In 2004, we were contacted by a inmate from the Wallace Pack Unit in Navasota, TX, seeking a teacher for the growing number of Buddhist practitioners at the unit. Then Shami Myokei Caine-Barrett and other sangha members began to serve the men in Navasota, TX with monthly meetings, creating the first Nichiren Shu sangha behind bars. Within one year, five members had taken refuge and received a small honzon (object of veneration) to continue and develop their Buddhist practice. Over the years, other sangha members have undergone the training to become volunteers and regularly participate in activities at the unit.
The purpose of this sangha is to provide a foundation for individuals seeking to change their lives. We also provide support for understanding the cause of their circumstances and developing a means of taking responsibility for their actions and their lives. Through sharing the teachings of the Lotus Sutra and the writings of Nichiren Shonin, we endeavor to enable the realization within these individuals that they are of value and can create meaningful and productive lives.
We have been very fortunate at Navasota because the chaplain has been very supportive and accommodating of our needs to conduct services. Because of his support, we were able to hold the first all day practice retreat behind bars in the State of Texas. The men were able to participate in intensive chanting practice, repentence service, shakyo and shabutsu and shodaigyo. We have held several retreats so far and have been able to bring in vegetarian meals, allowing us to approximate the monastery experience.