An award as a Volunteer of the Year at Lowell CI

The dance of a volunteer in state or federal prisons is like moving through a three dimensional Matrix. First your programs have to relevant to the inmates you serve. Second is that they have to be relevant and approved by the staff at the prison. Complicating the issue is that you are required to abide by and enforce the rules of the prison. Yet, if you don’t enforce and abide by rules termination is immediate and there is no court of appeal. However, by the same taken you become a rule enforcer and the inmates you serve will not attend the programs you present.<

Regardless of the number in attendance, it boils down to doing the best you can to reach one person at a time.

My experience is that if your programs have value to the inmates and they appreciate your efforts then they will become a self-enforcing group correcting those that stray. I have always been honest with the inmates and never promised to deliver what was not mine to deliver. The secular programs reach somewhere between 300 and 400 inmates a year. There is precious little advertising and they get nothing other than a certificate of attendance.

The most telling aspect of prison programs is that if I stay with Zen in the chapel then I will get maybe 10 or 15 inmates a program out of an inmate population of maybe 1,250 inmates. However, if I teach secular medication in the format of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction and the inward journey then I will get about 100 inmates out of the main unit and annex. Also, they will join the five day retreats and sit all day in stillness and silence. Never in the 15 years as a volunteer has there been an incident where my safety was in question or was there a confrontational incident with the staff or inmates.

Lowell volunteer of year

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