It is hard to imagine the lifestyle of the people in prisons unless one gets the opportunity to visit them. Although there is a lot of information about the day-to-day life of incarcerated brothers and sisters, many of its nuances and subtleties can only be experienced firsthand by visiting the prisons themselves. Dharma brother Benny Luhur, one of our sponsors from Indonesia, had asked me since a while ago that he wanted to visit one of the prisons in California with us. Yesterday, June 14th, 2016 was the day that he had an opportunity to visit the male-only Calipatria State Prison as part of our Buddhist Volunteer Chaplain program.
After the visitation, I asked him how he felt about the state prison and brothers in prisons. He told me that it was quite a different experience than what he expected. He said, “The state prison we visited was quite humane and most of the brothers looked like regular folks on the street in uniform. I talked to couple brothers before the service – they were very mature, humble and polite. I think they should be ready to go back to the society to start over their lives again. But there were some who just participated in IBS services. Their minds seemed to be not stable and seem to wander about, and thus need some time to practice mindfulness before they go back to society. The brothers I had exchanged with can be categorized as follows: the ones who strived hard daily and were able to accept their situation, and practice daily using IBS method, improved the most. The others, who were not as disciplined and still were not at ease yet, still need us and other brothers to pay more attention to them such that they can understand one of our missions to practice Samatha and Vipassana meditation techniques, so they can be more calm, tolerant, and compassionate to others who are different and be more mindful.”
Yesterday services in the prison did not run as smoothly as we had planned, but because of it, Benny got to see all the different situations and difficulties that we face during our regular visit in the prisons. Yesterday, Yard A had service but ran later than scheduled. So Benny used this opportunity to talk to the few brothers who came earlier. Yard B, because of lockdown, couldn’t have service. Therefore we requested to visit the brothers in their cells instead. We got the opportunity to see brothers in the building where they live. One of the brothers, who is the group leader Iron Boddhisatva Buddhist and his sibling recited the hundred-syllable mantra and six-syllable mantra offered to Benny. At Yard C, no one was informed that we were coming. But the clerk was so kind and printed the old ducat list from the computer and called our brothers out for the service. All of a sudden the alarm went off, therefore, no one could come out. One brother in the education building came to the chapel and talked to Benny for almost 30 minutes. Yard D had no service because the clerk deleted the ducat list accidentally from the computer. Overall we spent a total of 6 hours yesterday, shorter than our usual visitation length. We had a wonderful visit, and although not everything went according to what we wished and planned for, we accepted yesterday’s experience as part of life.
California, June 15th, 2016