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Ven. Yangdzom Goes to Prison

Ven. Losang Yangdzom, February 2001

Sometimes the most meaningful and worthwhile things are the hardest things we ever have to do. When Ven. Robina asked me, or rather told me, at the same time as she told about 200 other people plus inmates that I was the Queensland representative for the Liberation Prison Project I thought it was a joke.

Then I realised all of a sudden that she was not joking - she was deadly serious. After working with Ven. Robina for 4 days, she had obviously figured me out. She had heard me say how much I wanted to help inmates in prison but did not think that I could. She figured that you just told me to do a job, and after complaining how difficult it was, I would get over it and get on with it. So now it was time for me to put my actions where my mouth was.

The first thing that came up was of course the ego and pride. I had to do everything well and properly. But if I didn't have any experience with prisons or inmates and didn't know what happened in their day how could I actually do the job?

I started the process of actually getting into the prisons. Knowing how important it is to keep everyone on side, it almost seemed an impossible task. Somehow I managed, with the support of the mighty duo Miffi and Eddie, to put together a submission and win the support of the Department of Corrective Services, the Education Department of Woodford Correctional Centre and the Psychologists. I was given permission to start a pilot course at Woodford Correctional Centre and introduce a group of inmates to a course based on Buddhist philosophies. If it's successful at this prison, then it can be taken to other prisons in Queensland and Australia.

At the first class I taught, of course I had the usual stage fright. My biggest concern was my own naivety which, I might add, from doing this project has certainly changed. Due to my two educators on how other people outside my bubble live, my eyes are now wide open. My naivety was the source of much amusement to the inmates. In fact, when they found out that I wasn't getting paid for coming to see them, that I was voluntarily there because of their request, and that I took a day off work and lost pay and had put so much effort into getting the material approved , they thought I had gone completely mad.

As I started to speak to them, I was so nervous I could see the paper in my hand shake as well as my clothes. It was not fear of the people I was with, more the task I was there to do. I had to explain to all these people that there is actually something worse than being locked in prison - and that somehow there was something they could do to be happy no matter where they are or what happens to them. As I looked at everyone's faces I almost forgot where we were. I saw 17 people who were looking for happiness, who cared, who loved someone and who wanted to better themselves just like me, the only difference between us was that they made a mistake and got caught at it.

As I left the prison that day I became quite overwhelmed at the enormity of what I had just started. Here was I, the most wowsiest of all showing the toughest of all that they actually had something of meaning in their life, that they were worth caring about and making an effort for. It could easily have been me who made the mistake and ended up in their situation. Instead, I still have choices I can make, and I can go about my day without the constant fear of being harmed.

They probably don't know or realise that in fact they have brought so much meaning into my life by the small and simple act of asking me to go and see them.

I am truly grateful to my teachers Geshe Tashi Tsering, Ven. Robina and the inmates, to be able to have such an extremely precious opportunity. I hope that in some way they see where I am trying to lead them and they can all find happiness in probably the most difficult situation they will find themselves in this life.

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