I will leave my question(s) as short and sweet as possible for the sake of drawing in as wide a range of assistance and advice as possible:
What -in your experience- are the most important steps in setting up a prison Dharma group?
Where does one start?
What obstacles should one look out for?
Please feel free to answer any or all of the above points - or expand on them where you see fit.
Thank you, community members, in advance, for your help and understanding.
I'm no expert, but the way I would describe those terms: prison dharma consists of Buddhist dharma as applied within a correctional institution. A prison dharma group is going to consist of non-incarcerated individuals willing to go to prison in order to teach dharma, and prisoners who self-identify as benefiting from such a program.
The main difference between prison dharma and "regular" dharma is that in prisons dukkha has a very special flavor by comparison to, say, a dharma practice outside of such a highly-structured, sometimes violent environment. It would also be different in a hospital, a psychiatric unit, or Glassman Roshi's "street retreats."
The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes of mind. — William James
Prison Dharma Network (PDN), is an international, nonsectarian, contemplative support network for prisoners, prison volunteers, and corrections professionals. PDN's mission is to provide prisoners, and those who work with them, with the most effective contemplative tools for self-transformation and rehabilitation. We support prisoners in the practice of contemplative disciplines, with an emphasis on sitting meditation practice and the practice and study of Buddhist teachings and other wisdom traditions. We promote these paths of wakefulness and non-aggression as ideal vehicles for self-rehabilitation and personal transformation. We believe in the power of the various mindfulness-awareness practices and body-mind disciplines of the world’s contemplative traditions to change behaviors, transform lives, and ultimately to reduce recidivism, prevent crime, and enhance community safety and well-being.
Thank you for your thoughful replies.
Samara has since sent me an application to become a Prison Dharma Mentor which I happily filled out and submitted - - the volunteer manual sounds like it will answer many of my questions at this crucial stage.
Still - I would love to recieve advice from members and facilitators of Prison Dharma groups on the initial stages of setting up such a group.
Again - Where does one start?
Love to you all,
Hi Dave, we are starting out our project-trying to bring MBSR to a local prsion-by having those interested in this take the course and then we will get together and decide what next. I felt it was important to have them experience what is done in the course rather than to 'teach' them what I know, etc. We start our 8 week course this Saturday. One issue that came up is to consider offering the course to the COs, guards, staff of the prison before offering to to the inmates. I am working with a local Zen Center that has been going out to the prison for 8-10 years and holding meditaiton sits 1-2/month. Thus, we have some connection there already and I suspect this will help us when presenting the new project to the adminstrators. I can keep you informed as we go along if you like. PLEASE, let me/us know how and what you are doing as well!!
My guess as to where to start is to have a meeting with the contact person at the prison you are looking to start the group.
I apologize in advance if I don't have the answers you are looking for, but hopefully we can help each other.
Thanks again Samara - I shall follow this advice ASAP.
Many thanks Gus - - your suggestion of offering a course to prison staff is something I had not considered.
Thanks for taking the time to reply!
I am in Sydney, Australia and do not have a person here who is with PDN, and so it looks like it will be me. I am interested to hear from people who have begun a PDN group and is functional at this point. I would really love to help out here in Sydney. Curious!