IBS: Helping Prisoners In and Out of Prison
by Sue Stern and Andy Hamilton
What is a prisoner? Before we learned about and became supporters of the IBS Prison Program, we never thought about people in prison. They had committed crimes and were therefore in prison, and we were not — what else was there to think about? We now understand this as a great example of dualistic thinking — us and them. But the annual IBS fundraising dinner and teachings from Venerable Master Hueiguang and his disciple, Venerable Xianzhong, have helped break down the (prison) walls for us.
From Sue: At the first dinner we attended, in 2010, Ven. Xianzhong said we should not think of people in prison as different from us. They have made mistakes, just like we all have. They are suffering, as we all are. The only difference is that they are incarcerated, but none of us are ‘free’. We are all prisoners of our own minds. That idea made me see my situation differently — that I’m not free even though I am not behind bars. None of us are free as long as we live within the limits of our conditioned and habitual minds. We are the same.
From Andy: At the IBS dinners, letters from prisoners are displayed. I have found the depth of feeling and thoughtfulness, and extensive understanding of the Dharma expressed in these letters to be both inspiring and heart-wrenching. It is now impossible for me to see the inmates in the IBS program as different from myself. It is also impossible to ignore the incredible effect of the prison visits by Master Heiguang, Ven. Xianzhong, and Shirley Tam. The IBS Program is helping inmates now, and when and if they are released.
I’ve continued to read inmates’ letters as they are posted to this website. They remind me to drop the walls I habitually want to create between myself and others and to be generous in my thoughts as well as my actions.
Our wish for the IBS Program is that someday there will be no more prisons for them to visit.
May all beings be free from suffering.
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