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Spiritual program coordinator Rogelio Pallares Valdes from Bengungyal Center in Aguascalientes, Mexico, shares a personal account from his Liberation Prison Project work through the center:
The men’s prison located in Aguascalientes, Mexico, requested Bengungyal Center to begin offering courses in the prison’s units 7 and 8, beginning in the second half of 2013. We were told that these units are highly dangerous, with criminals sentenced to 40 or more years in prison.
On September 6, I went there to start the course “Working with Afflictive Emotions.” I arrived to the appointment on time and started the paperwork as I usually do. The difference this time was that the prisoners would not attend a classroom or auditorium. Instead, I had to enter the unit where these special prisoners are kept. It’s something like a prison within the prison.
The guards let me into units 7 and 8, and I walked down the corridors. I saw some prisoners walking from one side to another, not lifting their heads, their eyes darting. Others were standing motionless and seeing nothing. Then, a prisoner came to a gate and through it he asked me, “Are you looking for the guard?”
When I heard his voice, it was obvious that he was under the influence of a tranquilizer. I answered yes.
“Where you come from?”
“Bengungyal Center to talk about emotions.”
“Good! No one visits us. The guards say we’re crazy. If I was crazy, I could not talk to you. Right?”
“Of course not!”
When the guard arrived, he opened the gate and invited me to go inside. I went to the unit dining room and there met six people – my students.
It was hard to tell if I was in a mental hospital or in a prison. During the teaching, they continuously interrupted me, making comments about God’s word or other references they had heard about in the Bible. Most of them were on tranquilizers and struggled to overcome the effects of drugs and understand me. One of them even left to put some water on his head.
One of them asked me if I could do something so that he would no longer be required to take pills, because his hands were shaking and he felt worse each day. My response was automatically institutional: “I must be respectful of the instructions of the authorities. I cannot intervene. I’m sorry.” As I said these words, I felt a great powerlessness. And I felt immensely sad seeing the expression on his face as he heard my words.
When I left, I broke a small prison rule and went to each of them and hugged them as I said goodbye.
Liberation Prison Project is an FPMT international project dedicated to supporting students in prison who wish to study Dharma.
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Mandala Publications is the official publication of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT), an international charitable organization founded by two Tibetan Buddhist masters, Lama Thubten Yeshe (1935-1984) and Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche. FPMT is a vibrant international community, with a network of 160 affiliate centers, projects and services, and members in more than 30 countries.
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