By Ven Chokyi
I was first asked to make a prison visit for Liberation Prison Project while visiting my parents in 2006. I had taken gets vows with Lama Zopa Rinpoche just a few months earlier.
The guy I met with showed me the Tara painting he was creating and talked about his practice. He mentioned he had only done 3,000 Guru Rinpoche mantras that week. I was humbled. I was hooked.
He was my great inspiration to continue to offer service to support Dharma practitioners doing it tough on the inside. Before long, we had a group of guys in his facility meeting weekly in the chapel for Dharma talks and meditations.
Over the years, this experience has repeated itself numerous times over. The rewards are immeasurable. What inspires me most is reflecting how these mostly uneducated inmates with challenging home lives, get to meet the Dharma in prison and then use the time they have to study and practice, really do turn their minds and lives around. You can literally see the transformation happening in front of your eyes. And the prison staff notice too.
This is even more evident when they start writing and we pair them up with a Dharma student to mentor their studies and practice. Buddhism in a Nutshell is one of the first programs we introduce them to.
So many go on to study Discovering Buddhism and a few have even undertaken Basic Program and Masters Program studies.
Our main emphasis is on them setting up and maintaining a regular practice. The Dharma students who write to them say it is their practice as well, and they learn so much Dharma from writing, researching Dharma topics, responding to student questions. We support and encourage them to take a lead in cultivating true Dharma friendships. Many of our volunteer Dharma friends have been writing for Liberation Prison Project for years, from the quiet seclusion of their own rooms. They too, are true Dharma heroes.
Before I was appointed Director of Liberation Prison Project 12 years ago, I kept hearing Lama Zopa Rinpoche say in teachings over and over again, ‘the prison is the hermitage, it is the cave’. It is so true.
Many students take the opportunity to use their time inside as a retreat, to reset their lives, to do a reality check. Going to prison is the wake up call that propels them to make drastic changes in their lives, to work on their mind and become motivated to give back to society. Many take refuge and bodhisattva vows. A few, post release have taken ordination vows. They are set on their spiritual path, no turning back. And they have our support for as long as they want.
Witnessing such profound transformation continuously inspires me to put more effort into my own study and practice and emulate their courageous determination to live a meaningful life. There is nothing more rewarding than this. It has been the hugest honor to serve in this capacity. Thank you Rinpoche for this precious opportunity.
Outgoing Director, Liberation Prison Project
LPP seeking new director: https://liberationprisonproject.org/get-involved/lpp-seeks-a-new-director/