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Recipe for the Suffering Soul

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Author: 
Candra Das

Please accept my humble obeisances.
All glories to Srila Prabhupada!
Hare Krishna, Jai Sri Sri Radha Bankebihari Ki Jai!

My Initiated name is Candra Das. I am a disciple of H.H Bhakti Tirtha Swami Maharaja. I am currently employed as a correctional counselor at Snake River Correctional Institution in Ontario, Oregon (Snake River Correctional Institution is located 11 miles east of the Idaho/Oregon state line). I have been employed with the Oregon Department of Corrections for 18 years.
I first became interested in starting a prison-preaching program during my second year of employment. I sought the assistance of the Gupta family who currently run the Boise Hare Krishna (Idaho) temple. I felt I had no qualification, therefore I determined they would be more qualified to conduct this prison-preaching program. In 1996 the Gupta’s had serious reservations about conducting a program at a prison but when I approached them again in the summer of 2003, they committed themselves to doing this service and I helped to facilitate the means for them to do so. However, due to all the service they had in maintaining the temple, they could not continue the prison preaching. As a result, I had to become rapidly qualified to take over this program.

I was not sure how the employees would view me now that I was becoming a religious volunteer. My concerns revolved around openly advertising that I was a Hare Krishna Devotee.
What I discovered was that most employees had no clue what a Hare Krishna was! As it turns out, Ontario, Oregon is not the “Mecca” of cultural/religious awareness.
Very quickly, I forged ahead with the full “devotee” attire; tilak, dhoti, and kurta. Of course, I got the strange looks, but, since the body that I occupy is black, I was accustomed to strange looks. My current bodily condition prepared me for tolerating being stared at. In due course of time, staff and inmates became accustomed to my foreign attire and even accept prasadam, which is an extra means to defuse their bias, pacify their trouble minds and extend Krsna’ s mercy.

Years later, the program is running strong and expanding. Due to the mercy of Sri Sri Radha Bankebihari, we now have our own altar, conduct Gaura Arati on an occasional Friday evening, read from the Bhagavad-Gita As It Is, and share prasadam (bananas, oranges and apples).
I could not have anticipated the benefits the IPM program could have made on the lives of the inmates. Some inmates learned sloka’s, others committed themselves to drawing art and others were simply drawn to the holy name. Just recently, one of our new members joined the program because of hearing the holy name. He attended another religious service program and heard the chanting from our program when he walked by. Weeks later, he approached me and asked, “What was that you were singing?” I responded, “What are you referring to?” He said, “You were signing in that class and playing the drum… what you were signing touched my heart, so I would like to join your class”. Another example is from on inmate member who worshiped Buddha. He had many doubts about his own belief, let alone subscribing to Bhakti Yoga. He now chants 9 rounds a day and reads and memorizes slokas from the Bhagavad-Gita. In the ten years of the program, he is the first inmate who, with or without prompting, is motivated to learn slokas.

When dealing with the inmate population, I am reminded of a statement that my Guru Maharaja would say in his many lectures: “You’ve got to have an attitude of gratitude.” My attitude is that I am very grateful to have this service and it pulled me through some of my own trials and tribulations. I can conclude that the recipe for the suffering soul is service to Sri Krsna. After all, we too are inmates in this material prison or macrocosm called the material universe.