Description of Organization
The concept of Buddhist Pathways Prison Project began in 1977 when one local community member started volunteering at Folsom State Prison near Sacramento. He carried on this service work for over five years before passing it on to another volunteer who was a Sacramento Tibetan practitioner. In 2003, founder Diane Wilde found herself attending a Sacramento Insight Meditation (SIM) sangha meeting, where someone asked her if she would be interested in volunteering in prison. At the time, her son was in prison and she felt that she should experience that as well. She led Buddhist groups inside Folsom prison for about 2-3 years with a number of other volunteers before a chaplain at nearby CSP-Sacramento invited her to come give a talk there to about 15 men. After her talk, a majority of the men signed up to attend regular Buddhist services. Over the next few years, additional volunteers were recruited to help lead those services. That group of volunteers grew and in 2009, Buddhist Pathways Prison Project offered the very first silent daylong retreat in a California prison at CSP-Sacramento. The first annual training retreat was held in 2010 at the Santa Sabina Center in San Rafael–a 2-day retreat.
In 2022, a grant in the amount of $12,500 (a matching grant with Kataly Foundation) was awarded to support a summer 2023 leadership and empowerment retreat for sangha members who were previously incarcerated and are survivors of mass incarceration who have found the dharma and are applying Buddhist principles and the precepts to not only heal from their own traumas but to heal and uplift those that have been harmed. The intention is to apply restorative practices to find closure and create safe and welcoming spaces for everyone. The program will allow those who participated in programming and Buddhist services while incarcerated to have travel costs covered as well as a stipend for days off work to participate. Some previously incarcerated community members had participated in daylong retreats while incarcerated but almost none have been able to attend an in-person retreat. This program will also include training in leadership skills for the staff, who are BIPOC and formerly incarcerated individuals who have decades inside prison. Trainings will benefit their effectiveness in providing services for currently and formerly incarcerated individuals and build up the skills they weren’t afforded. The training also supports those members who have a strong desire to give back to society and support their brothers and sisters inside prison.
In 2018, a grant in the amount of $15,000 was awarded to Buddhist Pathways Prison Project to support general operating expenses so they could maintain and expand their current service capabilities and to extend their reach both to new prisons in California and to a greater number of incarcerated people in the prisons where they already serve. Their programs brought the core teachings of the historical Buddha of non-harming, meditation, compassion and wisdom into prisons and jails across the state based on requests made from inside these facilities by those currently housed within these institutions.