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Prison Project Participant


Breaking Out of Prison—Every Tuesday

Knight is a resident of the correctional institution a small band of volunteers visits weekly.  The life of mayhem and chaos he was born into encouraged him to relocate from the greater Boston area to rural North Carolina in pursuit of his career in the construction, pharmaceutical and automotive industries, until his professional interests landed him in prison.  He tells great stories that end with punchlines like, "You do realize I'm wearing a mask, right?" and "Then we pahked the cah in a pond."   He is now one of the few inmates able to pursue better interests; this is fortunate because he will again become one of our neighbors and, as he does, he is less likely to resume his life of mayhem and chaos when he moves into your neighborhood.  Should he borrow your cah, he will ask first and then return it after—with gas.  This is exactly the sort of transformation we hope all prisoners can achieve during their time away.

Knight attends weekly workshops motivated by a strong desire to find a better way to achieve a successful and meaningful life.  Although he has a full schedule in prison—a job and other classes—he motivates himself to attend these optional workshops so that he can more skillfully  navigate the world he finds himself in now and the life he will resume in the future.  He has been working hard and has realized some remarkable internal changes.

In 2015, he spoke at the prison's annual volunteer appreciation banquet where he thanked all of the volunteers, reminding us of how important it is that we show up.  He then explained why he attends our workshops and, in the process, reminded us why we attend them too.

Ladies and Gentlemen:  Hello and Good evening!  I would first like to thank each and every one of you for attending tonight’s volunteer banquet.  I know it is not easy for all of you to make it here on a regular basis, let alone this many of you at once.  This day is for all of the volunteers, and we are appreciative of you taking the time to be here tonight.

I attend the Buddhist meditation classes held on Tuesday nights.  There are four regular volunteers, and they take about four and a half to five hours out of their Tuesdays to get together to drive out here, attend class and drive home.  Expenses like gas and class materials come out of their own pockets.  And I am sure all of the other volunteers make similar sacrifices.  To me, that is amazing!  For strangers to do that for us is in itself inspiring.  I thank you, and I thank all of your families for sacrificing their time with you so you can be here to help us.

All right.  I know you are saying to yourself, “Meditation—that’s where you sit on a pillow with you eyes closed and hum.”  Really meditation is about your state of mind and finding peace within yourself.  In our meditation class, I am learning the true meaning of words like generosity, forgiveness, compassion and control.  True generosity isn’t only towards your friends and family.  It is in helping fill any person’s need, whether it be time, food, teaching or even just listening.  I have learned forgiveness is ultimately to let go of the bad thoughts and feelings towards the people I feel have wronged me.  That one is a work in progress because you can’t just say it and be done—you have to mean it.  Compassion is simply looking at a situation from multiple perspectives and having an understanding of where another person is coming from.  Control is something I always thought I had over myself, but I learned that I almost always allowed everyone else a measure of control over me by reacting to their actions.  Not reacting and taking the time to process a problem before doing anything is real control.

Without the volunteers of our program I would not have an understanding of these words or myself like I do today.  For that I am truly grateful and honored to have gotten to know them.  Again I thank you all for coming and volunteering.  I hope you enjoy the rest of your evening.

These words let us know that our efforts make a difference.  More importantly, as Knight detailed the meanings of generosity, forgiveness, compassion and control, he reminded us that we also improve ourselves from attending these workshops where the participants do the real work of demonstrating what each of these qualities looks like in action.  Every week, I get to watch Knight break us out of prison and breathe the air of freedom.

Prison Project Participant


Wayne is on work-release from a prison near Raleigh, working in a kitchen for a prominent, apparently picky, government official in Raleigh. This is an excerpt of one of his letters to his pen pal.

You know, even as I reread your last letter now, it is amazing the insight that you gave into my situation.

The past two months have been even more short-handed, just myself and one new guy in the kitchen. So far this time period I've been carrying the whole load, or most of it. Chef has helped out as much as he can, but when you go from four cooks, to one and a new guy, well you know what it's like! Pure work, non-stop, 7 days a week, 12-16 hours daily. Mostly 16 hours a day.

I have pushed myself plain out, past my limits at times. But through all of this I've been able to learn at an accellerated pace. I've learned what my limits really are, and how to hold at that level for periods of time, by meditating in the work.

You said the you don't believe in cookie cutter situations, to go to the beauty and positive things in dark situations or times and let that be the meditation. 10 minutes of cushion time here and there were not working well, but that really did help. I learned to focus on the single task at hand and how it was helping me long-term in life. How people were counting on me, because I could be counted on. And how much better this is compared to where I was one year ago at Nash!

Prison Project Participant


I'm 25, and I've been studying Buddhism off and on for about five years. I came from a rough background with a lot of pain, misery and hurt. My lifestyle I was living eventually led me to prison. I started meditating in the county jail with another man who was Buddhist. He taught me some and when I got to the first state facility I got serious into practice.

When I was transferred to another facility, I soon started going to the meditation class that volunteers from the Kadampa Center facilitated. When I first came to class I was welcomed by the volunteers with compassion and respect. They treated me like a human - not just a prisoner.

We did a book study and meditation. I looked forward to coming to class every week. It was an oasis of serenity in such a chaotic environment as prison. I learned a lot from the group. When I transferred to another prison, I wrote the Kadampa Center, but I really didn't expect to hear anything back. To my surprise I received a letter back within a week. I cried because I knew then these people really have a passion for compassion to people in prison. Through the pen pal program I can be myself and talk about anything. My penpal is such a sweetheart - a truly caring person. She is honest and open and willing to help any way she can, and that's cool.

The pen pal program is good because I can still be connected to the Kadampa Center even though they don't have a class at the prison I'm at right now.

In closing, for those of you considering volunteering through the Kadampa Center Prison Project - we desperately need it and are greatly appreciative of all the Kadampa Center does for us. Please do trust me - I think I speak for the majority of us behind the wire.

Prison Project Participant
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