Mind Without Borders is a prison dharma program based out of the New York City Nalandabodhi sangha, providing Buddhist study through correspondence courses, dharma pen pals and meditation instructors. We offer Buddhist study and meditation groups within some prisons and send DVDs for the inmates to view and discuss together. When possible, we make personal visits to the prisoners with whom we are working.
Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche has told us, in general, that those who have been fortunate enough to hear, contemplate and meditate upon the Buddhadharma have a responsibility to share it with others, especially those who are in the greatest need. In respect to prisoners and the dharma, he says, “Prisoners should have the same opportunity as any one of us.” Rinpoche considers helping prisoners to be very important social justice work.
Our mission is to provide prisoners personal and structured support in the Tibetan Buddhist path. We work with inmates who are drawn to us karmically rather than by advertisement. We also are committed to working with the most difficult to reach prisoners: inmates in Solitary and those serving life or other long-term sentences. We aspire to benefit our most stigmatized members of our society, so they might in turn benefit others and that together, we may spread harmony and happiness in our shared and interdependent worlds — because heart and mind know no prison walls or borders.
Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche blessed and named Mind Without Borders during the summer of 2007, a year after the program began to germinate. Mind Without Borders developed out of a personal correspondence between an inmate, Luis Ramirez, in Solitary Confinement at Pelican Bay State Prison (a level IV SuperMax in northern California) and a member of Nalandabodhi New York. Luis is now a formal student of Rinpoche and a full member of Nalandabodhi, having received his Bodhisattva Vows from Rinpoche in April. Three other prisoner-participants received Refuge names. There are four inmate participants at Pelican Bay, three of whom are graduating from the Mahayana curriculum course as correspondent students. We also have a growing population of prisoner-participants in Kern Valley State Prison in southern California plus other inmates throughout the U.S.
By preference, Mind Without Borders is a small program. Karmic connection is a priority over just providing general information, as is growing by word of mouth rather than through advertisement in prisoner newsletters. This slower pace allows us to learn how to best conduct and organize our efforts.
We invite anyone involved in prison dharma work to let inmates (with whom they are working) know they can contact us should they wish to participate in our correspondence course. We welcome collaboration with those who have the opportunity to visit their area prisons as distance makes the prisons we work with less accessible. We believe support for prisoners returning to community is a crucial aspect of prison dharma work and we are eager to learn and participate in this kind of work. We want to support our prisoners when they might be released in the future.
Donations are vital to continue and further our work. Providing and sending study materials plus visitation to out-of-the way SuperMaxes is expensive; yet we also know the impact the dharma has on our inmates – those for whom our personal support and commitment is tremendously encouraging.