On May 8th, 2016, I had the good fortune to go with Prema mayi dasi to Snake River Correctional Facility in Ontario, Oregon, just on the Oregon/Idaho border.
This was my third time visiting this facility and I have had letter communication with a few of the inmates as well – so relationships have been building. In the morning we met one-on-one with 3 different inmates and each meeting was very special and profound. One elderly man has been locked up for 7 years for self-defense. He said the reason must have been that he needed to strengthen his spiritual practices and he realizes all he has is his faith.
In the afternoon we had a 2 hour time frame and this time the program was held in the chapel (last year we were in a classroom with chairs). The chapel was a big carpeted room with mats on the floor. It felt so much better to be sitting on the floor. As the inmates trickled in, one young man, Billy, sat down right in front of us. He was energetic and excited and said, he has never done anything like this, but realizes he needs to become more mindful, so thought to give it a try.
When Prema mayi didi started the manglacarana, I closed my eyes and prayed to Srila Gurudeva and all our acarayas, to be an instrument in their service and for them to come and bestow their mercy upon us all. We are all dependent on them and the Lord – so without their mercy, we cannot do anything. I could feel them entering the room from the window – and at this point, I felt like a participant and also crying for mercy. Prema mayi didi spoke so nicely and sang her heart out – I felt so honored to have a godsister like her and that she agreed to come.
Although the drive was long, especially after having just arrived from India, I always remember and meditate on Srila Sarasvati Thakura Prabhupada’s words, “It takes gallons of blood to bring one to bhakti.” So with that meditation, nothing seems impossible.
Prema-mayi didi wrote a beautiful report and I videoed her speaking about her experience – and what she has shared is better than anything I can muster up to say, so am posting that here as well. So much thanks to her for coming and for her offer of continued support. And so much thanks to Gaurapriya didi in Boise who hosted us and cooked with so much love – even sending us off with enough prasadam for two more meals.
We gave the 30 inmates in attendance the new daily kirtan handbook which they are able to keep. So much thanks to our kind donors to the Prison Program and Book Sponsorship Program.
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Srila Gurudeva ki jaya! Srila Prabhupada ki jaya! Sri Rupanuga Guru-varga ki jaya! IPBYS Prison Program ki jaya!
This weekend nature and the simple fresh air had a deeper meaning to me.
Sunday morning was my first time into a high security federal prison, near Idaho, where men who have committed crimes like killing others have been locked up for life.
After my family and I celebrated mother’s day Saturday morning, I got picked up by Vasanti Dasi, a dear friend and dedicated woman ,who shares the gifts of bhakti.
Off we went on her van driving for hours through beautiful nature, talking, laughing catching up on our live’s journeys.
To me I was going to do another kirtan as always. Little did I know how much this experience would affect me.
As we enter the prison on Sunday morning I began to realize I was in for something bigger than I thought.
Many steps of security, then solid doors sliding open, and shutting behind us. We arrived into a big room, where many inmates got to see their mothers….. mothers with their children going to see their husbands…..my heart began to sink and my whole body felt disturbed I realized I was in a foreign world I had never been to before. I thought I knew what it would be like, but I had no idea how I would feel.
The air, the frequency and collective consciousness was disturbed, and it shook me.
We enter a booth and we got to meet the first inmate Vasanti had been cultivating and helping through emails and visits., a man of almost 70 who got in a bad fight trying to protect his wife and got locked up for 12 years and has 4 more months to go.
The two other ones I got to meet were in for the rest of their lives ….. for murder. To hear them speak was the breath of survival……thirsty for someone from the outside to bring a ray of light, a drop of hope.
Calvin asked me as he rubbed his hands “tell me a story….or what is inspirational in your life” I found myself sharing some of my most painful moments and how my spiritual teacher helped me find the jewel hidden there, just for me….Calvin was right there with me as I described my journey…..he smiled big and said, ” Aaaah I will remember this for a while”
After speaking with the three of them individually for a couple of hours we left for the park.
All I could do was chant with my harmonium under a big fragrant tree, hear the birds, breath, and feel the rushing river go by.
This time my prayers were a calling, I needed all the strength from my angels to help me go back there and sing for 30 men, many of them have already been there for many years and have no chance to leave.
One o’clock came and again the procedure of security, every instrument I brought had to go through the scan.
The chaplain who was assigned to work with Vasanti guided us through several corridors with guards.
We arrived into a big hall, not at all a cozy sacred space, but they facilitated cushions to sit on the floor.
We sat down, with my guitar, madal drum and harmonium and slowly they trickled in facing us. Wow! I thought……how am going to do this? I needed my kirtan army. I felt weak, this was new territory for me.
The chaplain introduced us…..I closed my eyes and sang the invocation prayer from deep in my heart, each name I called I prayed for their blessings to be an instrument.
I opened my eyes and the transformation was palpable, I got their attention, the room felt smaller…..and I planted the flag of bhakti,…..
they were now in my territory.
For two hours we chanted and I shared some words from my heart, I looked in their eyes and they were right there with me, breathing the same sacred air, drinking from that fountain…..Divine mystery, singing the eternal song, feeling their heart beat and the expansion of connecting to our source.
I give thanks for my life!!!! for every moment that opens a new door……..to see that love is the only reality.
The ride back was quiet and the nature more glorious.
I went to offer my service but I cannot fathom what has happened to me.