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The Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha in U.S. Prisons

By Bill Menza

Resources for Prison Sangha Building

Buddhist Peace Fellowship

  • Prison Resource Guides for Prisoners
  • Free Buddhist books and other publications
  • Dharma/spiritual correspondence courses and pen pal programs
  • Newsletters that focus on prisoners’ rights and criminal justice
  • Resources for prisoners with children
  • Legal Aid resources
  • Post-release resources

Prison Dharma Network

Sitting Inside: Buddhist Practice in American Prisons by Kobai Scott Whitney, explains what it is to be a prisoner and practicing in prison. Available from the Prison Dharma Network for $15. Write to PDN, P.O. Box 4623 Boulder, CO 80306. Or order online at

Recommended  Books

Be Free Where You Are by Thich Nhat Hanh (Parallax Press). A Dharma talk at the Medium Security Prison in Hagerstown, Maryland.

Doing Your Time with Peace of Mind: A Meditation Manual for Prisoners Provided free to prisoners in English or Spanish by the Heart Mountain Prison Project, 1223 So. St. Francis Drive, Suite C, Santa Fe, NM 87505. Download it from or email Dharma friend Amy Davis reads the entire fourteen-page manual, answering commonly asked questions about meditation, and provides instruction in five basic meditation styles. The tapes are free to inmates. Prison Dharma groups are asked for a donation of $1 per cassette, but no requests are refused due to lack of funds. The cassettes are “prison-friendly” – housed in clear plastic cases with clear shrink-wrap, molded together without screws.

Dharma in Hell by Dharma Teacher Fleet Maull. A former federal prisoner tells about imprisonment “in the charnel ground” of America’s prisons, and his fifteen years there living a life of vows and service, and thus bringing compassion and transformation into this hell realm. Available from the Prison Dharma Network, PO Box 4623 Boulder, CO 80306, or online at

Some Organizations and Sanghas Helping Prisoners

Buddhist Peace Fellowship Prison Project

P.O. Box 3470, Berkeley, CA 94703

Tel: (510) 655-6169 ext. 307


Web page:

The project started in 1998 to help all persons associated with the prison system through advocacy, education, ministry, and training. Has a prisoner pen pal program. Sends the BPF journal Turning Wheel and Dharma books to prisoners.

Prison Dharma Network

P.O. Box 4623, Boulder CO 80306

Tel: (303) 544-5923


Web page:

An international non-sectarian contemplative support network for prisoners, prison volunteers, and correctional workers founded in 1989 by Fleet Maull, a former prisoner. Has an online discussion group. Publishes books and materials relating to prison Dharma and the PDN’s Volunteer Training Manual on how to start a prison Dharma program.

Unified Buddhist Church (Thich Nhat Hanh) Prisoner Outreach

Deer Park Monastery

2499 Melru Lane, Escondido CA 92026

Tel: (760) 291-1003, Fax: (760) 291-1172

Web page:

Mindfulness Bell Subscriptions

Monastics at Deer Park Monastery are working with David Percival at the Mindfulness Bell and staff at Parallax Press to send magazines and books to prisoners. They are looking for lay practitioners to help in corresponding with prisoners. For those already writing to prisoners please note that issues of the Mindfulness Bell can now be downloaded at and sent to prisoners.

North Carolina Prison Sanghas

For more than fifteen years the Charlotte, NC Sangha has been supporting prison inmate Sanghas in the North Carolina Department of Corrections. Contact Leslie Rawls at

Boston Old Path Sangha

The Old Path Sangha and its sister Sangha in Salem and Marblehead, Massachusetts have been supporting a meditation group at the Boston Suffolk County House of Correction for many years. Contact Rich Geller at

Gateless Gate Zen Center

1208 NW 4th Street, Gainesville, Florida 32601

Tel: (352) 336-1517


Web page:

Abbott Kinloch Walpole has developed a program for prisoners to deal with imprisonment and post-imprisonment based on the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn of the University of Massachusetts Medical School Pain Center. Prisoners participate in week-long meditation trainings in prison and when released live in residential monastic houses. He also visits Florida’s death row prisoners.

The Lionheart Foundation

P.O. Box 194, Back Bay, Boston, MA 02117

Phone (781) 444-6667


Web page:

Sponsors the National Emotional Literacy Project for Prisoners and the National Emotional Literacy Project for Youth-at-Risk; and distributes free to prison libraries and programs the book: Houses of Healing: A Prisoner’s Guide to Inner Power and Freedom.

The Engaged Zen Foundation

Ven. Kobutsu Malone, Osho

P.O. Box 213, Sedgwick, Maine 04676-0213

Tel: (207) 359-2555

Web page:

The Engaged Zen Foundation was originally founded to foster Zen practice and meditation in prisons to bring about change in the prison systems. It has since broadened its perspective to address universal human rights and social justice of criminal justice systems — because “a prison full of enlightened prisoners ... is still a prison.”

Amnesty International USA

An international organization working to stop the human rights abuses, torture, and execution of prisoners.

International CURE

An international organization working for criminal justice reform. Has state chapters.

Human Rights Watch

An international organization working for human rights, including those of prisoners.

Center for Constitutional Rights

A national organization working for the constitutional rights of all people in the USA, including prisoners.

The American Civil Liberties Union

A national organization working for the civil liberties of all people in the USA, including prisoners.

National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty

A national organization working to end the use of the death penalty in the USA.

Bill Menza, True Shore of Understanding, is a Dharma Teacher who practices with the Florida Community of Mindfulness.

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