Over a year ago we contacted the Chaplain at the California State Prison in Lancaster as we have some members in that facility and asked about having a bhakti-yoga program. I went last June and met with the Chaplain and the head of Religious Services and discussed what our program entailed. They were interested and the Chaplain told me when I was leaving, “We never had a Krsna program here before, this would be a good test.”
I emailed them the names and Driver Licences of the potential devotees who would be attending and after a couple of months, I was notified we were all approved. Then, I asked the Chaplain for a date for the program and it took him a very long time to reply. When he finally replied, he gave us a date in January, 2017. By this time I was already in Florida, so replied to him that I would be in California in April so could we schedule then, which we did.
So, on April 30th, Shivananda sena dasa, Thakura dasa, Jaya Govinda dasa and I went to the facility for the scheduled program. The facility is a maximum security facility and although I have been in a maximum security facility in Oregon, this facility had much more fencing and barbed wire. It was also visiting day and the entry room was quite crowded. The Chaplain met us there and helped us through. Once we were through security, the Chaplain walked us to the room where the program would be held – it was just a cold room with some chairs and a sound system. He gave me what looked like a garage opener and told me if we have any problems, to push the button.
Jaya Govinda and Thakura quickly set up the sound system and then the 20 inmates who were signed up for the program entered the room. They all sat on chairs that were around the room and the four of us sat on the floor in front. So many of the inmates had their arms folded and seemed to be checking us out – who were we and were we authentic. Shivananda prabhu spoke for about 20 minutes and shared the philosophy in a relatable way. Then Thakura prabhu led the first kirtan, the maha-manta.
Only two of the guys present had heard of Krsna, so chanting was not easy for them. Shivananda prabhu stood up and began dancing while the other three of us continued chanting, and then speaking about the power of the holy names which broke the ice immensely and grabbed all of their interest. He then spoke about Mahaprabhu and how it is easier to chant Gauranga – which they all spontaneously called out Gauranga. Thakura then led an enlivening Nitai Gauranga kirtan and all were chanting enthusiastically.
It was amazing to feel the presence of our guru-varga and Krsna and Mahaprabhu in the form of their holy name. The whole room went from being a cold room to a warm, kirtan hall. We all forgot where we were. It is an indescribable feeling and experience – so hard to put in words.
After this exciting kirtan, we took questions and answers, and so many of them had such good questions and comments. One guy said that he felt unjudged and that anything they were feeling, any anger they had when they came in, was now gone. Everyone was buzzing from this program and they all asked if we can come back. One guy said he felt so purified and cleansed of his sins.
I am so grateful to my godbrothers who went to this program and gave their full hearts to this service, and equally as grateful to our donors that enable us to have these prison programs.
We spoke right after the program and here are the links to those interviews:
Aspiring for the service of Sri Guru and the Vaisnavas,