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Janmastami in Huntsville, Texas

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Author: 
By Phalini Devi Dasi

One of the most memorable experiences during our last visit to Houston was our trip to the Estelle Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice near Huntsville, Texas on September 19, 2015.
Although we had not planned it into our schedule, Krishna apparently had, so we went along with Krishna's plan. It's always good to cooperate with Krishna's plan.
We were invited to participate by Gopal Krishna Prabhu of the Houston Temple. An enthusiastic and dedicated prison-preacher and alternates with Sridhara Shyama Prabhu from the Dallas Temple, to conduct regular, open-call Hare Krishna services—which comes under the wider umbrella of "Eastern Religions." But this was not just any ordinary program. It was their Janmastami celebration, so they had invited a huge number of inmates for the festival.

After clearing security, we entered a room full of men--maybe forty or fifty--who sat ready and waiting for the Hare Krishna Festival to begin. Comfortable sitting cushions were arranged around the edge of the room, and the devotees had set up a microphone and amplifier with speakers.

My husband started the kirtan. The inmates joined in enthusiastically from the very start, singing robustly like old kirtan veterans. As the kirtan picked up to a livelier pace, the men almost all stood up to dance. They bounced and jumped back and forth, up and down the length of the room, chanting more and more loudly and grinning from ear to ear as they felt more and more jubilant with the intoxicating sound of Lord Krishna's holy names. Even His Holiness Bhakti Vikasa Swami joined in the dancing. The men formed a train, each man holding onto the shoulders of the man in front of him. They weaved and hair-pinned around the room like expert dancers from the old Agnideva kirtans of the seventies.

After the kirtan, His Holiness Bhakti Vikasa Swami and Haripada Prabhu took turns speaking about Krishna conscious philosophy and answering the men's questions. They reminded the prisoners how we are all imprisoned in material bodies because of our desires and our actions in the past, and how the chanting of Hare Krishna breaks the chains of our imprisonment in this material world. Haripada Prabhu compared the chanting of God's holy names to a spiritual alarm clock that wakes up the soul to his true identity. Maharaja challenged the men to improve their lives by deepening their relationship with God and making loving service to

Him their life's prime focus. Some of the men asked questions and Maharaja suggested that my husband answer first. After my husband answered, then Maharaja would give his perspective on the topic. So altogether it was an enlightening, enlivening group discussion.

After the pravachan, a delicious and colorful feast of Krishna prasadam was served by the devotees who had come from both Houston and Dallas to help out with conducting the Huntsville Janmastami program. With satisfaction, I watched the eager faces of the inmates as they were served sumptuous helpings of paneer subji, rice, whole wheat bread and carrot halavah, all cooked and offered with love to Lord Kalachandji. The devotees also served generous helpings of sweet, juicy, crisp green grapes that had been brought by Sridhara Shyama Prabhu and his good wife Lalita-sakhi devi dasi.

During the feast, one very nice, sincere young man--I'll call him Haridas--sat with my husband and me and asked deep, soulful questions about how he could become more sincere and serious in his Krishna consciousness. We felt extremely satisfied preaching to Haridas, a deep soul connection.

As we said our good-byes to all the inmates and to the Dallas devotees as well, Haridas shook our hands warmly and looked into our eyes with an expression that said, “Please do come back again.”

As we drove back to Houston, we shared our impressions and experiences, which were all positive. We reminisced about the exhilarating kirtan, the exuberant dancing, the heartfelt questions, and how the men enthusiastically honored Krishna prasadam. We vowed to come back to the Huntsville Prison for another preaching program next time we're in Houston, Krishna willing.

Phalini and her husband Haripada now live in India most of the year.

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This article is just a small part of the bi-monthly IPM NEWS, an electronic newsletter. If you wish to receive it in your inbox, simply email me at iskconprisonministry@gmail.com with "SUBSCRIBE" in the subject line. Thank you!

To read excerpts of inmate letters and to see some of their artwork, please visit our website at www.iskconprisonministry.org

Want to help with this prison program? Please contact Mukunda Dasa or Bhakti-lata Dasi at:

ISKCON Prison Ministry
3759 McCreary's Ridge Road
NBU #46
Moundsville, WV 26041
IskconPrisonMinistry@gmail.com
www.iskconprisonministry.org