Greetings from Robertson, South Africa! It has been a long time since I last managed to sit down and connect with you. My sincerest apologies. Please know that my lack of communication is by no means a result of a lack of interest in Path of Freedom and Prison Dharma Network Community activities.
October/November is the time of year when Correctional Services/prisons in South Africa are in flux and chaos as they organize family days in preparation for the end-of-year shutdown when they run on a reduced staff component. Just this past Saturday, we spent 2 hours driving 180 km to one of the facilities only to be told they had forgotten to advise us not to arrive for our usual pastoral visit. Needless to say, we received this news with frustration but also some joy for the men in the knowledge that they would be spending time with their families and partaking of special treats and food during the visit.
Despite the inevitable hiccups, we continue to be inspired by individuals who, over the years, had the opportunity to attend the Maia program and/or our regular Zen retreats. As they get moved around the country to other prisons, it is surprising how important it is for them to still call us for a chat and often to say, ‘how are you?’? We have an arrangement with regular course participants to call us ‘reverse charge’ in times of need. For most of them, money is a real issue, particularly as our prisons are supposed to be a cashless society. Surprisingly, very few make use of this offer, and no one has ever abused this generosity, and often will go short on a smoke – trading it for telephone time.
5 of our regular participants will leave prison before Christmas when the real work begins. Unfortunately, each of them returned to the exact environment they came from before joining the prison population. Sometimes just the thought of what awaits them outside makes my stomach turn ………… then return to abide in what can be done now! And so we continue to do the best we can.