Prison Program Visits, Summer 2015

Posted on August 13, 2015 by admin-vasanti

Submitted by Vasanti dasi

Everything related to the IPBYS Outreach Prison Program seems to have grown so naturally that at times those of us involved are astounded at its progression and especially at the experiences of our members. Human experience isn’t always so easily relayed in a report, so Sudevi, myself and couple others felt that one of the best ways to tell the world about the prison project would be through a short film, or a series of short films, in which the inmates shared their stories and experiences of the program and of chanting with us. Those approached with the proposal for a film were all very keen to be interviewed and our excellent administrator, Bimala dasi, offered to assist us with all of the paperwork and permissions.

Although things began well and we were awarded permission to film in Texas with a fixed date and time, as well as permission to visit 11 other inmates across the States, just before embarking on our trip we received an apologetic email saying that in actual fact, the status of our permission to film was still “in process”. A week passed on the phone between one prison official and another, with no clear answer in sight. After praying to Gurudeva and discussing with Syamarani didi, Sudevi and I felt we still needed to begin this trip, with the hope that permission would eventually follow and the knowledge of how important receiving a visit in prison can be. Throughout all of this we both felt Çréla Gurudeva guiding everything, the signs seemed to be everywhere and we couldn’t deny that this trip was definitely meant to be.

So in the second week of July, Sudevi, Visnupriya and I set out on the road to meet two inmates in Texas at two different facilities, one in Colorado and eight in Oregon (all in the same facility). The trip was two weeks total and the inmates we met were so inspiring and grateful for our visit. Sudevi and I both felt so grateful to have the opportunity to meet them.

While on the trip, it was Ratha-yatra and I was reading parts of Srila Gurudeva’s Origin of Ratha-yatra book. This sentence really spoke to my heart where Gurudeva says, that after Ratha-yatra Mahaprabhu is speaking to the devotees and He tells Nityananda Prabhu and Advaita Acarya to preach to those who are neglected by society.

We’ve struggled to find words to full describe the experience. We’re doing our best though to articulate our experiences and will continue to share as we can.  When we returned to Badger, we shared what we felt with Syamarani didi, which was recorded and some of which is typed out below.

Thank you for your open hearts, minds and ears.


Sudevi: I found it interesting to hear them say what a blessing the prison space is. Even those who aren’t chanting much or so involved like J. He said he’s never felt so free in his life as he does in prison. W said the same thing. J. said, “I realized I don’t need so many things.” He said he doesn’t need a house, a boat, or other material possessions. He has 3 pants, 7 shirts and that is enough.

T felt that way as well. He doesn’t ever want to go back to prison, but he recognized what a blessing it is being there, where they can live and practice like a monk. Different facilities allow different levels of permission. Some can have beads, some not.  There are different restrictions in each place. In Oregon they are allowed to have pictures and can offer their food or water to Prabhupada and Gurudeva.

It was interesting to see the example that they set, which revealed that we just don’t know what is good for us. We don’t know what Krsna will send our way to really help us in our spiritual life even if seems like something atrocious. Like one devotee is in for true life, meaning he is never getting out, ever. It felt quite heavy to find that out after meeting him because he felt like a god-brother.

He was a bit closed at first and then as we spoke about his Guru Maharaja, he opened up, and then we shared how we came to Krsna consciousness and he shared how he did.

Almost everyone we talked to in the facility in Oregon, (we met eight there, although there are more there in our program as well as the Iskcon program), — everyone we met talked more about and praised this devotee more than the Iskcon devotee who visits from outside to do programs there, or anyone else. They talked about him as someone who really inspires them. That was a really profound moment for me seeing how something we do that seems to look like we wasted our human life – ending up in prison and losing an opportunity – we still don’t know what an opportunity that is.  I felt this devotee was a beautiful example of giving our life for Krsna. I find it hard to forgive myself for things that are tiny, like messing up one day, and yet even if it is insignificant, it still upsets me. To do something so extreme and to still continue in your Krsna consciousness and not feel like, “Oh, I’m such a bad devotee” and give up – that was amazing for me to see. I would feel hopeless, thinking, “I can’t even control my anger or my senses, I’m useless” – I would think that would be the default attitude, and instead he is continuing with his sadhana for the rest of his life.

He is never going to get out. There is no hope of turning his life around materially. He is young, he’s Vasanti’s age. He will live at least another 30 years in there and he is helping so many people and they will get out at some point.

Vasanti: We don’t know who anybody is. W. has been in prison for 11 years and he told us that he had so much anger and used to be suicidal, and after coming to Krsna Consciousness and reading Gita, he learned that everything emanates from Krsna so now when he looks at the barbed wire, he sees it as a manifestation of Krsna protecting him from the material world. The environment is favorable.

Sudevi: And he said, “That brick wall is Krsna, this prison is Krsna, everyone is Krsna helping me progress.”


Syamarani didi: Whether someone says the right thing or the wrong thing, he sees everything helping him? How old is he?

Vasanti: Like 50. He said he is always chanting, wherever he walks, he is chanting.

Sudevi: A lot of them said that because they don’t have beads, so they just chant all the time. JM said that sometimes he is chanting out loud and people will ask him what are you doing? And he said, “I don’t know, it’s just coming out of my mouth.”

Facility in Texas

Syamarani didi: Like Mahaprabhu.

Sudevi: Both T and W said they chant to the animals and the plants and the grass. W said there are bugs in the grass, so he goes right up to the grass so they can also have mercy so he chants to them. T said when he is chanting people will ask him what he is doing and he says “Krsna is dancing on my tongue – I imagine Krsna dancing on my tongue and when I see Him dancing after that the maha-mantra comes out of my tongue.”

Syamarani didi: They are remembering what they read.

Sudevi:  And taking it to be truth. They aren’t just reading it and it’s something they’ve read. They’ve changed their perspective to look at the world in that way and Krsna in that way. It’s quite amazing.

Syamarani didi: So they will be powerful when they come out.

Sudevi: No doubt. Especially those who have been in for 8 or 9 years and have another 8 or 9 years, and this is what they are saying. They will really be able to help people.

Vishnupriya: My experience was so different because I wasn’t going in. I would try to help them get their headspace right. I was surrendered to being a conductor, like a lightening rod type of thing. I would see them come out either completely energized and overwhelmed and humbled from the experience, or affected in a way that they had to internally process for a few minutes or few hours and then little things would come out and I would think, “What, they said that? Krsna is dancing on their tongue?”

I was reminded of how Gurudeva says this world is a prison and it’s our perspective really. Gurudeva came to this prison world unaffected by the laws of the prison house because he was a visitor, and we are still in the prison house. I was writing someone about this and they said something beautiful which is that the books are giving someone the master key to all the prisons we are in – the prison of the body, the prison of the material world and the prison with the actual bars on it. Then Krsna is making an appearance in their cell.

Sudevi and I had a similar feeling of our faith getting nourished and invoked in places that I didn’t know was lacking. That was really beautiful. Getting the mercy of Gurudeva – leading your life to give your life to the people in the prison house. Everyone was so strong. The inmates are so strong.

Sudevi: I feel like they taught me a lot and have a lot still to teach me. It was very humbling.

Letter we received from an inmate we met in Oregon a week after our visit:


Dear friends,

Hare Krsna!

I am writing this in request of the angels (devotees) who came to S.R.C.I in Ontario, Oregon on about 23rd of July 2015 to bring comfort and consolation to everyone they came in contact with. I don’t remember their names, but I will never forget their love and compassion. What a thrill and great joy it was to be in the presence of such wonderful beings.

If what I have written is not for IPBYS because of its contents then that is OK, I am simply writing from my own experience and knowledge and what has brought freedom to my heart and soul as a prisoner behind bars.

Thank you so much for your help and support of distributing the most sublime message of Krsna Consciousness.

Your sincere devotee and servant,

William J. Smart (aka) Jivanmukta

Hare Krsna!

Freedom in Krsna 

As a prisoner in the Oregon Department of Corrections, I was desperate for relief from a deep dark depression that hovered over me like a black cloud that done nothing but rain down relentless sorrows and miseries.

I knew I had to find a way to be free from what I saw as a life filed with only pain and suffering.

I was beyond suicidal. I even wanted my spirit to die because I feared eternal suffering in hell beyond just the temporary suffering of this world. It was only through our Lord’s mercy and grace in which He answered my pleading cried for help that I was shown the way to lasting liberation from all material bondage. “O my beloved Sri Krsna, all glories to You.” Over time I’ve begun greatly to recover from the agonies of material existence and for all those prisoners who suffer helplessly and hopelessly caught in the clutches of mäyä, here is a door in which you may want to step through.

From my own understanding and experience of Bhagavad-gita , the practice of “Krsna-izing” or spiritualizing everything around you by transforming it into Krsna brings one contentment, peace, joy, and eradicates all material aches and pains, and for a prisoner locked away in a cement box of steel and stone, this practice has the power to bring true and lasting freedom.

To be free all you have to do is change your vision. Of course, it takes time and work to attain complete perfection but its fruits are seen and felt immediately even when you first begin.

Just sit and meditate on your entire prison facility being the abode of Krsna See all the inmates and all the staff as merely expansions of Krsna or even Krsna Himself. No matter where you go and what you do, chant Hare Krsna and envision every object seen, every sound heard, everything touched and tasted, in short – All Things – as nothing but our beloved Sri Krsna. The entire prison. The corridors, chow hall, the yard, every unit and cell, all becomes Krsna-loka in a second.

If you are searching for true liberation and true freedom then this one practice will give it to you in due season.

There is so much hassle, so much depression, so much suffering and sickness in prison, but that all comes from one identifying himself as a prisoner in the bodily conception of life. To designate yourself as a prisoner brings with it all the by-products of a prisoner, which is nothing by endless suffering. But to designate yourself as a spirit soul and understand your true freedom from all mundane concepts and designations, and true peace and freedom is quickly attained by anyone who lives a life behind bars.

We must learn to Krsna-ize our entire existence. Seeing and recognising Krsna everywhere and in all things, the animate or the inanimate.

If you can truly Krsna-ize everything, then where is there any material contamination? If you Krsna-ize everything, then what object is left for sense gratification? If you Krsna-ize everything, then where are the dualities of existence which causes disturbance? If everything is Krsna-ized, then there is nothing left except Krsna. If all that be is only Krsna, then where is there any bondage and suffering? If all that be is Krsna, then there can be no worries, doubts, fears, sorrows, etc.

There are three Visnu expansions which make up the summon bonum of all existence in all universal realms throughout the entire cosmic creation. These expansions emanate from Krsna. All imaginable creation is within the field of these three Visnus. Knowing this, then all things are Krsna-ized.

This is how one lives in Krsna always and is completely liberated from the material plane in every conceivable way. You much some to unequivocally understand that there is absolutely nothing but Krsna in both the spiritual and physical worlds.

It is said in Bhagavad-gita:

“Only a saintly person who can see, within and without, the same Supreme Lord, can actually attain to perfect and eternal peace.”

Offer all of your actions up to Krsna. Have no desires whatsoever but to see Krsna’s pleasure and satisfaction as His eternal servitor by taking shelter at His lotus feet. Submit to Him without reserve and recognize Him all around you. If any of us as prisoners could learn to see our beloved Lord Krsna as all existence, circumstances and events, we could surely attain the highest perfect peace and enlightenment.

So turn your face to Krsna. Please your being only in Him and be free from all troubles and anxieties.

I once said to a suffering prisoner that the greatest freedom from any living entity is to become a slave of God. It’s only when we become a slave of God – a prisoner bound by His laws and statutes – that we truly become free.

With this vision of Krsna-izing a prisoner or anyone in this world can live anywhere under any conditions and every moment is as good as Krsna-loka, the abode of the Lord.

– William J. Smart (aka) Jivanmukta


We received permission to have a kirtan at William’s facility in Oregon in September. 6 of us will be going, including the Kirtaniyas! We are all very excited. Thank you for donating to make this trip happen.



  1. mani mati
    3 years ago

    such a beautiful letter. Words full of deep realisation,humbleness.

    A great lesson I am taking in the core of my heart, hopefully.

    Feeling “envious”not to be a part of your team…

    Jaya Srila Gurudeva who is embracing all of you in this matchless seva, under the guidance of our dearmost Shyamarani didi!

  2. Syamasundara dasa
    3 years ago

    Dandavat Pranam,

    What a very sweet and ispirational event, visiting with these inmates. Thank you for sharing. This motivates me to go on in my own seva, realizing the potential to please Srila Gurudeva by it. I wouuld venture to say that you both have done just that.

    Glories to your seva

  3. Madhukar das
    3 years ago

    perfect day to be posting this on Srila Prabhupada 50th year anniversary of his embarking to the west. Srila Gurudeva and Srila Prabhupada are surely showering their profuse blessings upon all you involved in this IPBYS Prison Program.

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    […] A couple of months ago, Sudevi dasi (from England) and I visited 8 inmates in the Snake River Correctional Facility in Ontario, Oregon. […]