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I grew up in a small county in Southern Tennessee, near Memphis called Atoka. In our home there were pretty much no rules. Since I can remember my mother was very ill; she had congestive heart failure and I remember the day the doctor told her that she had kidney failure and would need to start dialysis. I remember it being really rough on her. She took a lot of prescription pills, Xanax, pain pills and smoked weed daily. I remember sneaking into her purse and stealing pain pills and Xanax by the time I was fourteen or so. I also started smoking pot and hanging out with my big brother and all his rowdy friends. I looked up to him and thought he and his friends were cool; they were all hippies and I would tag along to go to Grateful Dead concerts. I loved the energy there and the love everyone showed to each other but I also loved the LSD and pot and over indulged often. I was basically living an hedonistic lifestyle and as the years passed by stoned, depression came often and my soul was suffering badly. I just knew I was meant for something much greater, and I knew I was yearning for a relationship with God. My mom passed away in 2011 and I was strung up on pain pills and NOT there for her and the rest of my family like I should have been. Soon after her transmigration, I moved to Kentucky to live and work with my aunt. I was still smoking weed every day and started to use heroin; in no time at all I was put out of my aunt’s house and ended up on the streets, literally sleeping in parks and abandoned houses in the rough West End of Louisville. I remember, many times, on the street, behind a dumpster or in a dark alley, literally falling to my knees and begging God to save my soul. I was out of my correct position and the wear and tear was beginning to be too much for me, I surrendered to God and asked that His will be done in my life.

But then I would take go back again [to my addictions], with small periods of detox, sobriety, and then relapse. This occurred over and over for years. I got so badly addicted to heroin that I started stealing, I got caught and put on house arrest, I ran and got charged with escape. I got another chance and was sent to a Christian faith based program but again was attracted by sense pleasure and left only two weeks after having arrived there. I was caught four months later and sent to prison.

Sobriety and structure came into my life pretty much for the first time in a very long time. I started to pray many times each day, what is known in recovery as “The Third step Prayer”:
“God I offer myself to Thee, to build with me and do with me as Thy will, relieve me of the bondage of self so that I may better do Thy will; take away my difficulties so that victory over them may bear witness to Thy power, Thy love, and Thy way of life, may I do Thy will always.” This prayer dramatically changed my life and has become a powerful mantra for me I continue to pray it many times each day. So for me the act of surrendering to Kṛṣṇa is very important.

I started to read a lot of esoterica and a lot of books which, at the end of the day, were just pointless philosophical speculation on the Supreme Truth. I read “Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda.” But I was still left with so many questions. I attended the Christian services and praised God, but the Bible just didn’t satisfy my intellect. I continued to ask God to carry out His will in my body and one day my cell-mate got a copy of the Bhagavad Gita As It Is and it just sat on his shelf for like two weeks until I picked it up one day and started to read and WOW; I thought, ‘now THIS is what I have been seeking, Sanatana dharma, the eternal religion.’

I literally have NOT put it down since then which has been one year ago this month. I randomly picked out a couple of ISKCON centers to write, seeking a teacher to help me learn and I got a letter from Toledo Ohio, from a devotee, Candrasekhara dasa.
I scrubbed my little night stand until it was very clean and constructed an altar. I made nice picture frames out of toilet paper dipped in dark coffee to give it a dark brown look and then hand-molded it to appear as natural wood. I now prepare my prasadam here and offer it first to Srila Prabhupada and Sri Radha and Kṛṣṇa before eating. I took up the four regulative principles and started chanting; I cut up a bunch of pencils and hollowed the centers out to make beads, I strung 108 of these beads on a string and made my japa beads. I received more books; it seems that just the right one comes when I need it, including a Vaisnava calendar with beautiful pictures on each month! 

Now that I am developing a higher taste and a genuine eagerness to engage in devotional service to Kṛṣṇa, I am constantly happy and though I am physically here in prison, my mind, intelligence and ego are fixed on Kṛṣṇa so I’m not affected as much by external material circumstances. Sanatana-dharma has transformed my life in a powerful way and has enhanced every aspect of my life. Here, in my “prison ashram”, I have had many realizations and I feel more fit than ever to return to the community.

This has been just a very short version of my transformation; I could go on writing for a hundred more pages for I never grow tired of conversing about Kṛṣṇa. It doesn’t happen here often but when I find one whom to converse with about Kṛṣṇa it brings me MORE pleasure than ALL the recreation in this world!



Well, the ol’ China Virus has finally hit Petersburg-Medium [in Virginia]. Staff infected forty inmates in the drug unit (E-N) and it spread to the adjoining unit E-S. After a two week prison wide quarantine, cooler executive staff heads prevailed and instead of leaving the entire prison locked down, they only kept the infected units locked down so needless to say, ours is back to the old "modified" operations. This last lockdown, the DAY AFTER it happened, I received two more books [from you], and they certainly helped. In SPITE of the mudha cellie, I amped up my chanting to 24 rounds per day—about 3.5 hours, more Gita reading, Teachings of Lord Caitanya and our dear sweet wonderful [Lord] Gopala reciprocated by moving me to a NEW cell with a MUCH more receptive cellmate (a pagan-but very amenable to Bhakti lessons) and MUCH better cell!. Our Lord is SO KIND, so sweet. He loves His devotees so much. I was so touched by His concern. We are so incredibly blessed to have His name to chant, to have Lord Caitanya's sankirtan movement to propagate. We are SO blessed. Anyway, Prabhuji, as you can see, I'm feeling particularly transcendental and just needed to share these things with you. Your servant,
Krishna Kirtan das
Petersburg, Virginia

[The excerpt below is from a Spanish inmate]
My aunt in Puerto Rico said thank you so much for the books you are the best Ms. Bhakti Lata dasi. I cry when my aunt told me that you send her those Beautiful books she promess to me that she going to read them Krishna have something very special with you ,you are a life changer you been bringing light in my darkness , hope and faith threw your true unconditional love Thank you ,thank you ,thank you Hare Krishna. 
Thank you so much for your time and Mr. Charles and Jonathan said thank you so much. Ms. Rosana [a devotee in Puerto Rico] is doing a great job writing to me. [Rosana is also in contact with his mom, two aunts and sister]. She is a great lady. My sister is reading the Gita and my mom chant. So Beautiful. She is teaching my daughter. Is my dream coming true; this is what I want for my love ones, thank you so much Ms. Bhakti lata dasi and yes I chant every day. [Chanting] is my life, is my energy, is more important than food or anything in this planet. First thing when I open my eyes in the morning, I need to wash my teeth and chant to my father Krishna, my everything and that's my life Hare Krishna!
Eloy M.
Monticello, Florida

I started KṚṢṆA book, volume one. I’m three chapters into it. It makes me joyful just to have the privilege of reading about Sri Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes. I
love to just do things for Kṛṣṇa without expecting anything in return. When I chant the maha-mantra, I chant to different tunes. One of my favorites is in George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord; I love the Sri Sri Radha KṚṢṆA Temple album. People stop me quite frequently and tell me I’ve improved so much during my time of imprisonment. I haven’t said I need to do this this and that to get better; I’ve just said Hare KṚṢṆA Hare Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa Hare Hare; Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare and I’ve read the books; Bhagavad-gita, Sri Isopanisad and now the Kṛṣṇa Book; all the literature that looks for ways to praise and serve Him.
Guys have begun to come to me for advice; Christians, Muslims, and others; so I tell them give me time to pray and I ask Kṛṣṇa to help me. I look to the Bhagavad-gita, and Prabhupada’s books. One of these guys is a leader in a program; he came to me and told me a big part of why he has been able to succeed in leadership is the guidance I’ve given him.
You asked about my flashcards; I write Bhagavad-gita verses and purports on them and find a word that describes the verse and I memorize. I meditate on the truths and quote them day and night and I feel Kṛṣṇa’s power, strength and love. My flash cards are neat. I even have one to help others work with each other on memorizing the Maha Mantra. Some people have trouble memorizing anything, so these help.
I have PTSD and anxiety, which current med is working well. I’m stable, on minimal meds. I have stopped three meds since coming to Krishna Consciousness. Kṛṣṇa is the best medicine. I’m slowly healing emotionally; more and more daily.
David R.
Pine Bluff, Arkansas

I have read all these books and have gained insight on many things. The first thing I learned was from the Bhagavad-Gītā and who Krishna was in the Scripture. Krishna was more than what some people outside of the folks of Vedic Knowledge might say. I learned that Krishna is so loving and merciful to His devotees that his mercy is infinite. I also learned that there is no reason to feel sorry for the living or the dead, for it is said in the Bhagavad-Gītā 2:11. Life and death are not worthy to lament over. The words of Sri Krishna explain this so beautifully. I was always blind to the concept of reincarnation. I never realized how much reincarnation (as well as karma) explains so much about the world.
So, I have made the decision to accept a spiritual master, to study the Vedas, and to accept Krishna Consciousness in my life! I truly wish to receive as much spiritual knowledge as possible. The Gauḍīya Vaisnava school has impressed me and touched me so much that I must learn more about it. I want to become a sincere devotee of Krishna… Please help me! Thank you.
James B.
Ridgeville, South Carolina

[The drawing accompanying this article is from inmate Bhakta Andy, from Petersburg, Virginia]

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ISKCON Prison Ministry
PO Box 2676
Alachua, FL 32616