Texas Chaplain becomes a Devotee before Passing Away
In May 2012, a Chaplain from El-Paso, Texas, Steven Cottingham, emailed me in the hope of getting some books for the inmates he served. He said,
“My name is Steven. I serve in 5 jails, 3 federal prisons, and 2 state prisons and there are people asking for books in each of these institutions. What I do is place books in each institution’s Religious Services library, so it is cost-effective that way. Do you have books we could have?”
Of course I was very happy to help him out and this was the beginning of a wonderful cooperation. I sent him books a few times over the next months. One day, as we talked on the phone, he told me he had been reading Prabhupada’s books and he was really interested himself. I gave him his personal copy of the Bhagavad-gita.
On January 1st, 2013, a fellow chaplain, Michael St.James, replied to the last email I had sent to Steven:
"Steven is no longer with the Bureau. He began to read the items your group sent, and, from what I understand, began to practice your faith. As he was hired as a Christian Chaplain (he was/is an Episcopalian Priest) his employment was terminated.
Steven is in a very bad spot right now. Having lost his job, he and his wife are finding it difficult to live on just her salary. I know they will make it through this.
The Bureau's decision to fire him is one that has left us all reeling. Some of us will be going to court on his behalf. You must understand that Steven, for years, fought for many faiths-- including the Hare Krishna one-- to be recognized by the Bureau. In doing that, and his wanting to support those of different faiths, he has made a few enemies here."
At the beginning of February, Chaplain Steven went to court and won his case, the judge agreeing that Steven had been wrongly fired because of discrimination. In addition, Warden Smith, who had fired Chaplain Steven, lost his job due to his treatment him.
On February 7, Chaplain Michael St-James emailed me again:
“There is a bit of stress here. Seems there are a few people that didn't want Steven back. You must understand, Steven will fight to correct a wrong. And he has helped inmates that have been wronged by both the system, and the staff.”
And on February 10:
“I have just left my last meeting for the day, and will soon clock out. Have a couple of questions for you. These particular questions concern Chaplain Cottingham, and his advancement here at work.
Steven has become a Hare Krishna. He zealously practices his faith, and seems to have found a higher level of peace. I have done research, and have discovered that within your faith movement one must be installed as a member.
The head of our national chaplaincy department would like for Steven to become certified as a Hare Krishna member. We have a few questions.
There are, in addition to our director, several individuals within our chaplaincy program who would love for Steven to progress within this movement. So, if you could get back to me at your earliest.”
This was exciting news, indeed! I put Chaplain St-James in contact with Mukhya, our temple president here in Alachua. But, as with any plans, everything depends on Krsna, and as Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati used to say, “Krsna willing.”
On February 23, Steven was killed in a car crash. He left a wife and young baby. At the present moment, I am awaiting a response from his wife, Jan. Hopefully the devotees can provide her support for her continuing Krsna consciousness.
Please pray for Chaplain Steven and the family he is leaving behind. Krsna was so kind to allow him to surrender in the last months of his life and to embrace the holy name with such enthusiasm and conviction!
I keep in regular contact with Chaplain St-James; the books will keep being circulated. He also appreciates the devotees very much. Last January he wrote me:
“Yes, we serve ten prisons. Total population is 14,951-- as of this morning.
Total number of inmates who have listed their religion as either Hindu, or Hindu-Hare Krishna is 3,416-- as of this morning.
The Hare Krishna numbers have grown. Yours is a very peaceful religion. I wouldn't mind having the whole prison population become Hare Krishna; in a recent riot in the prison, none of the Hare Krishna inmates have participated; they all remained peaceful.”
INMATE LETTER EXCERPTS
“Haribol!!! Vaisnava Pranama! Jaya Jaya Prabhupada!!!
Me and Bhakta Brad are joyously fasting for Janmastami today, in transcendental ecstasy! This morning we (Bhakta Brad, Jon, and me) chanted rounds and read from the Bhagavad Gita. This afternoon we made a new bhakta, Bhakta Jon and gave him his mala and the 3 of us took turns reading from the Krsna book about His birth. This evening we will be going back to the chapel for Kirtan and watching Prabhupada DVDs! Jaya!
Hope you are having a fantastic Janmastami and have a wonderful Prabhupada appearance day tomorrow! Your most humble servant,
Bhakta Richard C.
“Hare Krsna! I got my release for July 5th. I am so very grateful for your service and generosity. I will never forget you. The other day I was outside with my japa bag and beads, trying to share the Gita with a friend. A guy from India saw me with the japa beads and got very excited. He’s from Bangladesh. We talk of Krsna often.”
Rockwell City, Iowa
“I am very much enjoying the book, “Chanting Hare Krsna”. Thank you so very much for the opportunity to associate with Srila Prabhupada. When I read it, it is like Prabhupada is talking with me and bringing new and fresh realizations, letting the sun shine bright within my heart, with transcendental knowledge. Hare Krsna.”
“The devotees are the prisoners’ connection to the world of Krsna. I cannot explain how much letters and material from you all mean. It serves as a constant reminder to stay steadfast! So again, thank you.”
Bhakta Brian B.
“I used a piece of cloth as a japa mala by tying knots in the cloth; 108 knots. It took me 6 hours to make it, and the inner seam of my pants-but it beats counting on your fingers.”
“I just wanted to take a moment to write and thank you for the issue of Back to Godhead. The first article I read was exactly something I needed to read. I find myself seriously lost and disturbed if I am not constantly reading, thinking about Vaishnava subjects. Lately I've been going through some mental battles, things getting to me. I am so grateful to have all the books I have acquired from you all in ISKCON IPM. It is my medicine in this diseased environment. Hare Krishna! I enclosed 2 stamps. I know it's not much but maybe it will help when you mail someone else some “meaning” for this life! Lord Krsna bless you all! Forever grateful,”
Bhakta Clayton S.
“I have been able to share my books with others; some show more sincerity than others. I’m pretty simple minded but I am trying to cultivate that sincerity and share the desire to chant. I just filed a request to allow us to have a weekly program in the prison chapel and have been filing a lot of grievance on our diet and how it is handled. I’m hoping to get something we can offer the Lord. Hare Krsna! If Krsna decides to give it to us, these people will be powerless to deny it. I’m hoping a devotee from New-Vrndavan might be willing to come from the temple and lead us in a chant and give us some nice instruction if possible. We’ll see. It’s hard for me to talk to the other guys very much because when I talk or think hard about the Lord, I get all teary eyed. What a tender and loving God Lord Krsna is. I don’t want these guys to think I’m flaky and lose how important the message is, you know?”
Bhakta Thomas L.
“Yes, the materials arrived and we have been playing the DVDs on the inmate television station. Thank-you very, very much for them. All inmates can listen to the inmate television station [it plays throughout the prison], unless they are in segregation [solitary]. They are greatly appreciated. Blessings, “
The Ohio State Penitentiary
CAN YOU HELP?
From time to time, the proper management and further development of this volunteer Krsna Conscious preaching program requires making relatively small administrative expenses. If these expenses are not funded separately they will take away from our limited budget to provide transcendental literatures and other paraphernalia to the inmates. It is for some of those expenses that we ask for your help today. As many of you already know, the Prison Ministry service is a loving collaboration between the IPM volunteers who write to and/or visit inmates, the chaplains, whose job is to tend to the inmates’ spiritual needs, and the devotees like you who financially support this preaching program. The more collaboration, the more souls we can reach, and the more we hope to please Guru and Krsna. We are most thankful to all of you who make this program possible. By Srila Prabhupada’s mercy, together, we are changing the lives of thousands of inmates!
Here a list of the few expenses incurred recently:
• Website domain name renewal: $57.11
• Non-profit status annual reports: $80.00
Toner and a drum for the 2 IPM printers (these cartridges typically last about 8 months):
• One printer is used by Bhavananda dasa, in Arkansas. He produces, prints, and mails the Freedom Newsletter to 150 inmates each month. This toner cartridge is $110.21 We also purchased a replacement drum he will need in the course of the year: $128.99
• The second printer is in the IPM Alachua office. It is used on a daily basis to print letters and other material we send inmates (lectures transcript, pamphlets, etc). The toner is $161.88
Books shipping fees:
We need $62.00 to cover the shipping cost of acquiring Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-Gita and Science of Self-Realization in Spanish. The books themselves were donated by yet another kind, anonymous donor.
Lastly, the cost for the recent office supplies (paper, envelopes, mailing tape) is: $98.08
Whether you wish to donate a small amount, the entire amount ($698.27), or anywhere in between, please know that every donation is very much appreciated and makes a big difference. And yes, we will be glad to send you a tax-deductible receipt.
You have 3 Donation Options:
1) Send check or postal money order to:
ISKCON Prison Ministry
PO Box 2676
Alachua, FL 32616-2676
2) Donate through PayPal at: www.iskconprisonministry.org
3) For automatic, monthly donations, you can also do so on our website (with the PayPal button), or through your bank “Automatic Bill Pay” option, which is free and easy.
We can send you a tax deductible receipt at the moment of the donation or at the end of the year, as you wish.
Here are a few other ways you can serve the prison ministry:
become a transcendental pen-pal for one or more inmates
We always need more devotees to correspond with inmates. To be successful in this endeavor, you need to be motivated, to feel truly inspired by this service, and you need to like/love writing. Of course, you also need to practice Krsna consciousness yourself, so your words have potency.
give a one-time or monthly donation (we provide tax-deductible receipts).
donate books and magazines; new or used (not too damaged though).
donate DVDs and music CDs (kirtans). (These items need to be new, or appearing to be new)
donate pictures of deities or of Krsna paintings
in the next few months we will need some extra japa and neck beads, along with bead bags and counter beads.
Questions? Inquiries? Please contact Mukunda dasa or Bhakti-lata dasi at:
ISKCON Prison Ministry
PO Box 2676, Alachua, FL 32616-2676
The above is only a part of our IPM NEWS, the newsletter for ISKCON Prison Ministry. There is more about inmates passing away, inmates released, a program in Croatia, and more...To read the whole newsletter, please go to: http://www.iskconprisonministry.us/sites/default/files/3-2013-ipm%20news...
If you wish to receive IPM NEWS electronically, please send us an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org with "subscribe" in the subject line. There's lots more nectar for you to read and see!
On the website, www.iskconprisonministry.org, we also added a section on Prison Programs, with new reports from Croatia, Bosnia, and USA!!!