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In yesterday’s post I commented on the peculiar mix of people who attend Buddhist meditation retreats. The topic struck a chord with several readers who sent comments and wrote to me directly. The issues raised run deep and may well reflect attitudes and customs prevailing in society at large. Instead of lamenting these imbalances and inadequacies, I’d like to look at ways in which Western Buddhist practitioners (Zen and others) reach out to marginal and non-traditional segments of society. To begin, a summary of what the Prison Dharma Network is doing to serve people who are incarcerated (taken from their website).

Prison Dharma Network (PDN) is an international, nonsectarian, contemplative support network for prisoners, prison volunteers, and corrections professionals. PDN’s mission is to provide prisoners, and those who work with them, with the most effective contemplative tools for self-transformation and rehabilitation.

We support prisoners in the practice of contemplative disciplines, with an emphasis on sitting meditation practice and the practice and study of Buddhist teachings and other wisdom traditions. We promote these paths of wakefulness and non-aggression as ideal vehicles for self-rehabilitation and personal transformation.

We believe in the power of the various mindfulness-awareness practices and body-mind disciplines of the world’s contemplative traditions to change behaviors, transform lives, and ultimately to reduce recidivism, prevent crime, and enhance community safety and well-being.

Please write if you have experience with this or similar programs. Feel free to comment anonymously. image: source unknown. 


9 responses »

  1. Prison Dharma Network has a pen pal program with prisoners. This is one possible way to contribute, by becoming a pen pal with an incarcerated person,and doesn’t take up a lot of time. Plus it means a lot, more than we know, perhaps, for someone inside to receive cards, letters, books and support; sometimes your letter is the only one they receive.
    I have had a prison pen pal now for 1 1/2 years and have received the most beautiful letters from him.

    • I knew you’d respond, dawne. You’ve been doing this work for almost 2 years and have spoken highly of the experience. What a wonderful way to be of service to a stranger.

      I understand they have an on-line training program for pen pals. What do you know about that … first-hand?

      • To be a prison pen pal, one should contact PDN and they will provide a list of guidelines and support for questions, etc via Their online course is “Path of Freedom Facilitator Training” to work with at-risk & incarcerated youth and adults. Information about this course also on their website.

  2. A wonderful film “The Dhamma Brothers” follows a group of Alabama prisoners, in an overcrowded maximum-security prison during and after a 10 day Vipassana retreat (within the prison) – the first prison in N. America to do so.

    The film producers are inviting people to organize showings of this film in their communities (info on the website). I would be interested in organizing a showing in Victoria if anyone else could help me.

    • Splendid idea, dawne. I’m holding back in offering my assistance — have to be careful not to take on too many projects. I suggest you contact the members of the sitting group, the ones you went to the monastery with.

      There’s a regular movie night at Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria BC (where I saw “Griefwalker”). Worth asking them to participate.

  3. I am having some difficulty finding out information about any meditation courses offered in the correctional institutions in the Victoria area; and would appreciate hearing from anyone who knows about them.

  4. Dawne:
    The BC Corrections Branch operates nine correctional centres. Two are located on Vancouver Island, two in Greater Vancouver. Don’t know about federal institutions near you (check Google).

    The website for Vancouver Island Regional Correctional Centre (VIRCC) lists “Buddhist meditation” among its programs. See:

    There are also 3 medium-security institutions in BC, one for women only. Another route are outside support agencies, such as Elisabeth Fry Society (for women) and John Howard Society (for men).

  5. dawne

    Wayne Codling, a Zen [practitioner], teaches meditation at the youth remand centre, which I think is on Wilkinson Rd. You can reach him at: and a website at:


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