Snake River Correctional Institution, Ontario, Oregon---December 21, 2012

By : 
Shri Hari Dasa, from Boise, Idaho


     Candra  is employed as a counselor at  Snake River Correctional Institution, Ontario, Oregon . Once a month he conducts a program for the inmates. On Friday Dec. 21, he invited his Siksa and Brahmin Diksa guru, and ISKCON prison minister, H.H Candramauli Swami. Maharaja, travelled from Boston with his brahmacari assistant Janakinath of Bhaktivedanta Manor, London.. Balabhadra, Upendra and myself also attended the program. On arriving at Snake River Correctional Institution we realized that it would not be possible to get Balabhadra inside, who had forgotten to bring a photo ID. Only with the help of Candra, who knows the guards well, Balabhadra was allowed in.

      After passing through three heavy steel doors under tight security and surveillance cameras, we arrived at a clean and beautifully carpeted hall. All the galleries and entrances were very clean like a hospital. Hospitals are meant to cure us from physical diseases and a correctional facility is meant to cure our mental diseases. I then felt the importance of giving Krishna Consciousness, which is the only way to cure the diseased condition of the living beings who are futilely trying to enjoy separate from the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna. After setting up the thick sitting pads, microphones, and speakers Candra placed a book table with Back to Godhead magazines, Bhagavad Gitas, and a variety of Krishna Conscious literature along with the book on" How to Practice Krishna Consciousness in Prison", written by Tirtha  an inmate at the Mount Olive Correctional in West Virginia.

     Shortly after 6:00 PM about 28 inmates and a religious volunteer all prepared to receive the mercy of Holy Name. Maharaja surprisingly embraced one of the inmates who came up to greet him. It was Satya Krsna who is an initiated devotee and former member of the Gaudiya Math. Satya Krsna wrote an article that is published in the book "Holy Jail". Then to my amazement instead of sitting on the pads the inmates went straight for the book table a few of them choosing at least one book. Candra said they can only take  BTG magazines,  other books would require administration approval otherwise they may get confiscated by the correctional staff when returning to their respective cells. Candra asked them to send an inmate communication addressed to him identifying what they wanted and he would arrange for it. He suggested a $10 donation for a hardbound Bhagavad-Gita only to cover printing cost. The inmates expressed their inability to pay, Maharaja then said that he will sponsor the books, eagerly wanting them to read Srila Prabhupada's books.

     The hall was very nicely decorated for the Christmas holidays. The inmates were not looking at the decorations. It didn't mean anything as there was no holidays for them. They were earnestly waiting only to listen to Maharaja, to guide them on how to get out of this material world, back to Godhead and become happy eternally. We began by writing the Maha-mantra on a board, the doors were then closed. Candra signaled to turn on the video camera.

      Maharaja began kirtan, Balabhadra played the harmonium, Candra the mrdanga. Gradually the kirtan picked up momentum many of our guests were clapping with great intensity and feeling their eyes closed in a meditative posture. It appeared as if they were drinking water after months of travelling through a hot dry desert. Maharaja slowly ended the kirtan, then returned to  external consciousness. Maharaja said this month we are celebrating the anniversary of the speaking of the Bhagavad-Gita by Lord Sri Krishna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra where 640 million soldiers died in 18 days, the biggest war known in human history. Maharaja's talk began by summarizing the Bhagavad Gita from the beginning stressing on karma, reincarnation, and the modes of material nature. We are not our body but spirit souls, then describing in detail the five main topics of the Bhagavad Gita: The Living entity, God/Krishna, Material nature, Time  and Karma. In explaining karma, there are three types of activities or works: Bad works (vikarma), good works (karma) and work for Krishna (God) (akarma). Vikarma and karma bind us to this material world and akarma -devotional service to Krishna- liberates us from the continual cycle of birth and death in the material world.

     Keeping the lecture short Maharaja then asked for questions. I was surprised to see the depth of questions, obviously some were reading  Bhagavad-Gita under the guidance of Candra   some  had affiliation with Eastern philosophy and metaphysics . An inmate asked, referring to Bg 2:40 that on the path of Krishna consciousness there is no loss? But he does not feel any connection to Krishna even after regularly chanting and reading Bhagavad Gita. Maharaja answered that the peace and happiness you are  presently feeling is an indication of  Krishna in your life and it will continue to grow as you progress. Someone asked how we change bodies? Who decides what body I am going to get next? Maharaja replied that material nature provides our next body most suitable for the desires and activities we have in this life. Few of the inmates made very deep comments on their realizations about life. One man came at the end of Q&A session and spoke to Maharaja how he met the famous Mother Hladini when he served at the New Vrindavana community in West Virginia 25 years ago. He wanted her biography entitled "A Legacy of Love". Then Candra requested everyone to come one by one and receive Lord Nrsimhadev’s mercy. Maharaja then put Maha Nrsimha oil from Sridham Mayapur on their hand and the inmates bowed down to Maharaja grateful to receive this special mercy. The whole atmosphere was spiritually uplifting. By the mercy of Lord Caitanya the devotees had successfully transformed a prison into a temple for everyone's spiritual benefit.

      Jaya Nitai-Gauranga! HARE KRSNA!