Many people hold very strong prejudices towards people who have committed crimes and have been put into the prison system. I have heard personally a lot of people say that it is a lost cause to try to rehabilitated them, because they will just go back to their old ways as soon as they are released. It is true that a lot of convicts, once released, will go back to their old ways, see the same people that they did when they got locked up, etc. Soon enough they are committing the same acts that they were before and get put back into the system. What if we could teach them and give them the tools that could make them want to change when they got out? To be able to simply observe their emotions and not necessarily act on them? Teach them love and compassion towards all people, instead of being trapped by fear and ignorance? Fleet Maull believes that this is necessary in the rehabilitation of convicts, being an ex-convict, he understands the hell that is being locked up for “storage” in a prison simply to be released later without the help that can help the prisoner not return in a few months or years.
Maull was sent to a federal prison to serve a 14 year sentence for drug-trafficking, ever since his release he has been helping other prisoners get the tools that they need to be able to develop a practice and in the end help them make peace with their troubled past and be able to heal and move on. Since the creation of the Prison Dharma Network, Maull has started a book program for inmates, and also a pen pal program with dharma mentors (these people give little of their time to send letters to inmates talking about their practice and giving them help on how they can continue their practice while they are still in the prison). This small act of writing a letter, which is maybe about 30 minutes of your time, has such an impact on the inmates lives, mail time is so important to the inmates and even more precious when they receive a letter from someone on the outside. Little acts of kindness and compassion like this one, can have a deep and positive impact on the inmates.
You might not think that you can dedicate your time and energy to have a constant relationship with an inmate or feel that you might not know enough about the dharma to help them. The book program is an easy way to help, it only take a minute and for a small donation you will be able to give someone who really needs guidance, a book that can help them find the tools that they will need to heal and learn how to change their relationship to their emotions. The change that can occur in someone when it is them that discover the means to change is truly powerful and lasting, movies like Doing Time Doing Vippassanna and the Dhamma Brothers are proof of the possibility of change and rehabilitation. It is important to support such organizations like the Prison Dharma Network to hopefully help change society’s view of convicts and the possibility of giving these people a second chance to a life outside in the world with their family and friends. If this interests you, get a hold of the Chaplain of the nearest penitentiary in your area and start a sitting group with the inmates, it may just be one of the most rewarding things that you will ever do!