,
tilak, DVDs and CDs.

For Bhakti-lata, hearing these stories is her lifeblood.

“My IPM service is the rock that gives me stability in my
Krishna consciousness,” she says. “Since I became a devotee,
chanting my rounds and reading Prabhupada’s books have always
been very important, but it is even more so since I started
writing inmates. After all, what will I have to tell them if I
myself do not appreciate the matchless gift I am offering
them?”

 *

IPM gives tax-deductible receipts. To donate, or to find
out more information, please visit
www.iskconprisonministry.org,
write to IskconPrisonMinistry@gmail.com,
or contact Bhakti-lata Dasi or Mukunda Das at ISKCON Prison
Ministry, P.O. Box 2676, Alachua, FL 32616-2676.

To subscribe to IPMs “Freedom” newsletter, send an email
to
IskconPrisonMinistry@gmail.com
with “Subscribe” in the subject line.

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Source: ISKCON Prison Ministry Turns Lives Around