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News regarding voluteer efforts to bring the core teachings of the Buddha into California prisons.

Buddhist Pathways News  Winter 2015/16

BRINGING THE CORE TEACHINGS OF THE BUDDHA INTO CALIFORNIA PRISONS
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2015 Buddhist Pathways Prison Project Training and Community Retreat 


 

The 2015 retreat featured a number of “firsts.” For the fourth year, we met at the IONS retreat center in Petaluma, CA. We had more people attend than any previous retreat. Our first retreat held six years ago had 17 participants. In 2015 we had 31 people attending. Our second “first” was Rondell Webb, a former inmate who had spent ten years in programs offered by BP3 volunteers, was a featured guest and speaker.

Friday evening prior to the retreat, thirteen participants met for dinner at Sugo Trattoria, an exquisite Italian restaurant in Petaluma.  The dinner was hosted by the BP3 board. Rondell was the center of attention and what a wonderful, candid and entertaining person he is! He relayed in great detail the emotional turmoil of his first plane ride (BP3 flew him up from LA) with people mistaking him for a variety of celebrities including the “son of John Gotti”. He said he was even surrounded by Sacramento lobbyists, seeming to think he was some sort of celebrity. Rondell is obviously enjoying his freedom and new life immensely and his zest for life is contagious. As he mentioned, his new mantra is “Failure is not an option!” (More on Rondell)

We are again so fortunate to have internationally known prison reform advocate and the creator of countless mindfulness-based programs at San Quentin, Jacques Verduin, as our facilitator. Jacques is the founder and guiding instructor for his most recent effort, the Insight Out program, initially offered at San Quentin prison and now expanded to Avenal State prison and Mule Creek state prison. His program trains former inmates to teach a form of mindfulness training, (more here…. Insight-out.org) to incarcerated men. The recidivism rate for men graduating from his program is zero!

We had folks attend who offer Buddhist/mindfulness instruction from prisons throughout the state, including Chuckwalla, Soledad, Solano, San Quentin, Folsom, Sacramento, Folsom Women’s Facility, Deuel Vocational Institution, Sierra Conservation Center, High Desert and Atwater Federal Prison. We also have affiliated sanghas which offer Buddhist services at Ironwood, Pelican Bay, and Salinas Valley.

We were delighted to have as participants Venerable De Hong and Margaret Meloni from the University of the West Prison Initiative. We resolved to coordinate our efforts and refer both inmate transfers as well as inmates leaving prison to our respective programs.

Michael Paddy, the BP3 Board President, opened the community retreat by offering a brief history of BP3 since its founding in 1997 to its current status. He emphasized that we are NOT lineage based, but rely solely on the core teachings of the Buddha from which all traditions emanate. Jacques then queried the participants on topics that were not addressed in the schedule which they wished to discuss. Over fifteen additional suggestions were offered, many of which were addressed throughout the retreat.

Our guest Rondell Webb was introduced by Diane Wilde, who has known Rondell for ten years through prison sanghas located at SAC and FSP.  “ More about Rondell”  Rondell was forthcoming about his life and graciously fielded all sorts of questions ranging from prison politics and the necessity (or not) of affiliating with gangs while in prison.  There were questions about programs available in prison and upon release, and to how to designate inmate “leadership” in prison sanghas. At the heart of everything he said was the true desire to create for him a meaningful life. He mentioned that he wants to give back in the same manner as the BP3 volunteers.

At meals, participants were encouraged to sit and get to know other prison volunteers and share experiences. Of course Rondell was the person everyone wanted to spend additional time with and he never lacked for meal time companionship!

We covered a huge amount of topics in two days including: learning chair yoga for physically challenged inmates, conducting and facilitating a Buddhist service, the experience of training mindfulness to prison therapists, secular mindfulness versus a religious tradition, trauma triggered by meditation, anger issues, post-release support, requesting and conducting a daylong retreat, additional training opportunities, and many, many more topics. We also had a session where each participant offered their own experiences and challenges at their particular prison. Concurrently, Buddhist chaplain Candace McGahan did a training with volunteers who had very little experience going into the prison setting. We also spoke about how to bring about a Buddhist chaplaincy in the California prison system. One of our volunteers offered to help spearhead such an effort if we could find a person to apply for a chaplaincy opening. Jacques emphasized that if there is a way to hire inmates who have gone through our programs, as trainers to those still inside, it will benefit everyone. Of course, the protocol of not allowing inmates who are on parole inside a prison is quite a roadblock. Another challenge!

When it was time to say good-bye, Rondell asked for permission to hug every participant. It was a moving end to the 2015 retreat.

by Diane Wilde, BP3 founder

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2016 Retreat

The 2016 retreat will be held at the Insight Retreat Center in Santa Cruz, on July 8, 9 and 10, 2016, thanks to a generous offer by Dharma Teacher and Buddhist Minister, Gil Fronsdal. We will enjoy a three day retreat which will allow more sitting and time to relax… a much needed component to the BP3 retreat experience.

Diane Wilde and Candace McGahan, who have jointly coordinated and put together the retreat schedule for five of our six retreats, announced that they wish to turn these tasks over to a new committee, in order to encourage new ideas and new energy. Please let any member of the BP3 board know if you are interested in being part of this effort by emailing them at info@buddhistpathways.org. Lori Wong has graciously offered to be the in-house retreat manager when it takes place at the Insight Retreat Center.

Rondell Web, BP3’s Inmate Relations Advisor

Rondell was brought up by relatives as neither of his parents were not part of his life. His grandmother, who took over his upbringng, also died when he was very young as did an uncle who took over for her. Aunts became responsible for his upbringing, and as he freely admitted, he was a handful. Looking for acceptance by his peers, he succumbed to the allure of criminal activity. However, his criminal career was short-lived because he was incarcerated at 17 years old as an adult. Rondell was incarcerated for 36 years due to his youthful mistakes, and is currently on parole. He said that while in prison, he sought out meditation as a way of dealing with his anger issues, and slowly but surely, anger began to dissipate. Rondell emphasized that only he could change himself, and he had to truly desire a change in his way of thinking. He also emphasized that being supported by volunteers, who saw prisoners with compassion and as individuals with potential, not as a “throw-away” segment of society, caused him to want to emulate that way of being. He mentioned that once he gets his own life and a career in order, he wants to give back in the same manner. Jacques later mentioned that having Rondell there probably did more to rejuvenate our efforts than anything else that could have been offered at the retreat.


Visioning Conference

On October 24, 2015, BP3 Board member Dave Judd organized and hosted our first Visioning Conference, held in the Executive Conference room at Palm Court Hotel in Davis, California. Dave invited Ilene Combs to facilitate the discussion. Thirteen volunteers including all the current board members, and Executive Assistant Eric Aquino took part.

After introductions, Ilene opened the Visioning Conference by taking a tally of what issues each participant thought were most relevant to BP3 as it moves into the future. Over fifty different topics were offered. Ilene then had four or five participants “group” the various proposed topics into larger categories. We ultimately ended up with four main topics: BP3 vision and capacity; BP3 Administration; Teaching/programs; Volunteer Recruitment and Training. Participants met in groups of four and were tasked with creating recommendation for action that would result in tangible assignments: who does what, and when will it get done. Each group chose a “scribe” and a “presenter.” The four groups met for about an hour and then came back to give their reports to all participants. Input from the other volunteers was encouraged as each report was given, and a final “action plan” was developed for each main category.

Ilene did a masterful job of corralling the myriad of items that were offered by the participants into a manageable whole.

Towards the end of the day, Eric Aquino presented the new, almost complete, interactive BP3 website.  The presentation gave the participants a vision of what new feature would be available.  The new interface will facilitate retrieving resources, filing reports, getting information on where BP3 currently has ongoing sanghas and applying as a volunteer.

Dave Judd did a great job in bringing this day to fruition. We would also like to extend our gratitude to those who had traveled great distances to attend the visioning, especially Melanie Dabil of Pelican Bay State Prison sangha. Everyone said what an important day it was and how much was accomplished.

by Diane Wilde, BP3 Founder

Candace McGahan

 

Candace was just awarded Sierra Conservation Center’s “Volunteer of the Year” award!     

Candace McGahan was the rebel child who left home at age 17 without graduating high school. “Maybe that’s why I felt comfortable, almost at home, the first time I entered a prison,” Candace says. Ultimately Candace graduated from college, and almost 13 years ago retired from the City of Sacramento where she was supervising engineer for capital improvements of the City’s potable water system. She has also been clean and sober for the last 26 years. Upon retirement, she focused on deepening her practice of the historic Buddha’s teachings through study, extensive retreat time and completion of the Sati Center’s Buddhist Chaplaincy Program. “On that first visit to Old Folsom more than 6 years ago,” Candace says, “I connected with something much deeper in myself; I knew that this was a way I could give back. I have volunteered in a soup kitchen and given money, but this was different. I felt a very strong connection to the men.”

Candace kept going back.  In the beginning she was a support to lead volunteers and making prison visits 3 or more times a week.  In addition to that, Candace was serving on 3 different Sangha boards, including the Founding Board of BP3 as Treasurer.  “My lesson was learning to modulate,” explains Candace.  With guidance from her spiritual adviser, Ayya Anandabodhi, she limited her volunteer activity to three times a month at two yards in the Sierra Conservation Center (SCC) in Jamestown, CA, and once a month at Deuel Vocational Institution.  “On the day I go to these distant prisons,” explains Candace, “everything I do supports that end – making sure I get enough sleep, planning the sangha’s program, eating right and preparing for the drive, 2 hours and 15 minutes each way.”  She does still occasionally fill in at the Folsom prisons if needed.
 
Candace does not use the same material in the different yards.  “Each Sangha is different,” she explains.  The lower security yards, for example, seem to have a higher turnover, but the higher security yards are more stable and practice has the potential to become intimate and profound. I’ve seen one man, who was known for his jokes, realize that his sharp humor was alienating.  As he became more mindful, his humor softened.
 
“After 6 years, I’m still amazed that doing prison work has turned out to be such a great fit for me,” explains Candace.  “The protocols in working with prisoners create distance, but that has nothing to do with the great affinity I feel for these men.  I’ve had the honor of seeing them change over time.  When people ask me why I do this, I like to say,  ‘Cause you meet some of the nicest guys in prison.’”   
 
Candace was recently told by Sierra Conservation Center that she is being awarded “Volunteer of the Year”!  Congratulations to a job well done!

by Kit Kirkpatrick, BP3 editor

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Our First Federal Prison Sangha


 
USP Atwater is located near the larger towns of Turlock, Merced and Modesto.   Sacramento volunteers Diane Wilde, Rollin Ives and Hyokeun Sunim are creating a prison Sangha there, holding the space until local, qualified volunteers can be recruited




How is a Federal prison different?

“After our service,” said Rollin, “each of the 18-20 men present shook our hands and thanked us for coming.  We were also served tea at the end of our service. It’s a different culture.” It’s also a different facility and the difference was “striking” said Rollin.  “Atwater is air conditioned and spacious, clean and quiet compared to Old Folsom where I volunteer.  Plus, Atwater is a high security penitentiary,” Rollin said, noting that the prisoners reminded him of the men at Old Folsom in regards to age, racial diversity and practice experience.

Federal prisons require training of volunteers after their fourth visit and the government provides the training which is still being planned.  We hope that training will take place before the end of 2015.
 
If you are interested in volunteering at Atwater, email info@buddhistpathways.org.  It’s definitely a different experience from California prisons!
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Meet BP3’s first ever employee… Eric Aquino!


 
As BP3 continues to expand its services to more and more prisons, it became apparent to the board that Diane Wilde could not continue juggling the many tasks necessary to keep the organization going.  Last June a committee interviewed a few potential candidates for an Executive Assistant position.  Eric Aquino was an easy choice.
 
Eric is a graduate of Sierra College with an Associates of Science degree in Multimedia Art and Design.  What Eric is doing to support Volunteers and their prison Sanghas is facilitating communication through an upgraded website.  Eric has a degree in graphic design from Sierra College and with his wife, software engineer Jennifer Aquino, run Jeneric Designs.  Eric works 20 hours a week for BP3: Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.
 
“The new website,” Eric explains, “will have an event calendar which will show the scheduled classes for sangha groups in each prison as well as upcoming retreats and meetings.  It will also have a volunteer master list for members, and a beautiful collection of quotes from participating inmates.”  The new website will feature interactive forms and easy accessibility to BP3 locations, and a password protected list of all volunteers and their contact information.
 
Upon being hired, Eric immediately educated himself on the California prison culture and BP3’s role in bringing mindfulness and meditation to inmates.  He plans to take prison training at Folsom, and will go in with volunteers to see what a service in prison is like!
 
Eric’s responsibilities are wide-ranging and include, but are not limited to: co-creating and maintaining the new website, surveying the various sangha leaders on what supplies are needed, creating flyers as needed, keeping inventory on supplies, a spreadsheet of current volunteers, keeping track of training dates along with reminders, responding to inmate requests and creating the BP3 newsletter… to name just a few of his duties.
 
Along with hiring Eric, BP3 leased a small amount of “desk” space in downtown Sacramento.  It is in a progressive co-operative where Eric has a desk and the board has access to a meeting room as well as other facilities.  If you would like to visit and meet Eric, our office is at 2572 21st Street, Sacramento CA 95818.  You can contact Eric at info@buddhistpathways.org
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Post Release Program in Placer

 The Re-Entry Program designed by Placer County is a creative and thoughtful effort by county leaders in education, probation, Sheriff/law enforcement, courts and other offices.  Its aim is to prepare inmates and probationers for a successful re-entry into society.
 
Participants of this program are screened and qualified by the Probation Department. Once approved and admitted to the program they receive 3 hours of training each day.  Some of the training may include:  Courage to Change; Anger Management; Parenting Skills; Healthy Me; Money Management; GED completion.
 
Participants are carefully assessed and evaluated by the Probation Department for commitment to change and compliance with probation requirements. They each receive training directed toward the development of job skills.  Each participant is also required to complete 20 hours of some type of community service. 
 
The program has already partnered with local businesses for job training and potential placement.  They are actively recruiting new partners in the business community toward that end. 
 
I congratulate our county leaders on this creative and effective means of addressing the seemingly chronic problem of recidivism.  Similar programs in other counties have proven effective at both improving lives and enhancing public safety.  I am actively working with County officials to add these important practices to the program: meditation, yoga, 12 Step, Day-long Retreats, Small Groups, Mentors and the books, publications and study aids BP3 can provide.
 

by Dave Judd, BP3 Member  

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In Other News..

BP3 now has office space at 2572 21st St, Sacramento, CA 95818 and a dedicated phone line. (916) 747-4294. Please contact Eric Aquino with news items, concerns or any issues that may need BP3 involvement.
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CSP-Sacramento: Volunteers going into SAC have increased visits from 2 times a month to weekly visits since June 2015. For more information please contact Michael Paddy @ bp3_president@buddhistpathways.org
 CSP-Solano: Solano volunteers held a daylong on November 7, 2015. Another is scheduled for December 5, 2016 from 8:30am - 4pm. 
CSP-Soledad: Soledad volunteers plan on holding their first daylong retreat in February 23, 2016. 
CSP-Folsom: Folsom held two daylong retreats this year. The last one was held on October 27, 2015. 
CSP-Deuel: Volunteers going into Deuel have increased services from twice monthly to weekly. 
2016 Retreat: Walt Opie has volunteered to facilitate the 2016 BP3 retreat. Please contact Walt if you would like to help. 
New Volunteers: Welcome to new volunteers: Eric, Jonathan, Ari and Eliza who trained at Deuel with Diane and Candace in October.
BP3 website: BP3 has launched its new website with many interactive features to make it easier for volunteers as well as potential volunteers. Check it out at buddhistpathways.org
 

Copyright © 2015  Buddhist Pathways Prison Project, Inc.,  All rights reserved.

Our mailing address is:
Buddhist Pathways Prison Project, Inc.
2572 21st St. Sacramento, CA 95818