CHRISTMAS ALL YEAR LONG

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Author: 
Bhakti-lata Dasi

As a child, Christmas was a time of great anticipation and excitement. Until my teen years that is, when it became more and more a source of disappointment—but that’s a story for another time.
Christmas, a time of giving and receiving, of goodwill for all mankind, is experienced all year long in devotional service, and it is certainly true of the prison ministry service. It is Christmas every day! And there is no disappointment, no letdown, and no hype about it: it is the real deal and it brings me the pleasure and satisfaction I have been hankering for all my life!

This service became my main occupation ten years ago now (wow; time does fly!), and I still never get tired of it. Overwhelmed sometimes, but never tired of the service itself. I am hooked.
People engage in sense gratification because it releases dopamine in their system, which is associated with feelings of euphoria, bliss, motivation, and concentration. Devotional service is a spiritual dopamine a million times more potent—and fortunately, it is also addictive, eternally. The spiritual addiction to end all material addictions.

Each time I send a book, a feel a thrill of transcendental joy. The whole process of sending books is transcendentally enlivening; from typing the invoice and the label, to taking the books from the bookshelf, to putting them in an envelope, to placing them in a USPS bin, to walking up my driveway to the mailbox at the end of the day and filling it up with transcendental packages, to raising the mailbox’s red flag, to noticing the mailman picking up these parcels the next day—every step of the process exudes transcendental joy.
After all, it is Prabhupada and Kṛṣṇa Themselves, in the form of books, whom I am sending to others!

Sending and receiving a letter to an inmate is just as exhilarating and rewarding: connecting one-on-one with a receptive soul, even more so one who is suffering and conscious of his/her suffering and seeking help, is the most rewarding activity I have ever experienced.
Given that I have in my possession the key that will unlock their prison, the knowledge that will end all their suffering, it follows naturally that it is my duty—and privilege—to make sure that as many inmates as possible get hold of it too.
We were given transcendental knowledge, freely, unconditionally, and I benefit from it every second of every day, for the last thirty-five years; I must pass it on to others—I am duty bound. This small endeavor is my insignificant attempt, to repay my debt to Srila Prabhupada.
One of the great secrets of devotional service is that the more you give it to others, the more pleased Kṛṣṇa is; He then allows you to enter more and more deeply into its mysteries. It is the ultimate win-win situation.

Some inmates have been introduced to Kṛṣṇa consciousness before; in their childhood, teenage or adult years. Some have met devotees, or read a book; some even went to a temple, tasted prasadam, or dated a devotee. But for most, IPM is their first introduction, their first step on their journey back to Godhead. The prison ministry gives us a front row seat to their spiritual transformation.

At the time I am writing this, one of these inmates, Bhakta Sasha (who has been in contact with IPM since 2009), has terminal cancer. He is very determined to go back to Godhead. He has been chanting and reading assiduously throughout the day, each day, since 2017. Premvilas prabhu has generously sponsored a Srimad-Bhagavatam set for him and I have been sending him one canto at a time. In December 2017 I sent him the first Canto. A few days ago (a year later), I sent him the tenth canto!
Sasha has signed a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) and has recently stopped taking narcotic medication. He is ready and willing to leave, anytime. It may be weeks, months, but probably not years. I am starting to see, in some of his letters, that his mind is sometimes a little bit disoriented, though he stays focused on Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Please pray for his successful transition after death.
Below, in the Inmate Letters Excerpts section of this newsletter, you can read some passages from Sasha’s recent letters.

Another rewarding part of my service is receiving the selfless offerings from devotees, in the form of laksmi and books. It is a very humbling experience. Devotees assist me in my service and this gives me the opportunity to facilitate them in their devotional service; each of us striving to please Srila Prabhupada. It is the most loving cooperation. This prison preaching service requires both the capital to operate and the hands and legs to actualize it. It is a perfect, transcendental teamwork.
I am deeply grateful and indebted to all the devotees who make this program possible, starting with my husband whom I thank from the bottom of my heart. He not only takes on the whole financial burden of our household so I can be free to do this service, but also, many times, he has to accept simpler cooking and minimum cleaning when I get too absorbed in the office (I haven’t learned how to multiply myself yet!) But he tolerates graciously, as book distribution is very dear to him.

I am also grateful to all those who donate books and contribute financially to support this program, as well as the volunteers who give countless hours of their time; to write to inmates; to prepare the BTGs for shipping; and to type quotes from inmates’ letters. My gratitude goes also to everyone who encourage me with kind words and prayers.

Above all, I thank Srila Prabhupada, who gave us all the opportunity of a lifetime(s) to engage in devotional service; he gave us the mercy to steadily dance our way back to Godhead while bringing as many of Kṛṣṇa’s children with us as we can. I bow down to his lotus feet. Jaya Srila Prabhupada!

I pray that you will all walk with me during the coming year, together making thousands of inmates the most fortunate souls in the prison system!

With all the humility in my command, praying to remain your servant,

Bhakti-latā Devi Dasi

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NOTE:
This article is just a part of IPM NEWS, our bi-monthly electronic newsletter. To read whole issues, please go to: http://www.iskconprisonministry.org/
If you wish to receive it in your mailbox, simply email me at iskconprisonministry@gmail.com with "SUBSCRIBE" in the subject line.
More excerpts of inmate letters and also their artwork are available on our website at: www.iskconprisonministry.org
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ISKCON Prison Ministry
PO Box 2676
Alachua, FL 32616

IskconPrisonMinistry@gmail.com
www.IskconPrisonMinistry.org