Founder Acharya His Divine Grace
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

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Life-changing Service Shares the Love of God with Hundreds of Inmates
By Kulavati Krishnapriya Devi Dasi, ISKCON News Staff Writer   |  Aug 11, 2023

Bhakta David Burkman from Danbury, Arjuna Das after his initiation, and Dale Burke from Bismarck, ND.

ISKCON Prison Ministry, an initiative of the BBT (Bhaktivedanta Book Trust) Mail Order Department in Los Angeles, has been a spiritual lifeline providing spiritual support and guidance to incarcerated people for five decades.  

The mission of ISKCON Prison Ministry is to spread Lord Caitanya’s mercy to those who find themselves in prison within the “prison house of the material world.” Candramauli Swami, who represents ISKCON Prison Ministry at the Mayapur Festival every year, has written several books about the prison ministry, including “Holy Jail” and “Forbidden Voices,” Through the decades, he has also visited prisons in the USA, Europe, and India. 

ISKCON News interviewed Bhakti-lata Dasi, the Director of the ISKCON Prison Ministry, who began by telling us her experience serving the prison ministry has been both deeply satisfying and fulfilling. “ISKCON Prison Ministry promotes Srila Prabhupada’s understanding that the only cure for society’s ills, both for individual persons and as a whole, is the process of bhakti-yoga,” said Bhakti-lata, “By reading Srila Prabhupada’s books, following the four regulations (abstinence from meat-eating, gambling, intoxication, and illicit sex), and by chanting the maha-mantra even a criminal can become a perfect citizen.”

In a letter to Sri Puri in 1962, Srila Prabhupada said, “The means which I have adopted is spiritual, and it works quicker than any material means. If you give me a chance to speak to all the members in jail, I can turn them into ideal characters.”

Bhakti Lata Dasi and Ramaniya Devi Dasi.

Bhakti-lata shared that when the ministry began, Riktananda Dasa replied to inmates’ letters and sent them books, followed by Candrasekhara Dasa and Syama-Priya. While leaving her body due to cancer, she told her son, “Give everything to Bhakti-latā.” She became the director of ISKCON Prison Ministry, and other devotees like Muktakesha Dasa also became involved with the prison ministry. Based in New Vrindaban, West Virginia, Muktakesha corresponded with hundreds of inmates. He sent them a Bhagavad-gita course which he created and shared 500 books a month with incarcerated individuals.

“Right when I moved back to Montréal, Canada, I sent boxes of books to as many Canadian prisons as possible and soon received letters from interested inmates,” Bhakti-lata noted, “I wrote to a few of them for six years, even after moving to Prabhupada Village in North Carolina. When the last inmate stopped writing, I devoted myself to helping with the homeschool that the devotees had formed, putting on plays, etc.” 

She continued, “When I met Mother Shyama Priya in 2008, I was overjoyed to resume my service. I was writing a dozen inmates; five pages long handwritten letters, answering every question in detail. It was total bliss for me. I have been involved for 22 years – seven years as a volunteer and fourteen years as the director of ISKCON Prison Ministry.”

Today, she has dozens of responsibilities, including correspondence, training volunteers, maintaining the website and newsletter, soliciting financial support, managing literature donations, and shipping spiritual care packages to inmates. 

Interestingly, some of the inmates have become devotees. These include Bhakta Richard Chase, who took initiation while in prison and became Krishna Kirtan Dasa, and Bhakta Aaron, who took initiation from Bhaktimarga Swami, became Arjuna Dasa.

Prison kirtan, Krishna Kirtan Das circled.

Ramaniya Devi Dasi, one of the volunteers for ISKCON Prison Ministry, corresponds with inmates via email. She said, “Often, inmates come in contact with Kṛṣṇa consciousness out of curiosity, but in the process, they end up practicing it, even if their desire to serve Kṛṣṇa is not so strong. Any gain in our relationship with Krsna is never lost. They may not be so serious about religious practice, but they still get purified by hearing and chanting about Krsna.”

Bhakti-lata expressed her heartfelt gratitude that the prison ministry gets funds from independent devotees. She said, “Some devotees donate a sum every month. Some donate a sum once a year to cover a big-ticket item. For example, Kamlesh Patel donates a new laptop every few years as needed. Ram Tulasi and his wife, Ananda, donate $120 monthly to purchase books. A few devotees (who prefer to remain anonymous) donate the funds to the print of the monthly Freedom Newsletter and for the stamps to mail them. Others sponsor the Back To Godheads needed for the year or the money for the stamps to send the magazines.”

Regarding her upcoming plans, Bhakti-lata said, “Eventually, I will need to train someone to take over from me when the time comes that my body becomes too old for me to keep going (my body just turned sixty). I would love for this service to continue for decades to come.” 

Devotees worldwide are inspired by the incredible efforts of the ISKCON Prison Ministry, while others may be learning about this service for the first time. Whether through volunteering, donating, or simply spreading the word, our readers’ support could make a world of difference in the lives of many incarcerated souls.

If someone is interested in preaching from home and writing to prisoners, they may contact Bhakti-lata to discuss the possibility. If they find that this service is fitting for them, one of the resources is a correspondence course put together by Srutadeva Das.

To learn more about this service, you can visit their website or connect on Facebook. To receive their newsletter, simply email a request.