In my role as prison correspondence manager, many letters pass my desk. In them I find there is a common expression of relief from the prisoners. It is the same relief that I felt when I first heard Gangaji speak. It is the relief that someone is finally saying to them what they have always known to be true, what has always permeated life even through a terribly conflicted experience, and that finally there is someone to share this with.
This excerpt from a letter from a female prisoner expresses so beautifully what I find common in the letters I read from all prisoners.
“I have been incarcerated since June 2019 and what I once thought was a curse, I truly believe has been the greatest blessing in my life. Not that long ago I started to read a lot of Buddhism, and then I came across the Gangaji Foundation. And now I can truly say that you all have helped save my life. Today I am no longer searching for anymore answers in the outer world. I now know that the true search is within. I used to go alone and as if no one could understand me. But then I started the Freedom Inside A Course in Self Inquiry and all of my feelings of being alone and being misunderstood are gone. What really blows my mind is how beautifully and yet simply everything is expressed and said in Freedom Inside”.—JM
It was after reading this letter that I wrote this poem from my own life experience,
There was a time when I swallowed my voice
and grappled with darkness until a fire blazed inside
and the sky breathed through me
a raining nectar.
Also, I have to share this poem sent to Barbara Shepard by her prisoner correspondent:
What is also most precious for me are the connections I have made with the volunteers who will share with me how they feel, or ask me to read their letter before they send it off. There is a sense of community that I feel with these volunteers, but I have all of them, and they have only me. So perhaps someday they will be able to meet each other face to face.
Linda Chernov wrote, “That's the absolute ecstasy of a life of loving connection ......Being in relationship with one you've never looked upon, know very little about their day-to-day life, family, health, social happenings...and yet, they "know" you in a way that few others (if any do)...perceive you with vision that defies understanding..(good!).!! ha. We "see" each other..... and our sparks light up the world!!!”
Yella Werder wrote, “I don't know if you read these letters, but I am moved to tears to hear Antonio tell me he plans to call his parents and brother to let them know he loves them and thanked me for opening his eyes and heart. I must tell you, Sandy, this means so much to me; to know that something is moving inside this man's heart and that my words have been used as a prompt. I feel so honored to be doing this and I'm ever so grateful to you and Gangaji for making it possible. We all just want to support each other, and I love that the Freedom Inside program is providing an avenue for that support. Thank You from the bottom of my Heart, Yella”.
What I do for the Correspondence Program is simple, but what I receive and what I witness volunteers and prisoners alike receive—and offer—is the generosity of friendship, compassion, understanding, and inquiry, the vehicle for expressing this common yearning to be deeply free and happy.
In January it will be a year since I joined the team. When I first started there were 50 pairs of corresponders and now there are 67. A 34% increase in 10 months is wonderful, and shows the love that Shanti (Prison Program Manager) has in bringing Gangaji’s invitation, the possibility for peace, into the prisons. We even have a prisoner who is incarcerated in Thailand! Somehow, from the hell he writes about, he found his way to us. Since June, five new women prisoners are now paired. I feel this is huge because there are not very many women in the program. Those who are enrolled are so willing.
Since I started, there have always been just enough volunteers to meet the number of prisoners interested in corresponding with a GF volunteer. Whenever we have received a request from a prisoner, there has always been a volunteer ready, which means that no prisoner has had to wait long to be paired. But now everyone is paired up, and we do need more volunteers.
If you are interested in joining this team and becoming a prisoner correspondent, start here.