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  16/11/2023

Inmate-Turned-Buddhist Pens Book for Kids

Albert Ramos, author of a children’s book, discovered and practiced Buddhist teachings while in prison. He practiced meditation, kept a journal, and recorded daily things he was grateful for.

In 2010, Ramos was sentenced to life in prison for homicide and was incarcerated at the Nash Correctional Institution in North Carolina, USA. It was during this time that he encountered Buddhism and Sister Thubten Chodron, the founder and abbess of Sravasti Abbey in Eastern Washington.

Ramos greatly appreciated the Buddhist programs offered by the monastery for inmates. Approximately 1,000 inmates across the US have accessed these programs. The monks corresponded with inmates, sending them quarterly newsletters and Buddhist literature. Sister Chodron and other monks also visited prisons and conducted an online “Remote Retreat” for about 200 inmates during winter.

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The author met Sister Thubten Chodron during one of her visits to the prison. Years before completing his book for his children, he wrote to Sister Chodron about his aspirations. His book, titled “Gavin Discovers the Secret to Happiness,” narrates the story of Gavin, an energetic and passionate dog. Gavin realizes that dog toys and chasing mice don’t bring true happiness. Through friendship with an older, wise dog battling cancer, Gavin learns that love and compassion are the true sources of happiness.

Sister Chodron remarks, “Ramos has deeply internalized the teachings. One thing that inmates are really interested in and enjoy is the concept of compassion and Buddha-nature, meaning they too can spread love and have the potential to become a Buddha in the future.”

“Thanks to Sister Chodron and Sravasti Abbey, I transformed my mind from despair and anger to kindness, empathy, compassion, and happiness. It’s amazing how much a person’s mindset can change with healthy guidance from another,” Ramos shares in a letter.

His book was published by the monastery last August. Ramos is also working on a second book, about a father dog who gets into trouble for fighting. He intends this book to transform emotions for children with incarcerated parents.

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Sister Thubten Chodron, originally from California, became a nun in 1977. She studied Tibetan Buddhism in India and Nepal under the guidance of the 14th Dalai Lama and other esteemed teachers. She has been an ambassador of Western Buddhism for decades and authored nearly 20 Buddhist works.

Initially, Sister Chodron didn’t intend to engage in prison-related activities. “But in 1997, someone wrote to me wanting a Buddhist book. I sent one and began corresponding,” she recalls. This correspondence led to her considering it a central part of her mission to spread the teachings. “When you make the Bodhisattva vow, a higher vow is to become a Buddha for the benefit of all sentient beings.”

In 2019, Sister Chodron co-authored “Unlocking Your Potential: How To Get Out of Your Own Way” with Calvin Malone, a former inmate in Washington state, who wrote two books about his journey towards Buddhism in prison.

With his book, Ramos hopes to teach his children and others to be content with what they have, especially in everyday friendships. “Children and even adults sometimes forget the blessings around them. We live in a materialistic culture that blinds us, moving us away from real happiness. Happiness is already within us; we just need to recognize what truly matters,” he states.

He sent a copy of his story to Sister Chodron, hoping it would appear in the “Dharma Dispatch” newsletter. However, Sister Chodron saw potential for more. “I read it and thought it was quite lovely,” she says. Thus, the work was edited, illustrated, and prepared for publication.

Sister Chodron hopes the book will help children understand the importance of caring for others over material possessions and also help adults and children love those in prison. “Inmates are human beings with talents who can contribute to society. We need to do more to support them. We shouldn’t just think about the bad things they did in the past. Would you want to be known for the worst thing you’ve ever done?”

Currently, Ramos aims to help other inmates as part of the North Carolina Field Minister Program, a high-quality educational and training program for inmates with the goal of creating positive, comprehensive changes in North Carolina’s prison system. This program targets inmates interested in religion, those struggling with drug addiction, childhood trauma, and mental health issues.

(Source: Giác Ngộ Newspaper)

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