In 1985, Fleet Maull was incarcerated on drug charges. Prior to his incarceration, Fleet received extensive training as a meditation instructor under the guidance of Tibetan meditation master Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Shortly after arriving at the federal medical center, he started a Buddhist meditation group in the prison chapel which he led for 14 years, training hundreds of prisoners in contemplative spirituality and the practice of mindfulness-awareness meditation.
In the early 1980s, Buddhist prison ministry was all but nonexistent. Many Buddhist centers were beginning to receive letters of interest from prisons, and a number of these centers began forwarding these letters to Fleet. He quickly realized that he couldn’t begin to keep up with the growing demand for Buddhist prisoner support that was coming his way, and in 1989 founded Prison Dharma Network (PDN), a national nonprofit, nonsectarian support network for Buddhist prisoners, volunteers and prison staff.
Fleet directed PDN for 12 years from within the prison with the help of volunteers on the outside. PDN’s offices were initially established in Hartford, Connecticut and later moved to Boston, Massachusetts.
In May 1999, PDN moved to Boulder, Colorado, and Kate Crisp became Executive Director. PDN continues to serve the growing field of contemplative prison ministry, corresponding with and sending books to thousands of prisoners, supporting prison volunteers from the various contemplative traditions and assisting prison chaplains. PDN publishes resource materials and books and conducts training for prison volunteers. Thousands of people are involved in one way or another with PDN as part of a growing network or community, of Dharma practitioners, teachers, corrections professionals, activists, and volunteers within and without the prison walls. In 1997, PDN became a village in the interfaith Peacemaker Community and an affiliate of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship.
While incarcerated, Fleet also helped start the first hospice program in a correctional facility and served as a volunteer hospice caregiver at the U.S. Medical Center for Federal Prisoners for 11 years. This program trained both prisoners and staff to provide compassionate end-of-life care to terminally ill prisoners and their families. In 1991, Fleet founded the National Prison Hospice Association to promote this unique model of prison hospice care throughout the U.S. and internationally. Today there are over 20 prison hospice programs in state and federal prison medical facilities all across the country.
For more information on Fleet Maull’s path of transformation see Bernie Glassman’s book Bearing Witness.
In 2010, PDN relocated to Providence, Rhode Island and changed its names to Prison Mindfulness Institute (PMI). PMI is setting sights to impact the prison system in a much larger way, beyond the scope of a religion-based program. PMI initiated a new ten-year goal of establishing secular, mindfulness-based interventions (MBI’s) as best practices in mainstream correctional programming for both prisoners and corrections staff.
2012 was a watershed year. In just two years, we established four Path of Freedom programs in men’s and women’s facilities and a mindfulness-based staff training for correctional counselors and probation & parole officers in Rhode Island.
We established the Center for Mindfulness in Corrections (a division of PMI) for correctional staff training initiatives and launched the first mindfulness-based corrections staff development & training program in the U.S. We are just now completing this 9-month training and research study that combined mindfulness-based emotional intelligence (MBEI) and Motivational Interviewing (MI) training for a group of 23 correctional counselors, mental health counselors, discharge planners and probation and parole officers in the Rhode Island Department of Corrections.