Hi all. I have heard many stories of Christian-biased administrations and chaplains making it hard for dharma practice. I would like to know from anyone who sees things improving where they are, or maybe it's getting worse.
Along the same lines, has the movie The Dhamma Brothers made any impact on attitudes of administratoros?
I am a Protestant Christian Prisonchaplain in the Netherlands and in our country it is out of the question that we even could or would create obstacles for meditation. We are stateofficials, just as the RC priest, or the Imam, or the Buddhist, or the Pandit, or the humanist, or Rabbi. So we have all denominations aboard on behalf of the state. I sometimes give courses in MBSR and i practice with 2 groups some form of it connected with vipassana, although i cannot give 10-day courses or have a teacher for those courses, maybe later. I work with 2 tiny groups because one of the groups belongs to the socalled sexual offenders, and they are not very popular among the other inmates...
So, concluding: I do not know what is going on in the USA in this matter, but this is what we Dutch do. Ofcourse there is always some concurrence, because of the struggle for life....we chaplains are not very popular among the populist and rightwing citizens and they seem to be the majority nowadays in the world.And our country is not very Christian anymore....we will not be missed very much by those who live outside prison. The inmates ofcourse know who we are and what we do. IN prison i get more respect from the people than outside ever. Its a strange, lonely world.
I did a two year sentence in a local jail because the Dept. of Corrections wasn't transporting as they should. I wrote and wrote to different deputies' offices trying to find out how to get books, and was ignored. Eventually I was told we couldn't receive them despite the handbook saying we could. I wrote to the jail counselor trying to receive spiritual literature from Human Kindness Foundation. He contacted the Chaplain who said HKF has been known to send contraband to inmates, so that closed off that route. I was told family could drop off religious books to be approved by the Chaplain, but had no one to do that for me. Eventually, by accident, Buddhist Peace Fellowship sent me an unrequested book, which I got, to my surprise. After that, I was able to receive some Buddhist literature. However, not everything that was sent was received. Though it was likely not the Chaplain as much as the deputies who would initially receive any religious materials sent to me, several benign religious materials (which were in accord with jail policies) were returned to the sender. When I got out, I even found some essays on a Zen Buddhist approach to 12 Step Recovery, sent by San Francisco Zen Center, in my property.
Our area is pretty Bible-belted. Irony is not being able to get some materials for Buddhism when my Christian neighbor had stacks of books sent to him, FAR exceeding the maximum allowed by policy. As well, I was occasionally witnessed to by Christian Deputies, one the whole time I was there, telling me that my religion was wrong, was the path of the Devil, and "has no compassion in it."
Fortunately this limited experience is all I have to relate. However, I think it is easy for people to forget about the jails when thinking of problems facing the inmate populations. The jails are typically under regional authority or, in my case, the sherrif's department. The policies that dictate and (limitedly) protect inmates rights in Virginia's prisons are not necessarily applied to the jails. (A lawsuit is going on about just that regarding First Amendment Rights regarding literature in jails here, but I"m having problems finding information about it.) Anyway, people are definitely, on the average, in prison longer than jail. But in the jail I was in, people could be housed there for up to five years. Dept. of Corrections also contracted people there. Inmates in jail have much more limited means to ensure their protections across the board. And though they may not be there for decades on end, being limited in such ways as they are, it is important that they have full access to religious or spiritual education and participation. I could never have gotten permission to use the room(s) used for Koran or Bible study, because I was one person. And in jail, how could I get a group together when contacting other inmates is forbidden, as well as nearly impossible due to the design of the jail and separation of pods?
However, I am VERY, VERY fortunate I received what materials I did. Between that and a surprisingly good substance abuse program in the jail, my time was spent daily focused on rehabilitation. But I can only imagine how much more difficult it is for other jail inmates who practice non mainstream religions, in jurisdictions of smaller areas in Va, to gain access to necessary literature and support.
Thank you for this information. I am not familiar with situation in US prisons, so it is very instructive for me to hear this kind of things. Of course the Netherlands is a very small country and the rules are quite clear for every prison so local relgious preocupations or sentiments doe not play a role so much in distributing religious materials from whatever religion. Personel can only be more or less rude in dealing with requests etc. I will read your text once more carefully, as my English is not so good and i need some time to read and think it over. Thank you for now.
I always have had the impression that many Northern European countries were more socially advanced than we are.
May I ask what MSBR is?
It is wonderful you work not only in the prison, but with the "so-called sexual offenders" who, statistically here, are at a high risk of re-offending, but that are also stigmatized so, both in prison and without.
That you said you would not be missed outside of prison, but are more respected from within is interesting, and sad too. I am not Christian, but have recently gained appreciation for those who are and take Christian teachings to heart. Do you feel people in your country, outside of prison, are just losing touch with Christianity, or are they losing touch spiritually overall. (Apologies to Bevan Suits; I have strayed from this thread's topic a bit).
MBSR = mindfulness based stressreduction; a course, based on meditation technique and yoga, developed by Jon Kabat Zinn (he wrote: Full Catastrophy Living); I and my wife who is official trainer in this, do sometimes a course with inmates; helping to get in touch with your body and feelings, becoming more aware of inner movements during the day, being more able to deal with stress and strassfactors during detention. And of course, nasty memories and traumatic experiences can be there too, guilt, shame, pain.
I always say to my people: during the course nobody is praying, but it may help you to pray more deep and read your bible more spiritual, if you want. so it is not opposed to relgious attitude.
IN that way i deal with it as a protestant minister, who is reading bible and holding churchservices :)
One day i want to write a book about the theological background and possibilities and obstacles of course, because it is not all the same.
My teacher, a Thai monk, Mettaviharee once invited me to visit the ordination of a man who wanted to be Buddhist. And he said: next time we make you Buddhist Sietse (my name)....I smiled and then he said: joking! Never become a Buddhist! just become a Buddha!
The collective hysteria about sexual offenders in particular the pedosexuals, seems to be an outlet for collective fear and frustration about global and national insecurity I think. Just like the anti-Islam spirit...it is narrowed consciousness of fear and frustration. Sexual offenders in the Netherlands are hunted most fiercely by those who do not care for social justice so much...at least that is my opinion. It has become a kind of taboo even regarding them as human beings who need help instead being hunted down.
Needless to say that i am not defending sexual abuse, that is something different.
In the netherlands there is a kind of floating spirituality, but the church is getting more and more empty, we live in a quite secularized country not to be compared with the USA. I cannot give exact numbers but the vast majority does not consider itself as belonging to a church or christian believer. IN prison however, 1/3 of the population goes to church and is happy to talk with us about life and faith and spirituality, combined of course with social matters as relational problems, domestic problems, aftercare etc. We work in prison, but we are not members of the security and control system, we do not report and we do not help government in controlling people. we are quite independant, although there is a discussion about working more integrated because of 'restorative justice' programs. Our population is more than 50% Muslim, nowadays. Bad. The Imams who work in our prisons are not yet ready to do this professional job of what you could call spiritual counseling. I am pastoral supervisor and as such i train imams for their work in prison. But there i a quite deep cultural ...canyon? But the intentions are good.
so far for now.
I am not familiar with the movie "The Dhamma Brothers". I have found some Christians and Catholics to be open - minded and even interested and embracing to and of Buddhism and Yoga and others who are close - minded to these teachings and disciplines. I think it is more up to individual clergymen then a set policy by a church, denomination or prison administrator. I do think that many biblical teachings mirror Buddhist teachings and would hope that clergymen, priests, teachers of Yoga and The Dhamma and lay practitioners and students would be both mindful and appreciative of these similarities, and perhaps most of all, able to apply them to their own lives and their views and relationships with others.....