“If you give me chance to speak to all the members of the Jail, it is quite possible for me to turn them into ideal characters.”—A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada to Sri Puri, India, 1962
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© 2004 - Hansadutta das

ISKCON Prison Ministry — Letter from India

Shyama Priya devi dasi
November 18, 2005
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Dear Prabhu:
Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.

I just wanted to add that we send out about 50 packages of books per week, which is about 150-200 books. We write over 150 letters a month, just from my office, and there are many other devotees writing letters. So hundreds of letters every month to the prisons in the US. The most popular books are Bhagavad-Gita As It Is, Beyond Birth and Death, Higher Taste (because it explains about vegetarianism) and Perfection of Yoga. Many inmates have heard of Srimad Bhagavatam and are always asking me to send it. I have been able to put 9 sets of the Srimad Bhagavatam into prison libraries, due to one kind person donating them to the ministry. I often send them used copies of different cantos, so they can at least sample the nectar.

There are a few devotees who go personally to the prisons to preach and hold programs for the inmates. They have a very good reception and the inmates love to get the association of the devotees. In Oregon and Pennsylvania, there are large groups of inmates who meet regulary. We send them videos and cds to watch and listen to. Many of the inmates chant 16 rounds and look forward to devotee association when they are released.

Half of the inmates have japa beads, others use either a string tied with knots for beads, or chant on rosary beads, twice around, or use their fingers.
"You asked how I used aspirin to count mantras? I have a bottle of 108 aspirins and each time I finish a mantra, I place one aspirin back inside the bottle, then dump them back out again after 108."—Bhakta Paul Kimmel, Pendleton, IN
Gopi by Brian Babinski Where there is a will there is a way. Many inmates find very resourceful ways of doing things. One inmate who is an artist uses the dye off M&M's, Skittles and other candies, plus coffee and toothpaste to get the colors to paint with, as in the picture of the Gopi.

When I received the picture it smelled very interesting! Somewhat edible.

I received a very nicely woven pendant from an inmate who had saved threads and made a tilak symbol out of black and gold threads.

I always tell them that now is the best time to read, study and chant, as they have so much time on their hands. And once they get released there will be so many distractions.

Vegetarian diets are a problem many times. Some prisons in the US allow a vegetarian diet, while others do not have it easily available. We send the inmates a document stating that they are Hare Krishna's and that they need a vegetarian diet, and that usually helps them get their diet. However it is not the best food, because it is usually canned, processed, etc., but the inmates do the best they can under the circumstances. Many of the inmates have their own little altars, with pictures of Krishna and Srila Prabhupada set up so, they may make offerings. Some even have incense to offer. One inmate we know even has Deities in his cell.

In India they of course have vegetarian diets in prison. And when the devotees go there to preach everyone in the prison comes, they all take books and are very enthusiastic in kirtan. Please see attached letter.

Devotees are going to prison to preach all over the world, but I am only in touch with the ones in the US and India. I have heard that in South America the inmates are also very enthusiastic.

Your Humble Servant,

Shyama Priya
ISKCON Prison Ministry
PO Box 261
Alpine CA 91903-0261
619-659-0108

My dear Prabhujis,
Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada!

Since last 5 months since our last report, we have been having weekly programs in Mathura and Agra Prisons, and monthly in Tihar Jail. Now the Tihar Jail program will also be done weekly. One very sincere Brijbasi devotee named Janakinatha Das has joined this program and is very enthusiatically pushing it on.

Actually we were busy with Ujjain Kumbha Mela for one month and when we returned to Agra Prison, the jailer Mr. Gupta, was complaining that "We missed you for one month. Where have you been? The prisoners have been asking for you every day. We invited other groups to come, but all the prisoners complain, 'Why don't you call the Hare Krishna wales?' In your absence, the prisoners have been doing two hours of kirtan every day."

Later the superintendent told us that "Since you have started these programs, the jail has become very peaceful, we don't have many fights, and they are doing their work very enthusiastically. So please don't have big gaps. It's nice you went to Kumbha Mela, but don't neglect us."

Now we have one prisoner who is doing 16 rounds. A few others are doing 4-8 rounds. They asked us to bring them a mrdanga for their daily kirtans.

The next day, we went to Mathura Jail and they showed us in the ward that they had a very nice picture of Radha Madhava from Mayapur and Srila Prabhupada. They were also keeping a copy of Srila Prabhupada's Bhagavad Gita. They were very happy to join with us in kirtan. Then they did some Brijbasi bhajans. After which we distributed prasad. The superintendant told us that we need to make a temple here in the jail. They are doing kirtan now every day, but we need one mridanga. So we will make arrangements for these things.

Then we went to Tihar Jail in Delhi where Srila Prabhupada had started prison preaching. This time we went to the Juvenile jail, where the superintendant was also complaining that why we were coming after a big gap. Then he asked if we had any CDs of our prison programs, so we can send them to other jails in the country and interest them in this project. Then they can contact the nearest ISKCON temple for having programs in their jails. Then we told them that we have decided to do this program now weekly and Delhi ISKCON will supply prasadam for our programs.

After our class and we distributed prasadam that was supplied by Food For Life from Delhi Temple. Then they took us to meet some of the inmates. Sarvabhauma asked one young fellow why he was in jail. He said, "I snatched one mobile." When asked why he did that he told the following story.

"I came from the village and was doing some small key business. Then some people came and told me that their father needs a kidney transplant, if I will give one kidney, they will give you one lac of rupees. So they took me to their house and fed me very nicely for some days and got my test done in some hospital. Then one day we were going in the car and the man said that I need one mobile. So you see that lady across the street, you go and snatch her mobile and come. But when I snatched the mobile, the people caught me and the man who instigated me fled away, and I was turned over to the police.

"After listening to you, I know that I have done wrong. So now I will change my life and never do things like this again."
Another young man said that he stabbed someone. When asked why did he do that, he said that he was a pickpocket and someone spotted him and was going to inform the police "... so I stabbed him. So that was not good. Oh no, I will never do this again."

So we are just distributing Srila Prabhupada's patent medicine for curing the criminal of his crime: the chanting of the Holy name. In this way, following in Srila Prabhupada's footsteps, we are trying to develop more and more this Prison Preaching Program. We want to start this program in Bharatpur Jail also which is not far from Mathura.

Your servant,
Sarvabhauma das

Many hours are spent answering letters and preaching to the inmates, explaining the process of Krishna consciousness. If you’d like to be involved by writing to inmates or if you know someone to whom we can write, or if you’d like to help fund the mailing of books, please contact us.

Would you like to help?

    Financial donations pay for:
  • Postage for 400 Back to Godhead magazines Hundreds of books mailed out each month
  • Vaishnava books
  • Postage for our regular Newsletter
    Other donations taken include but are not limited to:
  • Books
  • Tulasi neck beads and Japa beads
  • Music and lecture tapes
  • Music and lecture CD's
  • Devotional videos and DVD’s

Contact us for more information. Become part of a wonderful preaching program. Help finance this worthy cause or get personally involved.

ISKCON Prison Ministry
Shyama Priya devi dasi
PO Box 261
Alpine, CA 91901
619-659-0108
shyamapriya@aol.com

or

Candrasekhara das,
Director IPM
PO Box 158691
Nashville, TN 37215-8691


ISKCON Prison Ministry — Letter from India/ WORLD SANKIRTAN PARTY
©2004-Hansadutta das
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