Prison Program Philosophy - Dharma Rain Zen Center
Prison Program — Volunteers
Dharma Rain Zen Center’s prison outreach program takes meditation and
Buddhist teachings to seven
institutions in Oregon. In addition, we provide Dharma Friends (pen pals
and/or visitors) for inmates, and also transition services for those releasing
from prison, in connection
Home for Good in Oregon (HGO) program. We are always in need of more
volunteers both for going in to the institutions regularly and also for Dharma
Prison program volunteers may go in to a facility once or twice a month or
as often as every week. We try to go in with at least two people whenever
possible, and for that we need more volunteers than we currently have available.
Because Dharma Rain Zen Center is responsible for volunteers, we require that
people be full members, and have taken the Precepts.
They also need some knowledge of our prison
The process of becoming a full-fledged volunteer is somewhat lengthy, beginning
by a certified escort. After that, a potential volunteer undergoes
training sessions provided by Oregon’s Department of Corrections.
They may continue to go in as an escorted visitor until they
get their own identification card, at which point they no longer need to be
escorted. Scheduling is worked out among the people going in to each facility.
We have a monthly prison group meeting, which often includes a volunteers
check-in and support time to see share experiences and to work on any issues
that may be coming up. Training in adult learning theory is given occasionally.
One of the easiest ways to participate in prison outreach is to become a Dharma
Friend. This involves corresponding with an inmate of the same gender who has
requested a Buddhist pen-pal. Letters are sent to Dharma Rain and either forwarded
or picked up at the Center so as to ensure everyone’s safety. There are
guidelines for this relationship. If it is possible and appropriate, Dharma
Friends may also visit with inmates in the institution.
This relationship has often
proven to be beneficial both for the inmate and for the Dharma Friend. We
look for Dharma Friends especially for those releasing within a year or two,
someone they already know here after they get out. We also look on behalf of
those who have been in prison
for many years and who will continue to be in prison for many years-to-life
and need someone on the outside to connect with.
Some inmates in our Buddhist groups have been practicing for
several years, and many of them have taken the Precepts in
prison. They are wonderful people who have some problems, much like the rest
of us. In prison they are right up against their suffering, and that can be
a fruitful place of practice.
We have two volunteers trained and certified in the HGO
transitional services program. They are both female, and we need at least
one male volunteer. This work involves both visiting inmates as they prepare
for release and staying
in touch with them after release to see whether they need further support.
For further information about this, e-mail [ptsg at dharma-rain.org].
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