Prison Dharma

About this section:
Imagine trying to generate even the slightest bodhicitta -- the intention to become fully enlightened in order to benefit all sentient beings most effectively -- in a prison environment. It's similar to generating compassion in hell! Although we are all prisoners of our negative karma, negative emotions, and disturbing attitudes, we still have this precious human life. Nothing can ever take away our Buddha potential. Ven. Chodron and the prisoners with whom she corresponds offer practitioners insights into how they can benefit themselves and others in even the most difficult situations.



Prison Poetry I

"Feelings" by W. P.

You say you love me and that gives you the right
To make me face feelings that I always fight.
You know that these feelings could shape and control me
When in all other things I stand steadfast and free.
And what a lovely, devastated life I have known
With no responsibilities or a place to call home.
Not even a spot of mist has touched my eyes
And not a second thought whether I live or die.
My heart pumped on stubbornly and oh so slow,
And from my wounds not one drop would flow.
Now here you come and make me feel worthwhile
Because to reach me you must have fought through all sorts of vile.
Now I am face to face with life and death
And I can't choose one as I would right or left.
The me inside of me is afraid to let go;
He has become accustomed to the pain and loves it ever so.
So no choices can I make quite yet
Until such a time me and me is well met.
And even though we must travel through this strange and foreign land,
Do not worry because I will be there holding your hand.


"Looking Westward" by Steven Lawrence©

Looking westward
From a bridge,
Golden water
Parsleyed shores.
And silent currents
Tugging ripples
At men in waders


"On an Unlighted Bridge" by Steven Lawrence©

On an unlighted bridge
Above oily waters’ slick stillness,
Brushed by comforting coolness
Under cloud-curtained skies.
Behind high sullen greyness
Night’s stars show no brilliance
And the moon’s sleepy jaundice
Floats somewhere


"The Mad River" by Steven Lawrence©

The mad river roars,
          Ferocious and heavy
I watch how it crushes
          And tumbles below
Its rage fills my ears
          With an unholy thunder
And its might shakes the banks
          Where I sit for the show.

Sometimes I can watch
          With a heart full of wonder
And at times full of pity, or love
          Or of fear
And at times I am swept up
          In the midst of its anger,
Tossed about like a rag doll
          By the habits of years.

But I’m learning acceptance
          Of its torrents and rapids.
I’m learning to open
          And just let it flow
And befriending the currents
          Brings a gift unexpected,
Calmer waters and clarity –
          The mad river
                    Can slow.


Untitled by Robert Snyder©

I’ve been thinking
about all that drinking
and how I was sinking
  into a state of despair
now I can see
what then happened to me
as the insanity
  ruled me unaware—
Thoughts filled my head
about cutting the thread
that kept me from the dead
  even without drinking wine
    but now
I understand
that this life is is good
and with it I can stand
  and start on the path so


Untitled by Robert Snyder©

Prisons are of two kinds, the outer and the inner;
In each of them one finds, both the saint and the sinner—

The outer is made up of steel and bars and razor wire.
It’s a place without much love, where anger burns like fire;
From outside they look like stone, with big yards of green grasses,
But they’re made of flesh and bone, mere graveyards for the masses.
Within there are concrete cells, where the men are caged like beasts,
In their hearts bitterness swells, which others feed on like feasts;
It’s here you long for freedom, wishing for the time of old,
But it’s here you can gain wisdom, without having to be told—

The inner is made of mind, out of reach of the senses,
Around it you will not find, any gates, doors, or fences;
It is a place no one knows, but is definitely real.
Here is where your inner foes, are stronger than any steel;
The mind can go either way, now happy and then irrate,
The choice is yours every day, but sadly do you choose hate;
It’s here that you need control, if happiness you wish for,
Knowledge can do the patrol, guiding you through wisdom’s door—

If you find yourself in a cage, don’t sit there as on a shelf,
Go beyond the burning rage, and come to know your inner self.

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