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Prison Sangha

By Therese Fitzgerald

The chaplain said, "You know, it is unprecedented in the North CarolIna prison system to have a Buddhist ceremony." We were on the phone trying to rearrange a Five Mindfulness Trainings ceremony for Sam DuBois an inmate at Harnett Correctional Institution. Charlotte Sangha member Bob Repoley had spent weeks arranging for a dozen sangha members to attend a ceremony that prison authorities cancelled at the last minute.

I was allowed to make a personal visit to Sam at the time of the scheduled ceremony. Having gotten lost in the nearby town of Lillington, I arrived ten minutes late. The female guard who checked me in exclaimed, "Sam's been askin' for you every minute!" Sam met me, and we were allowed to sit at a picnic table in the prison yard. We just sat together enjoying the autumnal air. Looking at the heavily pruned willow oak trees in the yard, I expressed gladness that they were at least there, however contorted. "We are surrounded by trees," Sam beamed, pointing through the chain fencing topped by coils of barbed wire to the trees across the street from the prison. "I'm fortunate to have a window by my bed in the dormitory, so I can look out and enjoy the trees and the birds that fly overhead." We discussed each Mindfulness Training, one by one, as well as the context of practicing the Trainings in a Sangha.

I gave the prison authorities a copy of the text for the Trainings ceremony without any Sanskrit words, to dispel any notion of cultish activities. For example, the authorities had referred to me as a "high priestess." "You can refer to me as a minister," I responded. Over the next two days, the Durham and Charlotte Sanghas and I prepared for the ceremony with the help of the chaplain. At the very last minute, the chaplain was able to give us the "OK." Kim Warren and I drove as quickly as we mindfully could to arrive at the designated time.

At the prison, our persons and everything we brought zafus, incense, bells-were inspected at the gate. Once again, Sam was there, Johnny-on-the-spot, to greet us and usher us with the guard through groups of prisoners milling about, to the chapel. The chaplain graciously welcomed us into the chapel, a haven of quiet and calm on the otherwise noisy, crowded campus.

Seven men gathered to bear witness and to participate in Sam's ordination. I looked each man in the eye with respect and a certain seriousness. We exchanged names and shook hands, and I invited everyone to sit in a circle. We sat in meditation to settle into an experience of ease and self-acceptance. We sat in support of Sam going for refuge and protection.

Just as we began the formal ceremony, Leslie Rawls and Bob Repoley arrived after a three-hour drive from Charlotte. The circle widened. Two inmates entered the room as observers. Incense was offered and the Mindfulness Training Transmission Ceremony took place. Sam emerged as "Courageous Understanding of the Source," and man; smIles were present in the room. A fellow inmate told Sam "I share your joy." We all felt the joy of the moment" welcoming. Sam into his formal acceptance and practice of the Five Mindfulness Trainings. We were allowed a visit with Sam in the yard before departing, happy that this day had come to be.

Therese Fitzgerald, True Light, is a Dharma teacher and the Director of the Community of Mindful Living. The Community of Mindful Living's Prisoner's Program provides books, subscriptions to The Mindfulness Bell, and other support to inmates around the U.S. If you are interested in assisting the project, please contact CML at P. 0. Box 7355, Berkeley, CA 94707, tel: (510)527-3751.

The following letters were received from other inmates who attended Sam's ceremony and are part of the Harnett Correctional Center Sangha.

Our Sangha met Saturday. We did a reading meditation on anger. It went well. The bellmaster did a fabulous job-it's funny how much I've come to enjoy the ringing of a bell. .. The thought has crossed my mind that perhaps I could be somehow instrumental in carrying the good news of what Bob [Repoley] and Sam [DuBois] have begun. I thirst for more knowledge and as time passes hopefully I'll have other Dharma teachers to learn from. This path that has been presented to me offers something seldom experienced... This old heart of mine beats with much more loving kindness now. It'll grow even more.

Edwyn Wright
Lillington, North Carolina

Thank you for your time, persistence, patience, and presence here at Harnett Correctional. The Mindfulness Training ceremony for Sam was beautiful. Since then, he has radiated with the same glow that you provided while here. I am most sincerely interested in more teachings surrounding the Mindfulness Trainings... I cannot help but see the benefits of meditation and the important support of my community. I have found that accountability and responsibility are universal. Much has been given to me, truly, much is required...

Frankie Palmer
Lillington, North Carolina

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What is Mindfulness

Thich Nhat Hanh January 15, 2020

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