Prison Program in Petersburg, Virginia— 10/16/19

Author: 
ISKCON PRISON MINISTRY

By Candramauli Swami

After a weekend filled with programs I left Charlotte NC by car for Apex NC for a quick visit to the home of Karuna Sindhu and his good wife Arcana Siddhi. It was the last days of the Kartik month and so my hosts decided to invite many of the local devotees for an evening of singing the Damodarastakam prayer. Naturally in association with the devotees the gathering transformed into a full program of Kirtan and a talk. I had planned an early rest but was now speaking the entire pastime of Kṛṣṇa stealing butter.

Next day we are on the road to Richmond Virginia a 4 hour ride by car. Hoping to rest and get ready for the prison program the following day I was informed by my hosts just after my arrival they had arranged a program a one hour drive from their home. It’s the last day of Kartik and the family who are hosting the program are new to Kṛṣṇa Consciousness and very eager to host a program. Surrendering to the situation meant taking rest very late around mid-night.

Up the next day and very tired I somehow struggle to complete my 16 rounds. I decide to forgo breakfast and accept an early lunch. The program in the prison was scheduled to begin around 2PM. The inmates are headed by Krishna Kirtan Prabhu a former Mormon who has taken to Kṛṣṇa Consciousness like a bird takes to flight. He is always enthusiastic to preach Kṛṣṇa Consciousness to his fellow inmates. On Janmastami the devotees arranged a showing of the movie “Hare Krishna! The Mantra, the movement and the Swami who started it.” Approximately 60 inmates came for the showing and it was reported to have been very well received and greatly appreciated. The movie resulted in an increase in the amount of inmates coming to the regular jail programs.

My host drives me to the prison located about 25 miles from their home and left. Greeted by the desk-in-charge I am told the Chaplain will come and personally to escort me to the program. As I waiting I begin to look for my personal ID. To my chagrin I am unable to locate it. Then I understood “O! NO!” it was left at the house and not having the contact # of my host I sank into despair thinking how disappointed the inmates will be. Jail rules are strict across the board and no one enters without personal ID even the prison staff members must always carry their ID.

What to do? All I could think was Kṛṣṇa please save the situation and somehow get me in to do the program. Soon Chaplain Houston arrived and with a big smile welcomes me with a handshake very happy I could come. In my mind I chanting the Hare Kṛṣṇa and praying I hope they don’t ask for my ID. After a brief conversation the Chaplain escorts me through the metal detector and now I’m on the inside. So-far-so-good-thank you Kṛṣṇa. As we are about to enter the inner chambers of the prison to meet the inmates the thought comes I must seriously take shelter of Kṛṣṇa and as soon as I thought like that Chaplain Houston remarked; O yes, by the way we need to see your ID. “Kṛṣṇa what happened!”

I responded not by saying I forgot but acted like I didn’t know I should bring it. Chaplain Houston is calm and says wait here until I return. I am waiting, chanting with full attention. Time seemed to stop and all the while I’m thinking how I’ll be able to explain my stupidity of forgetting my ID to Krishna Kirtan.

Twenty minutes passed and the Chaplain returns with a camera and takes my picture again and disappears. Things are looking better. Soon he returns with two big pieces of paper with my photo name included which he put together on the spot this now becomes my ID. A little more official but still friendly the Chaplain explains that only the prison Warden could allow me to enter in this situation but what’s amazing is that very rarely is he in his offices at this time but today he was. Thank you! Kṛṣṇa. I understood that Kṛṣṇa always helps his devotees but at times He does it in a way that we lest expect.

As Chaplain Houston and I are walking to the room where the program is to be held I’m feeling a great sense of relief that now I can offer service to the devotees and simultaneously very much appreciating how favorable and supportive Chaplain Houston is making sure the inmates are having their scheduled program.
Soon we are at the area where the program is to be held. Then one by one the devotees lead by Krishna Kirtan to come greet me, 5 in number each one offering obeisances. I am surprised and yet very happy to observe such wonderful Vaisnava etiquette. For many years by God-brother Sarva Drik Prabhu has cultivated Krishna Kirtan and held regular scheduled programs driving an average of 4 hours each way to perform a program. The results are laudable as now there are 9 inmates holding regular program twice weekly.

As I enter the room immediately my attention goes to quite large and nicely arranged altar with porcelain deities of Gaur Nitai, Radha Kṛṣṇa and Lord Nrsimhadeva standing about 6 inches high and a smaller deity of Srila Prabhupada. Sitting in the front of the altar is fairly larger sized deity of Ganesh with flowers and plants adorning every area of the altar. After offering obeisances I’m offered a place for sitting as Krishna Kirtan introduces each inmate. My last visit 13 months ago there was 5 steadily practicing inmates now it’s up to 9 regulars. Other inmates came just for the program as these programs are open for anyone who wants to attend.

The program begins with Krishna Kirtan offering a greeting by performing Kirtan. He leads the singing on his guitar alongside is a fairly good mrdanga player. The Kirtan is upbeat yet filled with devotion.
Next I requested to speak on how I came to Krishna Consciousness as this topic is always interesting to new people. Mixing in the philosophy along with my personal experience the inmates are intently listening. My 40 min. talk was followed by a few nicely presented questions along with a discussion with the inmates on their daily practice of Kṛṣṇa Consciousness. We loss a little of the time allotted because of the delay in getting in yet the program went very well. Some of the inmates had previously arranged for a camera person to take photos as most wanted individual photos along with some group shots. The inmates pay in advance for this service and they all were very enthusiastic about the picture taking. The altar is taken down repacked and kept in storage for their next program.

All glories to His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada, whose compassion flows everywhere, flooding into the iron prisons of the world!

ACCOMPANYING PICTURE:
Picture from a previous visit to Petersburg— Upper middle is Candramauli Swami. To the right is Krishna Kirtan. To the left is unknown. Bottom row left is Bhakta Lewis, center Bhakta Joshua, and on the right is Bhakta Tom.
[Notice part of the altar on the right, with Lord Nityananda]

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NOTE:
This article is only a part of IPM NEWS, our bi-monthly electronic newsletter. To read whole issues, please go to: skconprisonministry.org
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More excerpts of inmate letters and also their artwork are available on our website at: iskconprisonministry.org

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