Prison Program - Dharma Rain Zen Center
Statement of Purpose
The Prison Program is a Dharma Rain Zen Center outreach program that serves
inmates and recent releases from state prisons in Oregon.
- We provide meditation instruction and practice.
- We share Buddhist teachings and work to create Sangha within the prison.
- We work with inmates to foster inner peace and long-term personal transformation.
Dharma Rain Zen Center’s active prison volunteer program began in 1997, when
Randi Getsushin Brox began corresponding with a Buddhist inmate on death row
in Arkansas. The correspondance ended when he was executed a few months
later. The following year two men on death row in Oregon contacted the Center.
They were looking for a person who would be willing to teach them about Asian
religions. Kyogen referred the letter to Getsushin. Both men have subsequently
taken the Sixteen Bodhisattva Precepts, and Getsushin still visits them on
a regular basis every month.
A few months later an inmate from the general
population at Oregon State Penitentiary asked
Getsushin if we would be willing to start an ongoing Zen Buddhist group
at the penitentiary. This gradually
grew into what is now a well established group that meets regularly on the
first and third (and fifth if applicable) Tuesday of the month. Getsushin
is currently assisted in that group by two male members of Dharma Rain,
Work in other prisons in Oregon has begun as inmates have requested it.
The Coffee Creek Minimum group started
because the then chaplain (a Catholic nun) was looking for somebody to start
a Buddhist meditation group. The Medium
grew out of Non-Violent Communications classes, where an inmate
pleaded with Getsushin to start a Buddhist meditation group there.
The Eastern Oregon groups
started after a request from the Two
Rivers Corrections Institution (TRCI)
chaplain (a Christian himself). They were working on having various religions
in their overall program. Kisei and Getsushin agreed to go to visit Buddhist
inmates at TRCI four times a year. Then a Dharma Rain member (Joseph Mugaku
Engum) who lives in Pendleton began meeting
with the guys occasionally
during the rest of the year and developed weekly groups at both
TRCI and EOCI (Eastern
Oregon Corrections Institution). Genko and Getsushin
still go to both prisons when requested to support them.
began working with the young men at MacLaren Youth
Correctional Facility after one of the young men asked for Buddhist support.
Two other men took it over, and then both moved away, so the group lapsed.
Another man has recently revived the group.
The newest group is at Columbia
River Corrections Institution (CRCI), and
grew out of inmate and chaplain requests for us to do a Buddhist group there.
This group is just getting going, and will likely lead soon to a monthly visit
Fork Forest Camp in addition.
A report on the program at Coffee Creek describes the Philosophy of
the Prison Program within the framework of the seven components of the Oregon
Accountability Model, describing how we work with them in our Buddhist
groups. The end of the report describes
our developing work with Transition out of Prison.
Buddhism ... is a spiritual practice
which teaches us to change the focus away from the distractions of everyday
and focus instead on what is going on in our own minds. Consequently, Buddhist
practice can benefit anyone regardless of regardless of religious affiliation
or world view. Read more ...
In Their Own Words
In 2007, Getsushin compiled interviews and writings from 16 inmates at OSP
and Coffee Creek into an article in StillPoint.
When I started to work on this project, my plan was to consolidate the
contributions into a coherent whole, but the handwritten pages, some in
letter form, moved me so much that I decided to present them with minimal
editing and minimal commentary. I wanted our
incarcerated friends to speak in their own words with as little interference
from me as possible. The stories of incarcerated people are almost always
co-opted by others, a few
well-meaning, many extremely hostile. Even in the best of cases, they tend
to objectify and disempower people and deny them the opportunity to own
their personal stories and to tell them in their own words.
One example of inmate writing:
I feel as if I have awakened. The first days in prison are guaranteed
to be the worst in your life. I “fell” long and hard and felt
cracked wide open. My puny but pure heart only allowed truth to come back
in. Negativity had no foothold. I was awakened to my Buddha nature, but
I was entirely dependent on the sangha and the Dharma to put the insight
into practice. I needed a behavior blueprint. My first lesson was “presence.”
Continue to In
Their Own Words.
See a list of these
groups, schedules and the volunteers who currently run them.