Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Become Penpal - Reasons to Become a Devotional Pen Pal

Become Penpal - Reasons to Become a Devotional Pen Pal

Jay Shri Radhe! Welcome to my cell block. You can call me X28. You see, when you are here on the inside, your number is as important as your name. Well, I am glad you are here. Thanks for stopping by to see me. Your timing is perfect. You got here at one of the most important times of the day for us inmates. At least for some of us anyway.

You look at a little bit nervous. Relax. Most of these guys are harmless. Just don't try to turn the channel on the T.V.

Okay now, follow me. I want to take you out into the day room. It is almost time for the mail call. Before the officer starts calling out the names of the guys who got mail today, I'd like you to meet a few of the guys that I live with.

You see the guy standing right up' front, there, right by the officer, the one with the ring of pure white hair? Yeah, that's him, inmate Money. Every day at mail call, you will find him posted up right there. And he always gets there early because he knows that he gets mail almost every single day. Let's move on. They turned down the sound of the T.V. so it is almost time. We will get back to inmate Money in a few minutes.

There are enough bunks in this dorm for about 90 guys, and it usually stays pretty close to full, but if you look around you'll only find about 40 or 50 guys who have migrated to the day room for mail call. And why is that, you might ask. You see, the other 40 or 50 guys never get any mail. Let us get back to them in a minute as well.

Now, the guy over there by the window, the smiling guy with the cane, that's inmate Family. He always shows up in plenty of time too. It's more likely than not that he will be getting some mail as well.

Most of all these other guys, well, they sort of fall everywhere in between inmate Money and the guys who never show up. Sometimes, they get mail and sometimes they don't, every mail call is at least a chance to have a few minutes of hope.

See the short guy by the water fountain, yeah him. That's inmate Newspaper. You will hear his name called out and he will pick up his copy of his home town news.
Shhh! Listen up..It's time for mail call.

Jones! Here Sir. - Jiva! Here Sir. - Smith! Here Sir. Ajamila!.. Ajamila!... Sir, he went to sick call this morning and never came back. I think they may have put him in the hospital. -Henderick Hendricks 29! - That's me Sir. - How the hell do you pronounce your name? - Headricks Sir. - Headricks? Well, you need to tell your people to learn how to write. Hall! - Here Sir. - Maya! Maya! - He's in the shower Sir. -That figures. He seems like he's always lost. Money! - Here Sir - Money! - Here Sir - X28 - Here Sir - Family! - Here Sir - Newspaper - Here Sir - Bible - Here Sir - Winkin! - Here Sir - Blinkin! - Here Sir -Nye! - Hey Nye, you better get down here. Somebody loves you! - Family! - Here Sir - Name, Name, Name, etc. Okay guys, that it. Hey Kamsa, nobody loves you! -Oh Shut up. I didn't hear your name either Ravana.

So that is mail call. It only lasts a few minutes but it can sure make a big difference in an inmate's day. See Winkin and Blinkin over there? They're cousins who got special permission to be housed together. See how happy they are. They always read each other's letters.

Everyone who got mail today is happy, although some more than others, as well see in a minute. Now the guys who did not get mail, well, some of them are okay, maybe they'll just be content thinking they will get some tomorrow or the next day. But the guys who never ever come to the day room, most of them have already taught themselves to be so cold to the world that they actually believe that they don't care about the fact that they never get any mail. But I will tell you what, that cold shell is pretty thin on a lot of these guys. If the truth were known, it would be that they would love to be in that day room with a chance to say "Here Sir", when they would hear their name called out. Oh, and by the way, they don't just stay in their rooms because of the fact that no mail is coming. There is another reason as well. It's that one little biting comment that old Ravana threw out, "Nobody loves you". You may think that because we are all grown men, and "hardened criminals" at that, we'd be immune to that type of comment, especially when you know someone is going to use it most every day, but we're not.

As a matter of fact, I want to you to look out into the day room right now. See those three guys over there starting their card game back up, and two in the front row of the T.V. benches? Why do you think they have got such prime seats to go to? Didn't you notice those card hands were dealt and half-played? All five of those guys got up and left the day room just before mail call. They are all, "never get a letter" guys, and they have heard, "Nobody loves you" one too many times, so they flee mail call like sins flee the heart when you clap during kirtana. The "Nobody loves you" pill is a pretty tough one to swallow, and guys like Kamsa and Ravana have no qualms about using it to hit a guy where it hurts it most, right in the heart.

I know you probably didn't notice this. I missed it myself for a long time, and I think one of the reasons Ravana pitched the poison pill to Kamsa was because there is a moment or two, right after the officer says, "Okay guys, that's it!", that you can almost hear a feather fall. It is a very somber moment. Most guys whose names don't get called are just staring at the ground because they don't want to make eye contact with anyone.

Hey, take a look over there for me. See inmate Money. You heard his name a couple of times, but, if you notice, there is no real smile on his face. Do you want to know why? Magazines. That is what he gets, magazines, day after day after day. He once told me that he's ordered enough magazines to practically ensure getting one every day. But I have never seen him get a letter, ever.

Now Family, he gets letters. Letters from his wife, letters from his brother, letters from his children, and last week he was so proud to show off a letter that he got from his first grandson. It was the first letter that little Family, the third, had even written. And you should see him at Christmas time! Of course, as devotees, we are lucky enough to understand that even these types of letters, which are based on false identification related to the body, cannot lead to real happiness. When Family leaves his body, all those "family members" will disappear like a dream upon awakening.

What do you think happened to the "never a letter" guys? The "never hear their name called" guys? Well, each of him has his own story, though, over the years, you'd be surprised how many of the stories seem the same. - Some are simple and just plain sad. "All I had was my wife. But I have been locked up for 17 years and she passed on back in 2000" - Some are horrible. " I was high on PCP and I shot my own son. No one has ever come to visit me, written to me, or sent me any money since the day I was arrested". - But most of them are more benign, they go something like this. "When I first came to prison, my friends would write, or come out to visit me sometimes, but, well, I guess they have got new friends by now. And my wife, it was just too hard on her to stay married to me. I mean we couldn't ever be together, I couldn't help her with the bills, so after I'd been down a few years, she divorced me. My kids, they were all pretty sore at me for having been locked up. I mean, losing their dad and all. I did hear from another inmate, whose daughter knows my son, that my son's got kids of his own now, so, well, I guess he's probably busy with them."

Those are the kind of things most guys have to think about every day at mail call. It's no wonder that they hide in their rooms. Oh, but wait, I forgot to tell you about what Bible and I got in the mail. I used to be Bible's roommate, so I know a little bit about his story. He's only got one brother left alive, and he doesn't write, except maybe sends a Christmas card. But once a month, Bible gets his scripture correspondence course, and I will tell you what, he loves getting that course. He breaks out his scripture and he studies that course until he's filled in every answer. One day he showed me a folder he had that was full of certificates from the different courses he has completed over the years. Bible's kind of quiet, he doesn't really have many friends, but he has got his courses, his Sunday church service and an evangelism class on Thursday afternoons, and, well, he seems to be pretty peaceful, I might even say a pretty happy guy. Especially in comparison to most of the guys I know who center their thoughts around regrets, now get this, not regrets about what they did to put them in prison, but regrets about all the sense gratification they are missing out on.

I'm really sorry, that up till now, your visit has been a mostly depressing one. I mean Bible's story, and Family's letters being the only real exceptions. But let's leave all that behind now. Let me tell you about what I got in the mail.

It was a letter from my spiritual pen pal, Keshava Dasa. He is a disciple of Shrila Gurudeva that I met through the prison program. The letters he sends me are like pieces of immeasurable wealth in an envelope. He sends me nice, thoughtful, mercy filled personal letters of encouragement that have led to our developing of a very nice friendship. He also sends me lectures from Shrila Gurudeva that he prints from the internet. Some of these pertain to specific questions that I have asked and some are just ones he chooses, like he sent me lectures about the month of Purushottama when it arrived, so that I could honor it. He's also there to answer my questions, no matter how deep or how trivial they may be. I might ask him a thoughtful question like, "What is meant by ‘offering the fruits of one's acts to Krishna', when the Bhagavad Gita is discussing Nishkaama-Karma-Yoga? Or it may be something as simple as "What does didi mean when it is used in place of dasi?". No matter what I ask, he answers, even if he has to ask someone else or look up the answer himself, and when that happens, he also learns something by being my devotional pen pal. He also sent me a copy of Jaiva Dharma and he told me how Srila Gurudeva said we should read it 108 times. Well, I have got 106 and a half to go. I can tell by every single thing he has ever done for me that he's a friend in the highest sense of the word. He is clearly dedicated to helping me understand the highest tattvas.

In today's mail, I got a nice letter where he sent me some information about the meaning of “Shri" and "Shrila". He also copied an excellent Sanskrit pronunciation guide from the back of Shrila Gurudeva's "Shri Gaudiya Giti Guccha" song book. I know this took some extra effort on his part, but that is the kind of great devotee he is. You see, I had found some various pronunciations in some of the books I had and since Jaiva Dharma had no pronunciation guide, I asked him about a couple of specific pronunciations. Instead of just answering my question, he found this guide, copied it and sent it to me, so now I have the full guide. Yeah Keshava Dasa! He also knows that one of my favorite topics is transcendental lobha' (greed), so he sent me a recent posting from Bhagavat Maharaj on that very subject. Of course, I'm a little prejudicial in saying this, but I really don't think there's any doubt as to who was the most blessed at the mail call today.

So, now that I have taken you along with me to a prison mail call, and tried to help you understand why it's such an important time for an inmate, let's see what I can do to convince you to become a devotional pen pal.

If, after reading this entire presentation, you are still undecided about becoming a pen pal, then I ask you to read a couple of other things that we have posted. One is a piece called "The History of Prison Preaching in Gaudiya Vaishnavism" This piece discusses the first Gaudiya Vaishnava prison preacher, Namaacarya Haridas Thakur, who preached to his fellow inmates during his time of incarceration. It also tells how Shrila A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaja was preaching in a prison in India even before he came to the West and how he saw great potential there. It also talks about how his disciples have had a prison ministry for many years that is an ongoing, expanding part of ISKCON and which has had some great successes, not only in establishing on site programs but in producing initiated devotees as well.

The second thing I would recommend you to do is to is to go to the "Lessons - The Journey to Prema" section of this site and to read at least the first two lessons. The lessons will show you something of the nature of the course, we will be sending the inmates that you correspond with, and it will also allow you to see how we are encouraging the inmates to requests pen pals. We ask them to do this for several reasons. We want them to have someone to answer any questions they may have as they take the course in the science of Bhakti Yoga. But we also explain to them the importance of sadhu-sanga and receiving the instructions of Guru Parampara.

Every inmate who signs up for these lessons deserves a devotional pen pal. Since you will have total access to all the lessons they receive, you will be able to know exactly where they are in their knowledge of Bhakti Yoga. In that way you will be able to communicate with them in a way consistent with what they have learned.

Actually this is one of the most important reasons that these inmates need a pen pal. Some inmates may come to this course with both, an excellent education and a solid background in some aspect(s) of Bhakti Yoga, whether it be meditation, devotional sentiment, exposure to other Bhakti Yoga books, etc. For those inmates the course we are sending them may move too slowly. A good pen pal could then, perhaps, send them a more advanced book, like Jaiva Dharma, and build the teaching side of their pen pal relationship on that text rather than on the lessons.

I have helped design the lessons and they are based in part on my prison preaching experiences. These experiences have shown me that, with most inmates, slow and steady wins the race. But a pen pal will be able to judge each inmates adaptability and level of advancement for themselves, and thus lead them in a much more individualized manner than could ever be accomplished through a one size fits all course.

A nice Vaishnava pen pal can help the inmate study the course by posing questions to them, based on the lessons, that will cause the inmate to review, reflect and absorb the teachings. Once an inmate begins to study the course, his devotion is sure to increase, especially if he not only studies the lessons, but follows the suggested practices as well. Your encouragement, and your own stories, personal stories, of what Bhakti Yoga has done for your life will help inmates believe that the process really works, in the real world and not just on paper.

In the upcoming "Suggestions" section, you will find ideas about how you can form a strong, friendly relationship with a pen pal. I also helped to write that section because I've seen a lot of inmates who try to build relationships with people with the sole intention of getting over on them ( taking advantage) and I'll give you some warnings and insights of what to look out for. I've also written to many different pen pals over the years and, since becoming involved in this project, I've spoken to other inmates about pen pal experiences they've had, so I'll try to draw on all that in the "Suggestions" section.

Becoming a spiritual pen pal is a great opportunity to work on your preaching skills. I believe that preaching is a Gaudiya Vaishnava's most important responsibility and I base this opinion on two statements; one by Lord Caitanya, as it is interpreted by Shrila Gurudeva, and one by Lord Krishna. I feel that if you just take these two statements alone into your heart, then you will realize that becoming a devotional pen pal us something that the Lord has instructed you to do.

When I give these quotes or "preach about preaching" I am not trying to establish myself as someone who has "seen the light" and who is therefore trying to light a path for others. I am a fool, I am as fallen as fallen can be. My only qualification in quoting these types of statements is that I do just that; I quote them. I will not try to interpret them. I will let the Lord speak for Himself and I will hope that His words reach your heart, for the sake of all the inmates who need a pen pal.
Lord Caitanya has told us, "Kali Kale dharma - Hari Nama Sankirtana". While Sankirtana is often translated as "chanting", Shrila Gurudeva has told us that it means "to preach". He has also told us that the entire aim and object of the Gaudiya Vaishnava parampara is to preach. It is our duty, our dharma, to preach, and becoming an inmate's spiritual pen pal is a very easy way to be involved in the preaching process.

I have personally witnessed that inmates can be very inspired by their relationships with spiritual pen pals. Inmates that I had preached to, and who were then transferred to other institutions, connected with pen pals through the ISKCON prison ministry. Over the years, I have read many letters from these inmates expressing their extreme gratitude to their pen pals.
I have also had devotees tell me how much they enjoyed being devotional pen pals and that they found it to be a very rewarding experience.

Along with translating "sankirtana" as preaching, Shrila Gurudeva has also told us that he wanted all of his disciples to become gurus, not necessarily initiating gurus, but shiksa gurus, and this was Lord Caitanya's instruction as well. We inmates need instructing gurus and as disciples of Shrila Gurudeva and followers of Lord Caitanya, I believe you are duty bound to fulfill this role.

The quote from Lord Krishna that I mentioned earlier is one that should cause you to raise your hands, jump up and down and yell "Pick me, Pick me, Pick me!" when a volunteer to preach is sought. In his closing instructions to Arjuna in the Bhagavat Gita, Shri Krishna tell us, "No one in human society is more dear to Me that one who explains this message of Gita to others, nor will there be anyone more dear to me than him". Now, that's some pretty powerful stuff. NO ONE will ever be more dear. If we are wise, we'll sign up for that job real quick.

Now, this is sort of my own angle of vision on this statement, but I want you to ask yourself, who is most dear to Shri Krishna? What is the ultimate goal of a Gaudiya Vaishava? Who, amongst the many servants in Goloka are we most interested in becoming? Are not the Gopis most dear to Shri Krishna? Is it not our goal to follow in their footsteps and to ultimately become one of them? Were not most of the greatest of Gaudiya Vaishnava preachers manifestations, or at least partial manifestations of Gopis? Even Lord Nityananda was a manifestation of both Lord Balarama and Ananga Manjari. So, it's my angle of vision that that is one of the hidden messages of this instruction of Lord Krishna. If we want to be amongst the gopis, amongst those who are most dear to him, we must be preachers, as are the Gopis when they manifest themselves in Kali Yuga. This is just my own personal reason why I think you should become a devotional pen pal.

Another reason to become a devotion pen pal is one that may surprise many of you. The hearts of many inmates are actually very fertile, well tilled fields that are very conducive places to plant the seed of bhakti. Many inmates have come to prison after reaching a very low point in their lives. I spoke of those whose friends and family drifted away while they were incarcerated, but there are also many who drove them away and burned their bridges, before they ever got here.

Even amidst the crowded conditions and the hubbub, the loud T.V. and the even louder screaming sports fan, prison can be a lonely, quiet place. An inmate has lot of time to think. Many come to realize that the way they were living their life is just not going to work anymore. This is especially true for those, who have come to prison for the first time. Many were living lives either filled with or entirely centered around drugs, money, violence, and sexual excesses, and even though they may miss this to some degree, many also come to realize that these were among the very things that lead them to prison. They begin to understand that the time has come where they must make changes in their lives. Some become aware of the fact that if they don't make changes while they are in prison, then there is every likelihood that they will go back to the same destructive lifestyle as soon as they are released. For these inmates, it often means facing the fact that they have come to a point in their lives where they have only two choices, change or else…

When an inmate reaches this crossroad, they often start looking for answers. These are the type of inmates who are willing to look outside the box of belief systems they were raised with to see if they can find a way of life, or a way of looking at the world that will change their view drastically enough to allow them to get beyond the limited way they've seen things and interpreted life in the past. These are the inmates that find themselves going through prisoners' resource directories look for an ad that catches their eye, an address to write to, to see if maybe there are people who are ahead of life's game in the ways that really matter.

The bhakti-yoga prison project has ads in just those kind of directories, and when an inmate goes as far as to spend a stamp, to write a letter to us, we have a duty to do all we can to respond. We at the prison program are going to do all we can to be the first response team. We'll send out a letter right away with the first lesson from the course and a questionnaire, and we will offer and encourage the inmate to request a devotional pen pal. It is when they make that request that we will need your assistance. We'll continue to provide lessons and, as they progress, we'll work a book or two into the program, but we still need your help. You see, we need to do house calls to make sure that the inmates are progressing nicely on their road to recovery, on their Journey to Prema, and your letters will be those house calls.

Our lessons will be generically addressed, "Dear servant of God" whereas your letters will be personal "Dear Bhakta Mark", "Bhakta Mary, blessings to you". We need you to provide the kind of friendly loving care provided by the small town doctor who knew every patient by their first name. The inmates need someone who they know and trust. We need you, they need you. Won't you please join our team?

Let's go back to mail call again; you remember it, don't you? Well, here's something to think about. The next time inmate Jiva hears his name and somebody yells out "Hey Jiva, somebody loves you", what if that letter was from you? If that letter came from a devotional pen pal, then that other inmate would have been more right than he could have ever imagined. Not only will that letter contain your love and mercy, but you will also be sending the love of Shrila Gurudeva, Shri Shri Guru and Gauranga, Rupa Goswami/Manjari, Lalita, Vishakha, Lord Krishna and last, but definitely not the least, Shrimati Radhika. And you can send them all that for less than it costs to do a load of laundry.
Vasanti didi, a discple of Shrila Gurudeva, is the person who inspired me to start writing for the prison program. She is also the devotee who connected me with my spiritual pen pal. I feel I owe her and Keshava dasa a great debt of thanks for being involved in this program and it is out of my dedication to them that I have decided to do all that I can to make it a successful program. I also feel an enormous sense of gratitude to Shrila Gurudeva for giving lectures and writing books that speak to my heart. I want to help deliver the most dynamic and merciful prison program in existence to His lotus feet.

We inmates need your mercy. Most inmates are deeply buried under mountains of negative samskaras. In order to uncover their storehouse of prema, they will need your assistance. Many have committed heinous crimes or have lived lives so full of less serious crimes that they have long lists of karmic debts to face, should they fail to receive some kripa shakti in this life. But these difficulties they face should not dissuade us from preaching to them.

I once read a posting on a web site by a devotee who said that at one time he had concerns that preaching to inmates might not be a wise use of resources, and one of the points that he gave to support this concern was that he could not see what benefit these prisoners could be to Shrila Gurudeva's movement. He went on to say that he had now come to see that the prison program is a valid mission and that he was going to support it, but I still wanted to point out his original concerns in case any of you feel this way.

These last three concerns, the fallen nature of the inmates, their long list of sins, and the worry that using resources to preach to them would be unwise since they could not contribute to Gurudeva's movement can all be laid to rest. For anyone who has these concerns, I offer these reasons to put them aside.

We inmates are fallen, but that does not disqualify us in any way. Lord Caitanya specifically stated that he came to deliver the most fallen souls. Anyone who has lived amongst inmates and who understands that term, would have no trouble confirming for you that many of this world's most fallen are here in the prison systems. Just think of Jagai and Madhai.

In Shri Caitanya Bhagavata, it tells how Lord Yamaraja came to witness Lord Caitanya's deliverance of these two criminals. When Lord Yamaraja inquired of the sins they had committed, his scribe told him that the list of their sins had to be kept in bottomless pits, and that his workers broke down and wept trying to keep track of them. When Lord Yamaraja heard this and realized that these sins were being absolved by Lord Caitanya's mercy, he went into such a trance of ecstatic love (prema) that he became unconscious.

Few inmates are as highly qualified as those two rascals were to receive the Lord's mercy, but I think you get the point. Our past surely doesn't disqualify us, don't you agree?

Similarly, the fact that many inmates will face grim consequences if they fail to reform or get some mercy before they pass, is actually more of an impetus to preach than a reason to believe that these efforts would have been better spent elsewhere. Let's picture the fallen soul drowning in the ocean of material miseries. The fact that an inmate has sent an enquiry to the prison program, asking for a devotional pen pal, is proof that he is looking for a way out of this ocean. It is as though he has somehow struggled his way to the surface, at least for a moment, and he's used that opportunity to call out for help. He's struggling there, reaching out, hoping somebody will come along to save him. We at the prison program will do all we can to save him; by sending him the bhakti yoga course, we hope to grab one of his hands and begin to pull him to safety. What we are asking you to do is grab the other hand, securing our grip on his soul. If he slips away, if we fail to save him, if he falls back again into the material ocean and goes back under the waters, it may be millions and millions of births before he is able to live out the karma he has created by his crimes, and thus be able to again struggle to the surface where he can call out for deliverance. It is our duty as Gaudiya Vaishnavas, to do all we can to save every inmate who contacts our prison program and requests a spiritual pen pal. Don't you agree?

And finally, let me settle any concerns that you may have, that resources spent on preaching to prisoners would have been better spent elsewhere, because inmates may not be able to contribute to Gurudeva's movement. I think I can fully counter this concern by relying on the logic of, and thus paraphrasing, one of the most famous statements in American history. Ask not what an inmate can do for Shrila Gurudeva's movement. Ask what Shrila Gurudeva's movement can do for an inmate.
Well, I guess that's just about it. I hope that I have provided you with some convincing reasons to become a devotional pen pal. After I close, I am going to share a poem that I wrote with you. I love all of Shrila Gurudeva's disciples and Shrila Rupa Goswami has instructed me that one of the ways that I can share this love is by revealing my mind to them. So, this poem reveals both my mind and my heart's desire when it comes to preaching to the fallen souls. I am also sharing it with you as my final attempt to touch your heart and get you to volunteer, to grab an inmate's outstretched hand by becoming his devotional pen pal.

I thank you for staying with me, your time is appreciated. In the "Instructions" section, we will give you step by step procedures you need to follow to become a pen pal. Then we will close out this presentation by giving you some suggestions on things to try and things to avoid in establishing a good working relationship with an inmate. We hope to hear from you soon and to work with you in the future.

I pray that your minds be fixed on Shri Shri Radha Krishna. I pray that your hearts become so filled with the compassion of Shri Shri Guru and Gauranga that their mercy bursts out and flows down as the ink that you use to write to an inmate.

Thank you for reading my plea. I work on behalf of Vasanti didi, Shrila Gurudeva, that first Gaudiya Vaishnava prison preacher, Shrila Haridasa Thakura, and all the inmates who are reaching out for the mercy of Shri Caitanya.

I am, an inmate, who aspires to become a servant of the servants of Shri Gurudeva,

To Reach, To Teach, To Preach
- By Bhakta X28

The Vedas are filled with the truth, with knowledge pure and vast
With wisdom from the greatest souls, of all the ages past
Among those volumes, are the words, Krishna spoke to His friend
When on Arjuna's chariot, His advice he did lend
When Krishna spoke, He said these words, "Tac-chrunu - hear from Me"
He delivered the ripest fruits, upon the Vedic tree
He said that we should teach his words, to reach another soul
For that way we'll be dear to Him, and that should be our goal
One who explains His supreme secret, to a devotee
There is no servant in this world, more dear to Him than (s)he
With His instructions in my heart, I long to try to preach
To all the fallen souls I can, His tattvas I must teach
I long to follow in the steps, of those who went before
Like the great Bhakti Siddhanta who learnt from Gaura Kishora
The disciplic succession goes, in an unbroken line
And through the chain of gurus it reached Gurudeva in time
Late in life he came to the West, like the sun at day's end
His books became his medicine, so our hearts he could mend
His preaching was among the best, this world has even known
Now Lord Caitanya's mission grows, from the seeds he has sown
So I long to be dear to Him, and to Lord Krishna too
I want to reach, and teach, and preach, that's what I long to do
To reach as many as I can with the Maha Mantra
To preach about the glories of the Golden Gauranga
Now I have set my sights upon the target I must reach
Like the great Vaishnavas gone before, I 'll try to teach and preach
To reach as many as I can, to teach them of Krishna
To preach about the mercy of, the dancing Caitanya
So now as I lie down at night, I make plans in my head
of how I am going to teach and preach, knowing what Krishna said
One who explains His Gita's secret, to a devotee
There is no servant in this world, more dear to Him than (s)he

Become Penpal - Suggestions on Selecting an Inmate Pen Pal

Become Penpal - Suggestions on Selecting an Inmate Pen Pal

Ultimately, every single inmate who requests a spiritual pen pal is a good candidate for your selection. Lord Caitanya's standard was always to deliver the fruits of prema to anyone and everyone without considering who was qualified and who was not qualified. So, by this standard, all you need to do is pick any inmate on the list and go from there.

However, the reality of the matter is that we are not Lord Caitanya. We are fallen souls, and although some of us may have partially overcome the influenced of maya in our lives, the inmates that we will be preaching to will most likely, at least initially, be fully caught up in maya's illusions. Most devotees have at least come to the intellectual understanding that they are not their body, and that their sex, age, race, etc. have nothing to do with who they really are. But, we should be honest with ourselves as to how far we have come toward a full realization of our spiritual identity when we set out to select a pen pal. Maintaining an awareness of our own level of realization and understanding that most inmates are fully influenced by bodily designations will help us select a pen pal with whom we can be effective.

If you are able to totally transcend all bodily identifications at all times, then it will of course be easier for you to select a pen pal, for there will be no considerations of any type of bodily qualification. But if you are not at that level, just be honest with yourself and select accordingly.
Before we get into more specific types of suggestions, we just want to make it clear that everything in this section is exactly what we call it - suggestions. You are totally free to follow or disregard as many as you choose. For example, the first suggestion about awareness of your level and most inmates' level of bodily identification was, for those who didn't read between the lines, mostly referring to race and sex. If you know that you would feel more comfortable being a pen pal with a person of a given race or sex, then you might do well to select accordingly. If, however, you understand your weaknesses in that area, and you'd like to choose a pen pal that would challenge you to face those weaknesses, the pen pal forum might provide a great opportunity to do so.

With that being said, let’s discuss a bodily identification that is often extremely difficult to completely overcome, the person's sex. When you get to the point where you are reviewing inmate files in order to select a pen pal, you will find that one of the questions we asked was if the inmate had a preference as to the sex of his pen pal.

It was our inmate assistant, X28, who put this particular question on the questionnaire. So, we will turn this section over to him and let him explain why, from his own experiences. You will also hear from him about ways that you can use this preference of the inmate to improve the likelihood of effectively preaching to him. His ideas on this point did not meet with 100% approval of all members of the prison program team, but it was interesting enough, and had enough validity that we decided to allow it into this section. This was partly because of his experiences with inmates, which we all lacked, and also because again, these are only suggestions.

Hello again, X28 here. I suggested that the inmate's preference regarding the sex of his pen pal be included on the questionnaire because I know that the great majority of male inmates will request a female pen pal. Over the years, when I have told inmates that I have spiritual pen pals, the overwhelming number one response has been "Are they females? Can you get me one? If I tell them that they are not females their interest immediately lessens. If I tell them they may be able to get a female, depending on who is available, they will often ask for an address.

Of course, not all inmates will request a pen pal of the opposite sex. Some males may be taking the relationship to a more spiritual level from the outset and they may feel, based on their religious upbringing that spiritual guidance should come from a male. Some females may feel they can be more honest, or better connect with another female, but most will prefer a pen pal of the opposite sex.
So now, let’s talk about how this preference of the inmate might be dealt with in your selection of a pen pal. If, after looking at an inmate's file you think you are going to select him/her as a pen pal, and his preference matches the sex of your material body, then that's great, because believe me, it will matter to the inmate, even though as devotees it may not matter much to us.

But what if you find an inmate, who based on all the other suggestions we share for selecting a pen pal, as well as whatever criteria of your own you have come up with, seems like a perfect choice, but the inmate prefers a pen pal whose sex does not match your material body? Or what if all the inmates, or all the inmates you are willing to select, prefer a pen pal whose sex does not match your material body?

At that point, you have three choices: do not select a pen pal at all (bad choice), select a pen pal and let him know that your sex does not match what they preferred but that doesn't matter since we are not this body etc. (okay, but I guarantee they'll be disappointed and the relationship will most likely be off to a shaky start), or (some of you may have already guessed this next suggestion, and, of those of you who have, some of you may have totally rejected it as absurd). That's okay; it's only a suggestion. For those of you who don't see where I'm going, let me ask you a few questions.
Was Lord Caitanya a mayavadi? What lineage did he accept the sanyassi robe in? Why did he play the exterior role of a mayavadi if he was not one at heart?

I don't really want to answer that question here, at least not just yet, I think before you'll be able to grasp or agree with my somewhat outlandish suggestion, most of you might have to see it in scripture for yourself.
For the evidence to back up what I will propose, I refer you to Sri Caitanya Caritamrta Adi Lila, Chapter 7, with special focus on verse 25 through 38. But, for those of you who know where I'm going with this, or those of you who are familiar with these quotes, or those of you who don't have this text available, or those of you who just won't take the time to look these quotes up for yourself, I'll give you these quotes about Lord Caitanya in a nutshell. Then, I'll tell you how I think Lord Caitanya's behavior, and some other incidents of sastra as well, may justify my suggestion as to what to do when you can’t find a pen pal whose preference matches your material body or when this same problem arises relating to a pen pals profile that otherwise seems like a perfect fit for you.
Lord Caitanya was, of course, not a mayavadi, and yet, He accepted the sanyassi robe from a mayavadi lineage. And He did this for a very specifically stated reason.

Lord Caitanya, along with the rest of the Panca-tattva, had broken open the storehouse of prema and they were distributing its contents without discrimination. He wanted everyone to be immersed in the inundation of prema, but some had avoided His mercy. So what did He do? Srila Krishna das Kaviraja tells us that He thought as follows, "I shall devise a trick to drown them also. His wearing of the mayavadi sanyassi dress was nothing more than a disguise He wore, a trick He devised that allowed Him to catch up those who had avoided His net of mercy.

So what do you do if you can't seem to find an inmate whose preference as to the sex of his pen pal matches your material body? I suggest you trick him.
Raya Ramananda told Lord Caitanya that there is only one price we can pay for pure devotional service: lobha, greed to attain it. Sri Krishna says that to become most dear to Him, we should instruct the teachings of the Gita. We should be willing to take any type of chance or risk to preach. Real greed means that we do not consider obstacles.

Doesn't Krishna's friend Subala, His most secret message carrier, have to dress up as a gopi sometimes in order to get a message to Srimati Radhika? Doesn't Sri Krishna disguise Himself as a female at times in order to gain access to Srimati Radhika?

I know inmates very well, and if a male inmate said that he would prefer a female pen pal, he will be much more enlivened to write to that pen pal if he believes he is writing to a female. I guarantee that all the things you might have in common with them (age, religious background, being from the same area, etc.) will usually play second fiddle next to what sex they believe you to be.

In lesson four of the "Journey to Prema course the "you're not this body teaching will be fully discussed, and ultimately you will always be preaching this tattva to them. So what harm is there in keeping them interested in what you have to say? The mayavadis had previously ridiculed Lord Caitanya, but when they saw Him disguised as one of them, they invited Him in and took instruction from Him.

Their realization of "not this body" is not likely to be complete the first time they read lesson four. So, if they are attached to corresponding with a certain type of material body, do you think Lord Caitanya would be extremely upset if you played that role? Didn't Lord Caitanya followers dress up as females when performing plays for the Lords satisfaction?
I say why be attached to your material body, just don't identify with it. Put on whatever disguises will cause the inmate to listen to your preaching.

Now, as I said, I know a lot about how inmates--male inmates anyways--think and I know the type of things they are liable to include in a letter to a female pen pal. Whether you're a real female writing to a male or a male wearing a disguise in order to preach, inmates are likely to send you letters that hint at, suggest, and/or openly discuss sexual topics or proposals. Of course, no matter what situation you are in, it is best to always immediately draw a firm line in the sand the first time this happens. There are many ways you can do this without being offensive.
  • "I'm sorry, but I follow the instructions of my guru (they learned about guru in lesson 2) and I abstain from illicit sex. That even includes talking or thinking about it, so I'm not willing to respond to these types of topics."
  • "I want to establish a friendship based on spiritual growth. That growth includes giving up material desires and illusions (lessons 1 and 2). So, spending time discussing things that we are both trying to give up is not a good idea."
  • "I know how hard it is to deal with our minds. They've been conditioned to think about those types of subjects and we all struggle with material thoughts, but the wisest thing we can do is to turn our focus away from them. I think you'll find that the more you control your mind and turn its focus to spiritual thoughts, the weaker those material thoughts and desires will become.
  • And similar such statements...

I find it's always best to preach inmates in terms of "we", rather than you. Many inmates have been pointed out as being wrong, bad, and/or failures, so many times in their lives that they have immediate negative responses when someone points out what they need to fix or change, and tells them to do it, as though they are an authority. It is often much more effective to put yourself right in the struggles they face with them and to speak of "our weaknesses", the things that "we need to do," etc.

So, I'm not suggesting that you really get into creating false beliefs for an inmate, or that you go overboard in playing a role. I'm just being honest with you. The fact is an inmate will listen better if he believes he is writing to a person of the sex he admitted to preferring. And all of this is not just a one-way street. I have some experience with female inmates and most of them prefer male pen pals, so, the same principals would apply there as well.

If you think doing this type of thing is wrong or you wouldn't feel comfortable doing it, then don't. Only select a pen pal whose preference matches your material body or tell a pen pal from the start that you are not of the sex he preferred. By no means am I suggesting this disguise teaching technique as a first option, but on the other hand, if you really want to do this service and you want to preach as effectively as possible, then you may want to consider writing to an inmate based on his preference rather than upon your material body.

Okay, that's enough on that subject, let's move on so that I can share with you some more things that you might want to consider when selecting a pen pal.

The ISKCON prison ministry has been doing on site prison preaching programs for many years, in prisons all over the world. Doing an onsite program would not only give you an opportunity to meet your pen pal in person, but it would also allow you to advertise the prison program through the flyers that usually get posted when there is a special program at the chapel. So, if you see an inmate that is housed at a prison near where you live, you might want to consider selecting him as your pen pal.
Now of course if you ever plan to visit a pen pal then the last trick I suggested is entirely out of question. If an inmate knows there is the possibility of receiving a visit then he is much more likely to accept the disappointment of not getting his preference as to the sex of his pen pal. A first letter saying that you know he requested a female, but you chose him because you live nearby and might be able to visit someday would probably be enough to allow him to give up his preference for a female pen pal.

Getting a visit is by far one of the greatest highlights of an inmate's life. When someone visits you, you really feel they care. Inmate Money (I hope you read "Reasons to Become a Devotional Pen Pal") can't send out a subscription card and order up a visitor. If it’s at all possible, and you ever get the chance, you should consider a visit to your pen pal. Actually, although this is really not the subject here (see "On-Site Prison Preaching Programs) if you live near a prison, or even a county jail, you might want to visit the "On Site." Section and see what you think about reaching to prisoners in that way.

Of course, the rules for visitations and setting up programs are so vastly different from institution to institution that I couldn't possibly even touch on them here. There are generally some forms to fill out and a few more hoops to jump through. But ISKCON's successes in this area are proof that it can be accomplished with a little dedicated effort. So, if you can see an inmate housed near where you live, you may want to select him. Then the door to a possible on site preaching program would at least be open to you.

The other information on the questionnaire may also spark an interest in a particular inmate. As I mentioned earlier, you might want to check out the inmate's religious background. If you both have that in common, it could aid you in your preaching to him. If he is attached to his doctrine and you are familiar with it as well, you may be able to point out the similarities between those scriptures and the Vedas. I have personally experienced the effectiveness of this approach. I used similarities in doctrines to show inmates that they can relate to the Vedas as additional spiritual teachings, rather than opposing ones, and shown them that can practice new processes without totally abandoning their traditional faith.

In the "Suggestions on Relating to an Inmate Pen Pal" section, I will talk about the incredible importance of going beyond just a standard preacher-teacher/student relationship that many of my past pen pals focused on. I will suggest that the relationship needs to be extended, at least to some degree, to that of friendship. Knowing the importance of eventually establishing this friendship with an inmate can help you in selecting a pen pal. You may decide to select an inmate that is housed near where you live, even if you have no intentions of ever trying to visit him, because that might give you points of common interest. Even little things like experiencing the same weather can be little ice breakers in your letters. Please read the "Relating to " section for more on this subject.

Another piece of information in the inmate's file that we would like you to pay attention to is the date that the inmate first came in to contact with us. When possible, we would ask you to select the inmates with older dates over newer ones. This need not be your first criteria, but if you are not drawn to any particular inmate, and your selection is generally random, then please select one of the more veteran inmates.

Some inmates do not originally request a pen pal, and only later ask for one. So, an inmate's initial contact date does not necessarily mean that they have been waiting longest for a pen pal, but that will be generally the case. The early lessons in our course stress the value of a pen pal and we repeatedly ask them to request one, so if an inmate does not do so with the first several lessons it is often because there is some reason that prevents them from doing so.

Depending on your own level of knowledge of sastra and your own style of preaching, you may wish to select an inmate based upon the books he has read about Hinduism/yoga or what he has indicated to be his understanding of those subjects, There is a somewhat popular mayavadi course that some inmates received based on "Siddha Yoga" that teaches the inmate that they are God, that we are all God. If you feel you could effectively preach to someone who was on that type of fake path then, by what they said about their beliefs, you may wish to select them as a pen pal. Preaching to this type of an inmate might be a challenge, but he might be more familiar with some Sanskrit terms and concepts, such as Sanskaras, than other inmates. So, in some ways it might be easier as well.
The fact that all inmates who contact us have been blessed to gain the association of Srila Gurudeva's disciples shows that they are ripe to receive his mercy, so don't let anything from their past, even totally confused mayavadi understandings, cause you to reject consideration of their file.

Another thing you may want to look at on an inmate's questionnaire is the information he provided about the length of his sentence and his past prison experiences. I tell you to take note of this because I suggest that you to not think that those who have been to prison many times are a lost cause. This doesn't mean that an inmate is a hardened criminal in contrast to those who have been to prison many times are those who have come to prison for their first time and face only a short sentence.

Each inmate is different, and there is no way to draw conclusions from this type of information, but there are some trends that I have noticed that I want to point out to you. Often times those who are here for their first time, with a short sentence, and especially young inmates in this situation, are still not aware of the incredible need for change in their lives. On the other hand, sometimes an older inmate, who is in prison for his sixth or seven times, will finally come to the point in his life where he just can't take prison life anymore. He may be desperate for answers, ready to make changes that will keep him from coming down this road again.

But as I said, there is no rule set in stone. I recently was blessed with an opportunity to preach to an inmate in his 30's, who was in prison for his first time. Fortunately for him, the prison experience was a wakeup call. He had dedicated himself to making changes in his life that would ensure that he never return. I spoke to him of how he must make real changes, changes in his mind, in his hearing, and in his desires, or else he would likely go back to the behaviors that got him here in the first place. He was transferred to another institution, but he has continued to stay in contact with the prison program. He has requested a pen pal, is reading Jaiva Dharma, and is well on his way to becoming a nice devotee upon his release.

You may also want to consider selecting an inmate that has a life sentence or one that has been sentenced to be executed. These inmates face mental and spiritual changes quite different from those who know they will be "on the streets" again.
Both the inmate with the life sentence and the one sentenced to execution know they will never leave prison again in this life. If they have no spirituality they often become very depressed. These inmates essentially look death in the face in ways that those caught up in sense gratification never do, and that can be a very sobering experience. Maybe you'd like the opportunity to tell someone in this condition that they can still make their life a success by turning their heart to Sri Sri Radha Krishna and by remembering Them as they pass from this world.

These are just some of the things you might want to consider when selecting an inmate pen pal. The decision is totally yours. If you go into the selection process with a merciful heart, asking only to find an inmate that you will be able to deliver Lord Caitanya's mercy to, the fruit of prema, there is every chance that you will be guided to the inmate who is most in need of the exact type of association that you can provide.

The selection process you choose to use is not nearly as difficult as acutally making a selection, any selection, and writing that first letter.

Once you establish contact with your pen pal, the individual natures of you, your pen pal, and the dynamic that develops between you will become guiding forces in how your relationship develops. Trust the Lord to guide your pen/keyboard strokes. Put faith in your ability to preach. Follow the footsteps of the great Gaudiya Vaishnavas and deliver the mercy of Sri Sri Guru and Gauranga.

Suggestions on Relating to an Inmate Pen Pal

Haribol! It's me again, X28, with more insider information and suggestions on relating to an inmate pen pal. This section was a little bit tougher for me to write because personal relationships in every level of life are so individualized that it is hard to paint suggestions in broad strokes. Some of my suggestions may seem ridiculous, but as you know from my ideas about playing a role to keep an inmate's interest, I'm not afraid to try a new pitch if I think that there's any chance I can get you to hit it for a home run and help you to score a point for the Prison Program.

I'll throw out some suggestions based on my own experiences with pen pals as well as what I've heard and seen from other inmates as well. Please forgive if it seems at times like I'm stating the obvious or as if I'm trying to point to myself as someone with a lot of answers. I'm not trying to do either one of these things. What I am trying to do is to make this prison program a success. So it's not my brain or my ego speaking, it is my heart.

A lot of the suggestions I will make are based on something that I believe is an incredibly important part of being a good pen pal, but that, at the same time seems slightly contradictory to a point I made earlier. In the section on selecting a pen pal, I said it was best to immediately rebuff any type of allusion to sexual matters. I suggested some of the ways you might do this, which included reminding the inmate not to focus on material things. Of course that advice is valid, and ultimately we have a duty to try to bring those we preach to that level, but, at the same time, in most cases there is no need to be so dedicated to this type of teaching that we cannot allow ourselves any leeway at all. We want the inmates to see us as human beings too. I know there are valid scriptural arguments that can be made against this position, such as that a real sadhu speaks only about Krishna, but we also need to preach according to time, place, and circumstance if we want to be effective preachers.

Suppose you grew up in Boston, so, although you don't live there now, you selected a pen pal who is in a prison outside of Boston. You felt that might give you a few things in common so you mentioned it in your first letter. If he responds by saying that he's happy to get to know a fellow Red Sox fan, and you used to be a Red Sox fan as a kid, then there's probably no need to shoot down that connection right away to be preaching that sports are maya. My experience is that I can preach to someone who sees me as friendly much more effectively than I can to someone who sees me as a fuddy-duddy or a stick-in-the-mud. So, if you grew up watching Red Sox games, share your favorite players with him or ask him if he's ever been to a game. Be a friend.

If you preach hard line detachment right away you may be serving soup that's just a little too hot for an inmate to eat. My experience has been that it is better to find out where a person is at in their spiritual growth before I decide how strong a dose of preaching pills to mix up for them.
A lot of inmates need a friend just as much, if not more than they need a spiritual guide. I'm not suggesting you write pages and pages about mundane subject matter. I just suggest that you become at least a little willing to bend over to reach them before you expect them to be able to have advanced realizations. I've found that if you try to serve them soup that's too hot, many will just walk away with a burnt tongue. Serve warm soup, okay?

That's one reason the lessons in the prison program course are written the way they are, they're basically designed to spoon feed the inmates. One of the first things that I suggest you should ask your pen pal is if he is taking the "Journey to Prema" course, and if so, find out what lesson he's on. If he's not taking the course, you should encourage him to sign up for it because it will give you lots of great things to talk about. Once you find out what lesson he's on, you should read the course up until the point he's at. Tell him that you will be following along the course with him. Ask him questions about what he's learned and encourage him to ask you questions too. Make the course personal for him by helping him to apply it to his own, personal, real life situations. Ask him to relate to you the benefits he is feeling in his life from studying and practicing bhakti-yoga.

For example, lesson 2 focuses on the guru. Ask him if he's ever had anyone whom he respected in his life and felt he learned a lot from. Tell him that is the role the guru plays, but that the guru's teachings will be about spiritual life rather than of material life.

The course moves very slowly because this is a necessary pace for most inmates. But, if you get an educated and devotionally inspired inmate, you are more than welcome to help him learn and progress at a faster pace. You can send him books and help him understand them.

However, and this comes from a lot of personal experience, I ask you to be careful not to bury them with a lot of words and concepts that they are unfamiliar with, that go way over their level of understanding. At one point I was conducting a class, and I lost a couple of inmates by doing just that. There are often a lot of self-esteem issues in an inmate's life and If he faces a situation where he is made to feel inadequate, even if it was totally unintentionally brought on, he is likely to rebel by dropping out, just as many inmates did in their secular education as well.

For most inmates, the seemingly slow pace of the course is a good pace. It focuses a lot on practicing the processes of bhakti yoga and not just on learning about it in unfamiliar terms. If your letters encourage practice as much as learning, then just keeping them on pace with the course will probably work out well in most cases. I also suggest relating your own experiences on the subject of the monthly lesson to your pen pal. In that way, they can see that this process is a real world thing and not just concepts on paper. Again, using the lesson on the guru as an example, you could tell your pen pal about your own experiencing with understanding this principle and how you came to accept a guru and why you took this step. These types of sharing will also reinforce the "we" over the "you" and "I' aspect of relating the teachings.

I also want to share a couple of things that I generally recommend you to entirely avoid, but as these are suggestions, you may follow them or not.

If an inmate asks you to send him money, I don't think you should do that. You can tell him that you can't afford to, or that our policy forbids it, or that you would not feel comfortable doing that, or whatever you like, but in most cases, the first request will be far from last if you do send an inmate money.

This suggestion goes for all forms of financial support. An inmate may tell you that that they don't give him a jacket, or enough food to eat, and that you can order him these things, and that that way you'll be sure the money goes to what it was intended for. But, I've seen this line used on pen pals and families as well. When the nice new sweatshirt or the case of oatmeal arrives, the inmate has traded it for coffee or cigarettes before the day is through, and usually at half of the price that was paid for the clothing and food. This suggestion also applies to books of stamps, for these same reasons. If, however, you do develop a good, strong, devotional friendship with an inmate and you feel comfortable sending one stamped envelope to him with each of your letters, so that he can write back to you, that's probably not too unreasonable. But still, I would not offer it unless you want to send it, because I've never seen an inmate turn down anything that he can get for free.

I also suggest that you do not agree to arrange for accepting calls from your pen pal. However, I will admit that I personally did develop a nice friendship with a devotional pen pal who visited me and later decided to accept occasional calls. So again, every situation should be independently weighed and decided. Just be aware that there are some inmates who intentionally develop pen pal relationships in hopes of gaining material things.

One suggestion I meant to mention earlier on is that of using your inmate data sheet to keep track of things that you learn about your pen pal. For some this may be unnecessary, but at the conclusion of this section, I will tell you that as time goes on you will be more than welcome to take a second or third pen pal. Some ISKCON devotees find that this service is so rewarding that they write to many inmates. If you do begin writing to more than one inmate, having a record of each inmate's information can come in very handy and it will avoid confusing situations. I once received a letter asking me about people I had never heard of. The letter was addressed to me, but I could see that the pen pal had just gotten me confused with another inmate. I took no offense, but some inmates might have felt a bit slighted. An accurate, up to date, data sheet that you refer to if you needed to would guarantee that this situation was avoided.

I also recommend that you do ask inmates a little about their families, if for no other reason than to avoid saying things like, "I hope all is well with your family" when an inmate has none. When you do find out things, you can put this information on his data sheet and then if he mentioned something about a family member, in a positive way, you can occasionally wish that person well or ask about them again some time. In that way, you become a friend and not just a preacher in an envelope. I have had pen pals that over long periods of time never asked a single friendly or personal question. All of their letters read almost like form letters. I suggest that you try not to write letters like that. I also suggest that you establish somewhat of a schedule with your pen pal from the very beginning of your communication, as to when and how often you will write each other. In many cases, once a month is enough, especially if he is also receiving the lessons. Sometimes situations make a twice a month schedule okay, but any more often than that is generally not recommended. If you allow an inmate to write unlimited letters, it can become a burden and your response may become less friendly and well thought out.

If your pen pal is taking the course "Journey to Prema", then he will be receiving his lessons at either he first or the middle of each month. You might consider asking him to write to you monthly, about a week after he receives his lesson. This will give him time to review it and ask any questions that it raises for him, and he can also respond to your last letter at this time as well. Then when you get his letter, you can review it, answer it, and send it back in a couple of days. In this way, you should be able set it up to where his is getting his lessons and letters at approximately two-week intervals.
The last suggestion I will make is both a suggestion and a sharing of information. Almost every state has a website where you can go to look up information on inmates. You will find their pictures there and other information as well, depending on the laws of that state. I intentionally left this information out of the selecting a pen pal section because I don't think it is appropriate to gather more information on an inmate than what he provides, unless you first ask him if you can go to this type of site.

However, once you begin to write to an inmate, I feel it is perfectly okay to ask them if they mind you looking them up on the web, if this is something you'd like to do. Of course, now that I've let that cat out of the bag, those of you who wish to use this resource in selecting a pen pal can do so if you choose, but I still recommend learning things about an inmate from the inmate or getting his approval first.

Inmates need spiritual pen pals. We hope that some of these suggestions will help you to develop a friendly and purposeful relationship with an inmate. Being a devotional pen pal can be an incredibly personal and rewarding type of service, we have no desire to tell you how to conduct this service, we just want to do all we can to assist you in being a messenger of the mercy.

Jai Radhe!

Become Penpal - Instructions on How to Become a Devotional Pen Pal

Become Penpal - Instructions on How to Become a Devotional Pen Pal

In order to select a pen pal, the very first thing you need to do is register yourself with our system with a user-id and password you choose along with contact email address and your name. To register, please click at the Penpal Registration menu.

Once you have registered, you can login to your account to become a penal to any inmates. You can choose as many inmates as you like.

To choose a pan pal, click at the 'My Pen Pals' menu item which displays two tables. The table at the top lists the current pen pals (empty when you start new), and the second table shows the list of all the available pen pals to choose from. They are listed alphabetically by their names, followed by the prison, gender, date when they originally contacted the prison program and so on.

If you click at the 'View Details' link for any inmate, it will display all the detailed information about the inmate. From a questionnaire completed by the inmate, you can view details such as name, mailing address, some information on his background (as it relates to his understanding of Hinduism, yoga,and/or Krsna Consciousness), and a few other items as well. You will also find the list of books and other items that have been sent to the inmate by a pen pal or by another member of the Prison Program.

The information on these questionnaires can help you in selecting a pen pal, and we will talk about this in the Suggestions section which talks about selecting an inmate pen pal , but for now, we are just concerned with the procedures involved in the selection process.

After reading the above-mentioned Suggestions section all you have to do is look through the inmate profiles until you find one that you wish to correspond with. Once you have selected a pen pal, you can choose an inmate as a pen pal, by simply clicking at the 'Choose Pen Pal' link that will add you as a pen pal for that inmate and re-display the page. Now we will see the new pen pal in the top table. You can also 'Drop Pan Pal' an inmate from your current list simply by clicking at 'Drop Pen Pal' link.

Once you have chosen a pen pal, if you like, you can print out a copy of this details, so that you will have all of his/her information to refer to when you begin your correspondence. Of course you can view the details any time through your computer.

Our system will have all these information stored securely and no one else except the prison seva administrators can access your information about the list of inmates you are communicating with.
That's all you need to do to select a pen pal and register your selection with us. Now, you have your pen pal's name, mailing address, and some additional information about him/her. This information should help you break the ice in your first letter, so that it does not have to be a formal presentation. We'll give you some ideas on writing this first letter in the Suggestions section.

The books that are received so far by the inmates are also maintained in our system. Initially this information is loaded from the questionnaire filled out by the inmate. Later whenever pen pals like you send any book(s) to them, we request you to update the record about the books sent by you by clicking at the 'Update Books Sent' link for the inmate. The page displays all the books so far received by the inmate and you can add the new books sent by you. The list will be very useful to check if the inmate already has the book before deciding to send.

You can also contact us if you ever have any questions, comments, or suggestions about this Prison Seva program pen pal procedures or your experiences as a pen pal. We would love to hear from you. All these are shared in our web and can be found by clicking at the Pen Pal Experiences menu.
We want to make the prison pen pal program as attractive and accommodating as possible, so anything you could share with us to help us meet those goals would be greatly appreciated. If you share your positive experiences with us, let us know if you want us to use your name, because we'd love to share them with others so they can read first-hand accounts of the spiritual rewards that a pen pal receives.

Please read all the contents in the "Suggestions" section. We hope that you will be selective in choosing a pen pal based on some of the ideas we provide you with, and that you will form a lasting bond with the inmate you select. However, we are aware that this is not always the case. Should you ever wish to give up your pen pal, please send us that information as well.
So the process to become a devotional pen pal is quite simple.
  • Register with us (if you have not done yet)
  • Review the inmate files, and choose a pen pal.
  • Optionally, print your pen pal's details.
  • Begin your correspondence.
  • Whenever you send books or paraphernalia to an inmate, update the record

Other than following these basic procedures, the way you choose to interact with your pen pal is totally up to you. Each and every relationship will be completely individualized based on such factors as your own preaching experiences and the techniques you have found to be effective, the educational and devotional level of the inmate you correspond with, and a wide variety of other things such as commonality in background.

We ask you to always keep in mind that the real purpose behind your pen pal letters is to preach. This form of devotional service will allow you to become most dear to Sri Krishna. By preaching, you are following the instructions of Lord Caitanya and Srila Gurudeva to become siksa gurus to the fallen souls. If you always bear these things in mind each time you write your pen pal a letter, you should find it to be a very rewarding experience. We pray that you become a successful devotional pen pal and that you are able to deliver the fruits of prema to the inmate lucky enough to have your merciful association.

An Introduction to Becoming a Devotional Pen Pal

An Introduction to Becoming a Devotional Pen Pal

Dear Servant of Shri Shri Radha Krishna,

Please accept our humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Gurudeva and Shri Gauranga. Shri Rupa Goswami ki Jaya! Shri Rupa Manjari ki Jaya!

Welcome to our prison program pen pals presentation. We hope that you have arrived here because you have already decided to become a prison program pen pal and you are now seeking instructions on how to get started. If you haven't already made a commitment, we hope you’ll read this introduction and consider becoming involved in this rewarding seva . Perhaps someone has prompted you to check us out, or maybe you have landed here out of your own curiosity. Regardless, we feel you have been led here by Shri Guru and Shri Gauranga, and we are extremely pleased that you have made it. Thank you for being here.

We want to encourage and excite you as you explore the possibility of becoming a devotional pen pal. So, even though our presentation may take a little of your valuable time to read over and consider, we ask you to please bear with us and to read through the entire presentation.
To those of you who have already decided to become a devotional pen pal, we offer our deepest and most sincere thanks. The intention of this presentation is to support you completely as you embark on this amazing journey in devotional service. We will do everything we can to facilite your success and provide as much support as possible along the way.

We hope you will leave the presentation feeling inspired!

The Instructions section of this presentation will tell you all the steps you need to follow in order to select a pen pal. It will also tell you how to register your selection. This step- by -step process will allow us to track the names of inmates who have pen pals and those who are still seeking one. It will also prompt you to enter your contact information into our files so we can keep in touch with you as needed.

The Suggestions sections of this presentation will to give you the basics on how to begin. This will include everything from what to consider when selecting your pen pal to effective means of building your relationship with an inmate. We'll also share a few things that should be avoided that we've learned from our experience.

The "Reasons to Become" section will give you more great reasons to jump in with both feet. We hope to appeal to the Gaudiya Vaishnava qualities in you, that is, the desire to spread Lord Caitanya's message of Love. We will also share with you, from an inmate's perspective, how devotional pen pals can play a very significant role in an inmate's life.

At the conclusion of this section, we will ask you to move straight into the "Reasons to Become" section. The inmate who wrote this section has over a decade of prison preaching experience. His "from the inside" viewpoint of the valuable service you can provide as a devotional pen pal is well worth reading, even if you have already decided to join us. He wrote this section from the first person angle of vision in order to give you a real snapshot of prison life and show how a simple letter can bring real joy into an inmate .

After Reasons to Become", we ask you to go over the "Instructions" section again as we will refer to it in the Suggestions section.

We thank you once again for your interest, and we hope that when you leave our site you will feel that the time you spent here was well invested. We pray that you will find it in your heart to become a devotional pen pal. Hare Krsna!