Volunteers Share - Krishnan Venkatraman

Isha Prison Program Volunteers Share
Their Experiences

Serenity Surfacing - by Will Griffin's
Humility and Thankfulness - by Rubka Tamarat
Inner Freedom - by Carolyn Reese
Amazing Grace - by Doug Longmore

Bars - No Bar
by Krishnan Venkatraman

It all started during the Fall of 2000 when Sadhguru told us about the Prison program ("Inner freedom for the Imprisoned") and how effective it is in the violent South Indian prison. So I thought why can't we do the same in USA also. More than the Class itself, I was thinking about the publicity mileage Isha will get out from the press here in USA. But then as things unfolded, I realized that publicity is only secondary and reaching out and in the process dissolving myself would be the goal.

Having surfed the web and getting details about the New Jersey Department of Corrections, I was wondering where to start this process. I picked up the Maximum-security prison and decided that rather than calling in from the bottom and climbing up the ladder, we could climb down by contacting the top person in the Prison system. So it was the commissioner's office that I contacted first. One call led to another after being jostled around a little bit, I was asked to contact the Director of education. When I spoke to him first explaining to him about Sadhguru and the prison programs, he was very much interested in taking this further and wanted to see me in person. At that time we had really not come up sufficient literature about the program itself and Linda was great, burning the midnight oil to get some good materials done in time for the meeting. The first meeting went on very well and I found that numerous programs done at this facility did not yield any results at all. Somebody even suggested that they should paint the cell walls with Brown color and this will reduce the violence among prisoners. Hearing this I was more determined to get Sadhguru into the prison to do the program. I knew for sure that once Sadhguru gives his first talk, then there is no stopping. They told me that the education department is very interested in our program, but then this needs to be approved by the Administrator and the Church minister in the prison. After this, numerous phone calls to them went unanswered and it was disappointing. Later I learnt that the Church minister did not want this program to happen in the prison since he will loose his strong hold in the prison. No matter what I explained about our program being non denominational, it all fell on deaf ears and the program did not happen in the New Jersey prison system. I was really disappointed and really did not know what to do. But I told myself that, no matter what we will get the prison programs done.

Back to the web again, I got details about other prisons systems and I decided to call into the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. I contacted Mr. Dave Roberts, the director of Inmate services and right away he was very impressed and wanted to meet me. Even though I was very impressed, I was very cautious. "Once bitten - Twice Shy", From the previous experience, I thought that rather than me going alone, lets take a local person also with me. Asking around a bit amongst our meditators, Emily Skinner agreed to go with me for the meeting. I was amazed to see her, at her age driving down from Washington DC to Harrisburg, with a great deal of enthusiasm. In the meantime Linda, with contributions from Kiran had improved our Prison literature and I was quite comfortable handling it.

The meeting with Dave Roberts and Rick Leech (who runs pilot programs for the prisoners) went on very well and all through the while I was very cautious and watchful as to what I was talking. During the meeting, there was this phone call, for Dave, and this was about his wife getting into an accident, where her parked car was involved in an accident. I saw Dave's face becoming very thoughtful and I thought that our meeting would end much earlier. The whole conversation stopped and I looked at Emily for a second and closed my eyes thinking about Sadhguru. But then moments later Dave sprung back and continued the conversation as though the phone call never came in. One major problem they were having within their prison was the Drug and Alcohol addictions among the prisoners. So they were wondering if we could take up a pilot program. We explained to them as to how effective our programs were in handling Drugs and addiction and told them that we would do an introductory talk first and then based on the interest we can do a full program. Dave was very frank telling us that even though he approved of our programs, he could not do anything unless the prison administrators accepted this request. He told us that he would contact all the prisons around that region and get back to me. When we left the place we were very confident that something would happen here at these prisons.

Emails back and forth from Dave, initially were not very encouraging, since the prison administrators were of the opinion that our programs were more religious and the Christian and the Muslim groups in the prisons were opposed to this idea. But finally we saw the silver lining with two prisons willing to invite Sadhguru for the talk. One was minimum and the other was a medium-security prison. Sadhguru wanted the smaller prison and we decided to go with SCI Waymart, a minimum-security prison, which housed Drug and sex offenders. Some of them were life termers. The date was fixed for the February 8th 2002.

Four volunteers including myself along with Sadhguru drove down to Waymart for the talk. We had already sent in our personal information for a through background check and after some tense moments, they approved everyone. But after having reached there, we found that Sadhguru did not have a picture id on him. Initially the officials refused to let him through and with some explanation and after showing some fliers and the book, which had his picture on it, they let us though. The place for the talk was in a hall with fixed chairs and we wanted some open space for games. So we had to shift spots and opt for the Basketball court instead.

Prior to the talk, Sadhguru met with the prison officials and answered various questions from them. For the talk. about 140 prisoners along with officials (both Waymart and Dallas) attended. Sadhguru started of with his normal flow. All through the talk I was looking at the prisoners. Somehow I felt a deep pain in me. Initially some of them who were very lukewarm slowly started to be more attentive and slowly they could not take their eyes of Sadhguru. But for the uniforms, which the prisoners were wearing, I did not see any difference from me to them. It is just that they got on the wrong side of the law and could not get away from it, while we are skillful enough to commit crimes with the mind and still be labeled good Samaritans. Well, we are lucky that the law takes notice only of the tangible things. The games were a real revelation. The prisoners, who were so long very tight, slowly came out of their shell and started to be more participatry. I some how felt that some of them were already seeing day light at the end of a long dark tunnel. The program concluded with a question answer session. The prisoners wanted to have more details about the program and we distributed flier through the prison officials. We even left some "Encounter the Enlightened" books for the library.

Over all it was felt that about 70% of the prisoners were very keen to do the programs. After this talk, we had other programs and could not be in regular touch with them. With the summer programs being scheduled, I contacted Dave again to plan for the programs and I was surprised to know that, they had appointed a person to over see the entire program for all the prisons. This person had contacted all the prisons and has given the great feedback from the Waymart prisons to see if they would be interested in one such program. I was very happy to note that there is an overwhelming response and a lot of facilities want our programs now. With Sadhguru's tight schedule we have suggested that we will do similar introductory talk in other prisons and invite the officials from the other prisons to do the program at Waymart. Now the efforts have become a reality with the first prison program to be done from the June 10th to the 14th. In the meantime we have received a few letters from the prisoners themselves asking as to when Sadhguru would be back to do the programs. Looking at these letters, I cried within thinking how foolish I started of this process thinking about the publicity mileage we will get. Now I am not even thinking in those lines. I just want the stagnant water to flow for the prisoners in their lives too, with joy and happiness filled with love by Sadhguru. Yes, BARS - No Bar, when Sadhguru is around. Waiting impatiently to volunteer for the programs.

Venkat, Isha Volunteer, New Jersey

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