The Buddhist Association of the United States has an active prison program that helps inmates to learn and apply Buddhist teachings to their lives.
There are two parts to the program – the Prison Book Program and the Prisoner Buddhist Correspondence Course Program.
The Prison Book Program
This program has been in operation since about 1999. Currently there are over 6,500 persons - prisoners and Chaplains of prisons – who have received shipments of Buddhist books. Many thousands of books have been sent out and the request for books continues to grow as more prisoners learn of the BAUS and its program.
The services provided by the Prison Program include:
- Sending Buddhist books to prisoners and prison libraries.
- Answering questions that prisoners have regarding Buddhism and Buddhist practice.
- Furnishing prisoners with the names and addresses of local Buddhist centers that may be able to send monks or nuns to visit the prison to conduct meditation and other Buddhist services.
- Writing to prison officials – wardens, chaplains, etc. – on the behalf of prisoners who are denied the opportunity to practice Buddhism in the prison system.
- Aiding Buddhist prisoners to obtain vegetarian meals at their prison.
- Furnishing prisoners with the names and addresses of organizations who can provide them with services after their release.
- Helping prisoners to establish Sanghas in their prison.
Prisoner Correspondence Course Program
The Course was started in 2005 and grew out of repeated requests from prisoners for a structured way to study Buddhism. Many were confused when they read books from different Buddhist traditions – Theravada, Zen, Tibetan, Pure Land, etc. – and were looking for a way to understand the essentials of Buddhism common to all of the different Buddhist schools and to improve their own Buddhist practice.
The goals of the Course are to familiarize prisoners with the life of the Buddha, Buddhist concepts, theory and practice, and to help prisoners Integrate Buddhism into their lives and to aid them to avoid unskillful states of mind such as anger and hatred and to cultivate skillful states of mind such as equanimity and compassion.
The Course stresses the practices of:
- Anger management by way of Metta meditation
The Course is given at no cost to prisoners.
The Correspondence Course consists of written assignments on both the material and its application to the student’s life. Each student is assigned a mentor who works closely with the student to guide them through the course and answer any questions they may have about Buddhism, Buddhist practice, or the student’s meditation practice. Successful completion of the Course results in the awarding of a Certificate of Completion sent to the student and filing a notice of Completion with the appropriate prison authorities should that be desired.
There are currently over 500 students in the course in prisons throughout the United States. Two students who were released from prison went on to ordain as monastics – one as a Zen monk and one as a nun in the Tibetan tradition who is continuing her studies in Dharamsala, India. The letters we continually receive from students show that Buddhism has made a big difference in helping them to overcome anger and hatred and to lead a more centered, peaceful life.
As part of the course, we publish a quarterly newsletter that is distributed to the students. It is written, for the most part by them and for them, and tells of their problems of practicing Buddhism in prison – and there are many. They encourage each other in their practice and offer solutions to problems others are encountering.
For information about these programs please contact Richard Baksa at firstname.lastname@example.org