Fundraiser Report

Looking back on True Freedom Sunday -- 2010

Our heartfelt gratitude goes out to all the people and businesses that made our first True Freedom prison fundraiser a success.  Scroll down for some snapshots and story from True Freedom Sunday, October 24, 2010.

Fundraiser Auction/DinnerWe raised approximately 38% of our $8,000 goal for 2011.

  • If you can help us raise that percentage, please see our donation page.
  • An online auction continues our fundraising.  Click here (not ready yet, keep checking!)

Please visit our Facebook page to see more photos from True Freedom:

True Freedom Report

As SRV’s first event of this nature, True Freedom was successful in creating more awareness of the spiritual needs of incarcerated persons and how religious service volunteers serve that need.

Chaplain Emily BraultChaplain Emily Brault from Oregon’s Department of Corrections opened our speakers segment.  She emphasized the transformative impact that contact with religious volunteers have in the area of an inmate’s sense of self-worth and how that leads to positive thinking and actions.

MusaHarry “Musa” Olsen, founder of PHOENIX Rising Transitions, shared his personal experiences leading to prison and the pivotal encounters and awakenings that shifted his perspective and goals.  He subsequently made it his mission in life to bring as much “light” into the prisons as possible by encouraging qualified teachers of different spiritual traditions to volunteer in those institutions.  Most important and enduring among those have been Babaji with SRV Associations and the Nur Ashki Jerrahi Sufi Order with Shaykha Fariha al-Jerrahi and Sheija Amina al-Jerrahi.

Chris DaileyChris Dailey described his spiritual journey while inside, which entailed a dramatic shift in his daily activities: no television, attendance at every religious service offered at his facility, and reading all the spiritual books that fell into his hands.  Many of these books turned out to have been donated by SRV Associations.  In this way he discovered Swami Vivekananda’s Raja Yoga, which inspired and guided him along the process of replacing old ways of thinking with new Ideals and acting on those only.

Michael SmithMichael Smith, an SRV student for the last three years, recounted his experience of coming into contact with Vedanta and Babaji at a time when he had given up on “organized religion” as hypocritical and imaginary.  Encouraged by a fellow inmate to “meet his Guru” at a Vedanta class, Michael, full of skepticism, found he could not fail to accept the Vedantic principles that Babaji discoursed upon.  At the end of class Babaji stated, “Once you hear the truth, you cannot ‘un-hear’ it.”   Michael admitted, humorously, that this made him really angry, because he realized he now had to live up to these very principles he was hearing.  After shock and anger, came ardent study, reflection, and a daily practice that continues to deepen.

babajiBabaji was our final speaker of the afternoon and closed the educational session with a poignant assessment of humanity’s problem with recidivism.  Quoting Lord Buddha’s warnings against building houses in maya  — houses of wood and stone, houses of flesh and blood – Babaji turned towards the idea of cycles of rebirth against one’s will, or in ignorance of one’s true nature.  This was compared to the theme of recidivism, previously limited to ex-convicts’ rates of re-offense, and how that same term aptly applies to the billions of souls who are coming back to the prison of this world.  Quoting Lord Buddha again, “The wise do not call strong those fetters made of iron, but rather those made of flesh and desire.”  Speaking of Vedanta’s ability to transform minds due to its nondenominational and universal character, Babaji then described how a few ardent students in several prisons have spread the good news of Vedanta to others, forming “study cells” in contrast to terrorist cells.

Earlier in the day’s event, True Freedom attendees were treated to footage from two wonderful documentaries detailing hatha yoga (Yoga in the Shadows, Bruce Kubert) and also Vipassana meditation programs offered in various prisons across the United States.  The viewing room was completely packed when these films were shown.

Evening of FundraiserThroughout the afternoon and during the benefit dinner at Bella Gioia, the acoustical guitar music of Sam Densmore enhanced the atmosphere.  The silent auction, filled with lots of great items donated by friends, businesses, body workers, musicians, and students at Coffee Creek Correctional Institution, quietly continued throughout the event and generated almost half of the fundraiser’s proceeds … and very happy faces.  We had such an abundance of auction items that not everything was bid upon and some great things were leftover.  So we are continuing the silent auction online.

Looking ahead True Freedom Inside & Out

In conversations after True Freedom Sunday, Babaji reflected on the mission of prison ministry and what we might emphasize in a potential second annual event:

Society’s ills create offenders, and society then builds prisons to deal with and compensate for these ills.  If, as a society, we just throw those who err into these institutions, then we are not taking responsibility for our part in the process.  We are shirking our part of the blame.  Ideally, the platform of religious services is meant to help address this.

If we offer what is termed “religious service,” then it must truly be Religious Service.  Experts on prison reform are telling us that what we have been attempting to date is not working.  What will be effective, then, is to give instructions to inmates on spiritual practice; it must come first and be emphasized.  Our focus should be on spiritual practice on up rather than morality on down.  The former transforms the mind, getting at the root problems, while the latter most often only covers them up for a while until they surface again.