BRM attends Annual Prison Ceremony in Washington

It was an honor to join the annual Buddhist ceremony at Airway Heights Corrections Center near Spokane, Washington. We timed our trip to Thailand to coincide with it. The day before the ceremony, we arranged to meet Chaplain Bon and to present a few books, an image, an incense burner, a pair of candlesticks, and an altar cloth which Daisy had woven to the exact matrices allowed by the prison. The chaplain had agreed to deliver everything to the group in time for the ceremony.

On Saturday, we arrived at the prison early to find several other visitors waiting. It was easy to spot the Buddhist guests; they were wearing either Japanese style Zen clothes or dark red Tibetan cloth. They represented groups from Washington, Oregon, and Montana. They were surprised that we had traveled so far. Actually, it was unclear whether we were coming from Thailand, Japan, or Michigan. After we assembled, Chaplain Bon led us through the metal detector and numerous locked doors, past guard booths, and into a courtyard lined with flower beds obviously tended with loving care. We passed through the library to a meeting hall arranged with a semicircle of chairs and meditation cushions around a lovely altar where we rejoiced to see our donations with the altar fittings the group already had. After a few minutes, young men started filing in and greeting us. They were all neatly dressed in street-clothes, so we knew they were inmates only by the name tags they wore. We recognized Calvin from a photo he'd sent us in Japan. First, we sat at tables arranged at the back; young men served us big pieces of cake and bottles of orange juice. There was more than we could consume, but it was a pleasure to watch them enjoy the treat. Obviously nothing would be wasted.

After refreshments, we sat in the semicircle for the ceremony. The speeches were moving. Inmates explained how participation in the Buddhist group had changed their lives, endowing them with a peacefulness and calmness they had never felt before. All expressed their gratitude to the Buddhist Chaplain Aryadaka and members of the Padma Ling group who visited regularly to teach and practice meditation. Aryadaka himself offered teaching on dukkha and letting go in his description of his very recent kidney transplant and his renewed life.

Calvin paid tribute to those members who had moved to other prisons or had been released but who were certainly with us in spirit. He joyfully explained that the group had decided to donate the money they had collected to Buddhist Relief Mission rather than use it to buy the altar fittings they wanted, without knowing that we were bringing those very items as a donation. It was interesting that Calvin did not preside over the ceremony himself. Everyone knew that the success of the group - in fact, its very existence - was due to his persistence and his superior organizational skills, but he quietly gave others leading roles. Later, volunteers echoed our own feelings of admiration for Calvin's accomplishments.

We were happy to join the inmates in chanting and meditation. We never saw their cells, but there were no guards at the doors of the meeting hall. Despite the fact the door was locked, there was a feeling of freedom, which must have been refreshing.

After the ceremony, we visited the Padma Ling House with Aryadaka and other guests. It was interesting to learn how they helped the prisoners in spite of obstacles imposed by the system. Aryadaka gladly accepted some images and in- cense burners we had brought from Thailand to donate to individual prisoners for us. Talking with these volunteers inspired us to try much more to help prisoners not only in Washington, but also in Michigan.


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