April 29th was our third program at the California State Prison in Lancaster. For this program we were fortunate to have Rasika of the Kirtaniyas with us. Shivananda prabhu and I had been to both of the previous programs, yet even having been to this Maximum prison before, it didn’t make it less intense.
The Chaplain met us at the gate 30 minutes before the program began and brought us in through security and then walked us to the “B” yard. As we were walking the Chaplain was telling us about the increased fighting and incidences on this block the past couple of months. An inmate attacked a staff member, and there has been a lot of fighting – therefore they were on lock-down for the entire month of March. When we approached the gate for the “B” yard, the Chaplain said, “Uh oh, there’s been an incident.” We said, “What?” He said, “Yes, all the guys are sitting down, that means there’s been an incident.” We walked through the gate and there were guards all around and many inmates sitting, waiting. We then saw two guards bringing an inmate in. We were then brought to the stark classroom where our program would be held. The Chaplain told us there had just been a fight. We were then left alone in the room, waiting for those who signed up to come. We sang an invocation and Narasighadeva prayers to get centered.
Then the first man came in. A very sober and inquisitive man. He told us he does yoga and asked how we were different from regular yoga. We waiting for more people to come, but no one was coming so Shivananda began to explain the different types of yoga. As he was speaking, about 8 or 9 more inmates came. Due to the incident, everything was unorganized and disturbed. Some who had signed up didn’t come.
We then introduced ourselves, who we are and what we do and asked each inmate to introduce themselves and share why they came to this program. The common thread was that all wanted to learn more about bhakti-yoga and also expressed that they believe in God yet not religion. It was a very thoughtful and deep group.
We chanted Jaya Gurdueva, then Jaya Nita Jaya Gauranga, and then Maha-mantra with speaking in between. When we chanted Maha-mantra the energy began to get very high and we stood up and danced in a circle and all got up and danced. We then chanted Haribol at the end in such a joyful mood. We wanted to keep chanting, and the guys said to keep chanting until they kick us out. Our time was up though, and was a bit shorter than the 2 hours allotted us due to the fight that had transpired earlier.
One young man who was so serious the whole time, connected with Shivananda and after the program Shivananda told him, “You are like a son to me and he said, “Likewise, your like dad.” I saw the power of the Maha-mantra change this young fellow. He was so straight-faced until Rasika lead the Maha-mantra and when she loudly sang, “Krsna, Krsna,” I saw him wanting to hold back a smile, but he couldn’t fight it and a smile broke on his face. It was a very powerful moment.
There was a Christian service taking place in the next room. After it was over one elderly man on his way out was staring in the window at our program for a long time. The guys then invited him in and he came and sat down and experienced the last 20 minutes of our program. He said he felt something powerful through the window and was drawn in.
Some of the inmates want us to receive the monthly course we send, as well as books, and are looking forward to us coming again.
We donated a set of Srila Gurudeva’s books along with Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gita and Krsna book to the institution which will go into the chapel library.
The Chaplain walked us out and said it was a successful program and that even if we don’t see it, we are touching many lives.