Renewed Energy At ISKCON Prison Ministry
Posted June 9, 2009
For the past 22 years, thousands of Inmates have had the great fortune to get familiar with Krsna Consciousness through the dedicated service of devotee volunteers. Every year, thousands of Srila Prabhupada's books are being introduced in hundreds of penitentiary institutions. With every issue of Back To Godhead, hundreds of copies are sent to eager inmate readers. Japa beads, neck beads, lectures and pictures are finding their way to this "captive audience", as mother Shyama Priya dasi affectionately used to say. For many inmates, corresponding with devotees through snail mail is the only sane or sobering contact they've had since they were incarcerated.
Through the ISKCON Prison Ministry, many inmates take to the chanting of the Holy Names, to the study of the philosophy, to amazing Krsna-conscious artwork, as well as to organizing programs for the benefit of other inmates in the same jail. Not only the inmates benefit from this preaching program; over the years, many chaplains have become very favorable to the introduction of Krishna Consciousness in the jail where they serve and are now eager to get more books for their chapel and to accommodate devotees coming to do programs with the inmates.
With the recent passing of Shyama Priya prabhu, ISKCON Prison Ministry's chief coordinator, my wife Bhakti-lata and I have taken on the responsibility of continuing this very important yet little-known service. Although much organization was and is still needed, many improvements have been made recently, and more are on the way. We now maintain a complete inventory of Srila Prabhupada's books in stock, and that inventory is kept current as we send and receive books. Also, since our volunteers often correspond with a dozen to a hundred inmates each, keeping track of even basic information can be a challenge. Things like the type and number of books allowed, material already sent and personal details can easily get mixed up or forgotten. To assist us in better serving the inmates, Bhakti-lata dasi created electronic folders to keep track of all relevant information. These folders are updated with each new correspondence.
Part of the beauty of this service is its simplicity. ISKCON Prison Ministry has always been, and is still, a home-based service. Devotees who are writing to inmates are doing so from wherever they live, whether Temple or home. I like to summarize the simple and sublime nature of that service by the phrase "Changing lives from the comfort of your home". If you feel inclined to share Krishna Consciousness by corresponding with inmates, we'd like to have a conversation with you.
Reaching out to inmates and witnessing the growth of their Krsna Consciousness is very rewarding. One must, however, know many details in order to ensure that letters and packages are not returned. We intend to compile this knowledge, the fruit of years of experience, in an instruction manual for IPM volunteers.
Some of the aspects of IPM also awaiting our attention are the revival of the IPM website, the monthly newsletter, and the study correspondence courses. If you would like to receive our upcoming monthly newsletter, please let us know by sending us an email at IskconPrisonMinistry@gmail.com.
To this day, the Ministry is operating on a shoestring budget of donations from a handful of generous supporters. Many donors have felt inspired to give, in part, because of Shyama Priya prabhu's personal and caring nature. As the dust of the recent transition settles, Bhakti-lata and I certainly intends to follow in her footsteps.
With all the current activities and with much more to develop ahead, we are seeking well-wishers who feel inspired to contribute any amount on a monthly basis. Steady monthly contributions create stability and predictability, which in turn facilitate growth. If you feel moved to help, simply send a contribution to ISKCON Prison Ministry, c/o Bhakti-lata dasi, PO Box 2676, Alachua, Florida, USA 32616-2676. You may also contact us by telephone at 386-418-3828 or 386-418-0578 or via e-mail at IskconPrisonMinistry@gmail.com. Please feel free to send us your suggestions on how you feel we can better serve the inmates.