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It was in 2007 that I first came in contact with ISKCON Prison Ministry (IPM). I was scanning various devotee websites when I came across an article written by Mother Shyama Priya. The article compiled various excerpts from inmate letters and briefly described the preaching work of IPM. I was deeply impressed by the gratitude and sincerity shown by these incarcerated bhaktas. Many were seriously taking to the process of bhakti-yoga and were reading Srila Prabhupada’s books, chanting 16 rounds, following the four regulative principles, and even preaching to their fellow inmates.
As a congregational member of the New Dwarka (Los Angeles) community, I wondered how I could help this noble cause. As I lived and worked outside the temple, I began collecting up books and sending financial donations to Shyama Priya. With great enthusiasm she would relate stories of how my contributions had helped bring Krishna Consciousness to the lives of countless individuals.
By 2008 I had met several other IPM devotees across the country like Hari Priya in Tucson, AZ and Bhakta Jerry in Chicago, IL. Chandrasekhara encouraged me to begin writing inmates myself. Although I was initially hesitant (due to lack of preaching experience), he asked me to simply “Be their friend, and repeat the words of Srila Prabhupada and Lord Sri Krishna”.
With these words, I became an active member of IPM. Over a year later, I have written to 119 different inmates in 29 states (9 states of which have no ISKCON temple and/ or rural farm community). By the mercy of Srila Prabhupada and Sri Sri Gaura-Nitai, prison preaching is taking off in Los Angeles.
In addition to regularly corresponding with inmates via mail, hundreds of books are being sent to inmates, prison chapels, and prison libraries every year. Numerous inmates are receiving subscriptions to “Back to Godhead” magazine and requests for chanting beads, neck beads, calendars, deity photos, CDs, MP3s, and DVDs are all being fulfilled.
At this year’s Prabhupada Festival in Los Angeles, I showcased two scrapbooks which contained inmate artwork, articles by inmates, excerpts from inmate letters, pictures from prison preaching programs, and favorable letters from prison chaplains and librarians. IPM’s service is being recognized more and more, both in Los Angeles and across the country.
But I am not content with the progress we have already made. As Shyama Priya used to say “I want an ISKCON Prison Ministry in every state!” Personally, I am trying to raise awareness of IPM’s valuable preaching work and to help support those who want to engage in this service. I would like to organize some regular prison preaching programs in the Southern California area as well as assist incarcerated bhaktas who are transitioning from life inside of prison to a life of devotional service on the outside.
Additionally, I am working with IPM devotees Bhakti-lata in Alachua, FL and Bhavananda in Arkansas. Bhakti-lata is compiling “IPM News” while Bhavananda is compiling the “Freedom Newsletter”. An IPM website is to follow.
By cooperatively working together, both IPM devotees and supporters can provide literally thousands of incarcerated bhaktas with all the spiritual needs they require (association, guidance, books, chanting beads, etc). Listen to what one such bhakta has to say:
“I can’t explain in the appropriate words how it makes me feel when I read these books, but I can say I know it’s something I want to be a part of.”
Article written in 2009