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I started volunteering at Chuckawalla Valley State Prison (CVSP) in September 2013. On my first ever visit to Chuckawalla I went with Dr. Lancaster and John Freese from University of the West and Danny Tam from the International Bodhisattva Sangha. I was very intimidated by those high razor-wired fences with high voltage while we waited for the gate to be open. Once we got into each yard’s chapel (there are four yards in each state prison), we met and shook hands with each of the students. We also sat next to them. The atmosphere was pretty relaxed and calm. Everyone paid attention to Dr. Lancaster’s lecture introducing the class we were offering: an introduction to Buddhism. After the lecture, I handed out the syllabi, readers, and Dr. Lancaster’s lectures on audio CDs.
Since then I have gone to CVSP once a month. There are approximately forty students on average in each visit. In each 90 minute meeting, I spend ten minutes discussing course material and then we do mindfulness meditation for ten minutes. The rest of the time is spent doing q&a and discussion on the course and on mindfulness meditation. We have offered three courses already. Most of the students complete their assignments diligently.
What impresses me the most is their desire to learn! They read the articles/books at least couple times. They have been able to write critically on the Buddhist topics with solid arguments rather than just summarizing the reading. They were also able to apply specific topics to their personal experience and compose some very insightful essays. Thus far, they seem much happier and to be more at peace over the past year. Many have been able to apply mindfulness meditation in their daily activities. They are more mindful in their reactions to their fellow inmates and have avoided arguments or confrontations. All have expressed a sense of remorse and a desire to give back to society.
I really feel that they have changed and genuinely want to better themselves.