Incarcerated Lotus — Introduction
I have been inspired to write this book by a group of men I had the wonderful opportunity of meeting during the summer of 2014 at two Texas State prisons. I am still humbled and in awe of the spirit with which these men practice and seek out the Wonderful Dharma of the Lotus Flower Sutra, frequently referred to as simply the Lotus Sutra.
Previous to my visit with these men, a couple of them had independently contacted me by mail after receiving a copy of my Lotus Sutra Practice Guide by friends or family. The handwritten letters I received touched me, and not for perhaps obvious reasons. I was touched because here were people I was directly influencing, a group of people I had not even considered. They did, they desperately did.
These letters were not my first encounter with prisoners; I have done work in a Federal Prison, which I visited on a quarterly basis. Over time and conversation with Bishop Myokei Cain-Barrett, I learned that the two of have both common and also some very different experiences because the two systems are dramatically different. Her prison population tends to be more stable, whereas mine is very transient. In fact one of the methods employed in Federal Prisons that serves both to control gang activity and also as further punishment is to move inmates around to various prisons without notice or reason. It is arbitrary and because of that it is also, I feel, cruel.
This book will be an evolutionary writing. I am sure that as I get deeper into it what I envision now will be different from the final result. That is one of the exciting things about being a writer; you get to discover.
That said this is what I think the book will look like when finished. I don’t see this as something to educate the general population about what it is like in prison, though it certainly will include some of that. I can’t ignore the reality of prison life and remain relevant to the intended audience. I also don’t see this as the definitive answer on Nichiren Buddhism practice in prisons. If anything perhaps it will be a beginning or an invitation for others to contribute to this significant project. I do see this as perhaps an expansion on my Lotus Sutra Practice Guide however written with prisoners specifically in mind.
Why do I say necessary? The reality is the prison population has skyrocketed over the past several years. While the number of inmates has grown there has been only small contributions from Nichiren Shu to helping prisoners face the challenge of practicing according to Nichiren’s doctrines in a unique environment. I do not feel I have the luxury of ignoring the need, especially after what I experienced in Texas. There is a desire, and eagerness of spirit in many prisoners to change and to manifest their innate Buddhahood. If I can help in even a small way, that will be good.
So with all of this I am excited to begin this project and curious to see what evolves. As always I’ll post segments in public places and welcome comments. I welcome comments both good and bad. Also, for those who know prisoners I hope you will assist me in reaching them, and I also welcome their input with the promise that I will make anything they share so disguised that no one could know who said what, they do not enjoy the security many of us take for granted. The working title of the book is “Incarcerated Lotus”.