Life After Prison
LPP receives some 300 letters every month from people in prison. Dedicated staff send books and materials, work with chaplains, offer books to prison libraries, and provide the Discovering Buddhism correspondence course.
But the most precious support LPP offers, according to Ven. Robina Courtin, is personal contact. Some seventy volunteers, including a growing number of former prisoners, write to and visit prisoners, guiding them in their practice and studies. “So many people in prison have nothing and nobody, and have no sense of hope or purpose in life. One letter offering encouragement changes people’s lives. We’ve seen this again and again.” It’s hard to keep up with the demand, she says. “We often have a waiting list of forty prisoners.”
Here five prisoners who were helped by LPP during their incarceration talk about the benefits of their practice and how they’re coping now that they have been released.
Mark Chesterfield, Australia
I had been very, very sad and very, very lost for a long time prior to going to prison. I was using excessive amounts of alcohol and cannabis. While intoxicated I made some unsound decisions, was hauled before the courts, and was sentenced to three years.
At first my thoughts were very messy, very gross. The mind was extremely clouded by so many years of substance abuse. Three months into prison life I began to ask, Why am I here? Why did I get into this situation?
There was a Buddhist monk, Ven. Thubten Lhundrup, from Thubten Shedrup Ling Monastery in Bendigo, Victoria, visiting the prison. I sought him out and started to read practically everything available. A group of us would hand around second- and third-hand Mandala magazines, and look after and support each other. We would meet regularly to meditate together and discuss our practice…
Eight months into my sentence, my whole demeanor had changed. I decided, “That’s it! I’m not going to be angry any more, not question the authorities, not argue any more.” The less I felt the anger and pain, the more happiness came back toward me, and that was the point when I knew the Dharma was working for me.
As my release date approached, “gate fever” was a very real phenomenon for me. Am I going to be able to cope, to fit back into society? How is my family going to respond? At this time I realized that my Dharma practice is me….