By NED BELLAMY
In the six years since FCM members began sharing the Dharma with a few inmates in Florida state prisons, the Prison Dharma Program has grown from offering regular programs at one prison to now meeting with prisoners at four institutions.
It began in 2013 with Chris Gahles, who, with encouragement and guidance from Rick Ferriss, shared Dharma with a few inmates. Then, Alex Lerner and Nancy Cunningham visited a prison, followed by many others, who began to faithfully visit institutions on behalf of FCM and continued for many years.
Recently, Ned Bellamy of Clearwater has transitioned to replace Chris Gahles into the role of program leader and is implementing regularly scheduled bimonthly visits to each of the four prisons. In the weeks when no visits are scheduled, the prisoners have DVDs of Fred’s Dharma talks available to view and discuss.
Now, the program is ready for more volunteers. We are inviting FCM members to consider joining our current team of eight volunteers to help us continue to nourish the seeds that have taken root in these parched prison settings.
FCM volunteers travel once or twice a month to meet with small sanghas at Zephyrhills Correctional Institution (ZCI), Polk Correctional Institution (PCI) at Polk City, Sumner Correctional Institution (SCI) at Bushnell, and Charlotte Correctional Institution (CCI) at Punta Gorda. Each two-hour session in prison includes sitting and walking meditation, chanting, a Dharma talk by one of the FCM visitors, and an opportunity to share and listen deeply.
Because most of us are a little apprehensive about visiting a prison for the first time, all new volunteers are accompanied by more experienced FCM hands for two or three months. Beyond the gates, we cross well-landscaped interior grounds to meet in the chapel with perhaps three to seven Dharma brothers seated on cushions. It is surprising how quickly we feel welcomed and even at home.
The chaplain and his staff are usually working in their offices down the hall and other services are often held in adjoining rooms. Ideally, each FCM team includes two people, with at least one male. The addition of women as team members has been especially effective and is encouraged.
We are looking for volunteers who have been FCM members for at least two years, with a daily practice, and who have participated in some retreats or intensives. We invite you to contact any of our volunteers to learn more about the Prison Dharma Program or contact Ned Bellamy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 727-642-5900.
A deep bow to Ned Bellamy, head of FCM's Prison Dharma Program, for this article.