Delivering Hope

Because no one is just another brick in the wall.


Why Volunteer in Prisons?  


Isn't volunteering in jails and prisons "helping" criminals who have been locked up to be punished?

Isn't it scary to go into a prison full of convicted criminals?

This is the place to hear from experienced volunteers about volunteering in jails, prisons, and reentry programs in the community.  Check back periodically to read new stories from experienced volunteers.  


Ready to volunteer?  Contact us for more information .



Need Hope? Volunteer in Prisons

Why I Stay Involved in Prisons

Kim Burkhardt, Founder and Executive Director (NC4RSO)

I find hope - the ever present opportunity for hope - in prisons.  Yes, within massive walls of constraining concrete.  This is also where I find internal peace (it's through giving that we receive).  I started volunteering in jails and prisons in 1993 and now wouldn't give this up for anything.  When our choices land us within unwanted constraints - whatever those constraints may be - that experience can sometimes be what propels us to evaluate the choices that generate those constraints and to seek resources (life skills, whatever) to move into more productive and meaningful directions.  For some, prisons of concrete are the constraint that gets their attention (although self-constructed emotional prisons sometimes have the same effect).

For me, the transformation of seeing people's lives change keeps me "going in."....The value provided by prison volunteers was summarized for me one night when a "repeatedly incarcerated" woman showed up for a program in which I was a leader at a local jail.  She said that she remembered me as a volunteer from several years previous.  She then said, "You're still here.  Oh....somebody actually cares."

......"Going in" also keeps me accountable for continuous self-improvement so that I've always got a current story of demonstrative life change to share with women when I go inside.  Further, seeing the sometimes deep levels of desperation experienced in prison drives me to look for the deepest causes of societal unwellness and to participate in a push for meaningful social changes that provide a better world for all of us.

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in transformative human change.

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Why I Volunteer in Prison

Natascha Bruckner

For the past five years, I've volunteered as a teacher of buddhist meditation in the Central Training Facility prison in Soledad California.

In the prison's training session for volunteers, I learned that 6,400 inmates live in the prison's sand-colored buildings surrounded by two razor-wire fences. The prison has three facilities - north, south, and central - originally opened in the 1940s and '50s with a total capacity of about 3,000.  The population has doubled since then, but no new buildings have been constructed. Each cell is 6'6" x 10'6" x 8'8" (about the size of a bathroom) and is occupied by two men. The central facility is Level II, with a mixed population of men who have been incarcerated for decades and others who are new to prison.  They are behind bars for a wide range of crimes, from selling drugs to committing murder.

Why would I want to volunteer in a prison?

Many years ago, when I was attending Catholic high school, I joined a service group that went to Tijuana, Mexico, to help orphans and impoverished people. We also visited a jail where men reached through the bars to try and grab us, beg for our help, and give us phone numbers. I felt their desperation and terror, and was deeply impacted by the oppressive jail environment.

Then in my twenties, I heard a radio broadcast of Martin Luther King Jr. giving a speech about how he wanted to be remembered for serving basic human needs. He wanted people to say that he did feed those who were hungry, he did shelter those who were homeless, he did visit those in prison. I was struck my the fact that he believed it was a fundamental human service to visit prisoners At the time, I had begun a Buddhist meditation practice and joined a weekly Sangha (community) in the tradition of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. I had also seen documentaries about meditation programs in prisons. I knew that meditation could help inmates to find and sustain inner peace even in an environment that was sometimes very difficult.

I believe meditation is a way to be free, no matter what our external circumstances are. Aren't most of us trapped in the crazy-making jails of our minds? Don't many of us feel stuck in unsatisfying life stories - like there's some basic condition that just isn't right? It's not like living in a tiny cell cut off from society and family, but many of us feel trapped - whether it's in an unhappy marriage, chronic physical pain, depression, or another form of suffering. Meditation can be useful to anyone who feels, or is, trapped. Buddhism teaches that whatever our suffering is, that's the raw material for waking up and being with life as it is.  When we know the external reality isn't going to change, that's a chance for the mind to drop all expectations, drop all demands for happiness, and be with what is

Meditation has helped me to be with my life as it is. To slow down. To notice my thoughts. To become more compassionate, patient person and to listen more deeply when others speak. I wanted to pass along what I had learned. I felt that a prison was a perfect place to do that, where the practice was sorely needed and could be immediately useful.

Before starting to volunteer, I was nervous and afraid. I was afraid the inmates would be hungry for something I couldn't give them. Afraid of feeling overwhelmed by the prison system and by my own emotions. Afraid I would forget everything I knew about mindfulness and would be unable to speak, much less teach anyone to meditate. On the first day of volunteering, I wrote in my journal:

How can I presume to be a teacher of meditation? It seems completely crazy. I'm not qualified and don't even want to be qualified. I just want to live a nondescript, safe, undisturbed life in the country with trees and cats and the occasional friendly visitor.

Maybe some of the inmates want that too.

Over the past five years, I've learned that I do have a lot in common with the men inside. They are grateful for the quiet peace of our meditation group and the chance to learn ways to cultivate a calm mind and generate loving kindness toward themselves and others.  It's rewarding to spend time with them. They show up with an earnest wish to change for the better, and many of them maintain a dedicated spiritual practice. Some of them tell us that meditation keeps them grounded, balanced, and peaceful, and it makes prison bearable. When we show up to volunteer, they always welcome us warmly, treat us kindly, and engage wholeheartedly in the group. When we leave, they thank us from the heart and wish us safe travels home.


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