Prison Dharma Network is featured in the latest issue of Tricycle magazine with an article entitled “Freedom Behind Bars” Check it out at your local newstand or read online (subscription required)
Freedom Behind Bars
Fleet Maull’s Prison Dharma Network is bringing Buddhist teachings to inmates. By Travis Duncan
They filed through the gymnasium doors in regulation blue and gray sweatshirts, rubbing their eyes, some curious but all of them tired. A cellmate had kept most of them up all night by yelling and banging on the walls. At the doors, the young men slapped on name tags and grabbed their complimentary granola bars. “It’s a great day to be in prison,” one of them said as he filed past the makeshift check-in desks to find his seat. Although Prison Dharma Network (PDN) holds a shorter, smaller weekly class on Thursday evenings at the Lookout Mountain Youth Services Center in Golden, Colorado, today’s program would be a bit different. The fifty males—fifteen to twenty years old—who were about to go through the half-day PDN program on this Monday in late March had been hand-selected by Lookout staff as those most likely to benefit from today’s workshop.
PDN has been connecting inmates with the dharma through correspondence, book mailings, and dharma pen pals since it was founded in 1989. PDN has also been working to build a well-resourced, national prison dharma movement through its website, publishing projects, regional training programs, jail and prison programs, and by networking with other prison dharma projects. Its membership now includes over fifteen hundred individuals and over seventy meditation-based prison projects. Its most recent and now flagship initiative is the Path of Freedom program, a blend of Buddhist mindfulness practice and cognitive behavioral therapy, which PDN volunteers are introducing at facilities like Lookout Mountain.
Fleet Maull, a Buddhist who founded PDN while serving time in federal prison, stood in a large circle of folding chairs at one end of the drab wooden gym floor, encouraging everyone to find a seat. He spoke with trenchant insight into their situation, letting them know he was not there to patronize.
“I’m an ex-con. I spent fourteen years in a federal prison,” he said. “At the time, my best thinking got me in there. And I’m a pretty smart guy.” The group chuckled, and Maull cracked a smile himself before bringing up an important but difficult topic for him: his son, who was nine years old when Maull went to prison. “That was the most devastating thing,” he said. “There are guys in here who have parents in jail. The impact on kids is horrible.” Read the entire article in the latest edition of Tricycle. photo by Jon Orlando