What We Do
The Engaged Buddhist Alliance (EBA) provides college-level classes on Buddhism to incarcerated individuals in eight southern California state prisons. We employ a contemplative pedagogy that includes critical as well as experiential learning. The EBA serves as a hub to coordinate the efforts of member organizations working in California prisons and jails. We are working towards college accreditation for the classes we offer and are exploring with our member organizations how to offer reentry services. We do offer occasional reentry guidance to some of our students.
Why We Do It
Through the Buddhist understanding of interdependence, we see the over 2.4 million people incarcerated in the U.S. today as a manifestation of collective suffering and injustice. Based on this awareness we feel compelled to act out of compassion. According to a study published in 2013 by the Rand Corporation, incarcerated individuals who engage in education programs lower their odds of recidivism by 43%. The study also showed that for every dollar spent on prison education, five dollars were saved in future incarceration costs.
How We Got Started
Berkeley professor emeritus and renowned Buddhist scholar, Dr. Lewis Lancaster, proposed in the Spring of 2013 that graduate students at the University of the West (a Buddhist University in East Los Angeles) begin teaching college-level classes in southern Californian state prisons. A number of religious studies and divinity students responded to his invitation. Another motivating factor for the students was reading Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow, as part of a divinity class at UWest which looked at the causes and conditions of mass incarceration. With the help of Dr. Lancaster’s friend Danny Tam and his San Diego-based organization, the International Bodhisattva Sangha(IBS), classes started at Calipatria and Chuckawalla state prisons in the summer of 2013. IBS has been offering Buddhist services to prisons in California for the past 20 years.