Dharma Rain Zen Center - Stillpoint
Looking at Life Differently
by an Inmate at Coffee Creek
I stepped out of the white van in shackles, chains, and cuffs, and sat in
a cold empty holding cell. This was it, prison. I was scared to death of
what was happening to me, the unknown. I sat there for about 3 hours before
the guards began to process me in, assign me a bed, and give me the condensed
version of the rules.
I am now immersed among other inmates. I walk down this long, ominous corridor,
terrified of the other women I was passing along the way. Three years I would
have to be here. I thought that I would never make it. I was broken in every
way imaginable: mentally, spiritually, emotionally, even beginning to deteriorate
physically. My name is [withheld], and I am an inmate at Coffee Creek Correctional
My story really began long before that gloomy day. I was one who tried to
the end to hold all the pieces of my life together for appearances sake.
However, it was a façade presented to everyone, including those dearest
to me, my family. I had been holding a deep, dark secret that would end up
hurting everyone around me. I had been stealing from where I worked for over
a year. I had been arrested, released, and had been covering up and lying
to the ones closest to me. I knew I was facing prison, but could not deal
with the sad, hard truth. My decisions at that point were irrational, irresponsible,
and illogical. I was ready to die, or so I thought. I made a serious suicide
attempt, which led to my family discovering the trouble I was facing. After
eight days in the hospital, I was released, and a couple of hours later I
was arrested for missing a court date. Welcome to jail, and soon to prison.
I've spent days soul-searching, taking any class offered: I wanted to learn
from this experience. I could never pinpoint what it was I was looking for,
but I knew I didn't have it. Many days I was homesick, lonely, and sad. I
had to change somehow. My first introduction to Buddhism was through the
yoga class I had begun. I was intrigued and wanted to learn more. I knew
they offered a Buddhist service, but was hesitant because all I knew about
spirituality was through Christianity. I took the opportunity to do some
reading through the prison chapel library and found that many concepts of
Buddhism just made sense to me. Finally, I decided to attend a service on
As I started attending the Buddhist service, I began to look at life differently.
Many of the things I was searching for — happiness, contentment, and
self-love — were within my grasp all along. Everything is a choice,
and those choices come from within. We humans tend to create our own suffering
by becoming too attached to particular outcomes of situations, not just living
for the present moment, not allowing ourselves to feel what we are feeling.
If we choose to live for the now and choose to be happy for now, we make
a choice to be okay with different situations and their outcomes. Understanding
this concept alone has reduced my stress, anxiety, and depression.
Buddhist practice shone a light in my heart, which in turn has given me
a new perspective on life. In addition, I have learned to meditate and to
enjoy just being still. I intend to continue this practice on my release.
There will still be problems and issues to handle, but I now hold a different
perspective, and can choose how to cope with them. I have learned how “just
being” is a gift of life itself. I feel that I have just begun to learn
some of the greater gifts that Buddhism has to offer. I have found some inner
peace, a practice, and a new understanding of life in a place least expected.
Dharma Rain Zen Center’s prison outreach
program takes meditation
and Buddhist teachings to six institutions in Oregon, including two facilities
at Coffee Creek. In addition, we provide Dharma Friends (pen pals and/or
visitors) for inmates, and also transition services for those releasing
in connection with the Home for Good for Oregon (HGO) program. We are always
in need of more volunteers both for going in to the institutions regularly
and also for Dharma Friends. Information about volunteering.