True Freedom – Prison Pen Pal Project

Every week 10 or so letters are delivered to Deer Park for the True Freedom Pen Pal Prison Program. Currently 29 practitioners in the Plum Village tradition correspond with friends inside. They are regular practitioners and participate in local Sanghas. These are some of their input with the pen pal practice:

For over five years I have been writing to friends in prison through the True Freedom program.  We don’t have an agenda.  We just write what is in our heart and learn from each other.  I think I learn more than they do.  I will tell you this:  my brothers inside are the most reliable writers on earth.– Pete MTrue Freedom Calligraphy-edited-small

I hope that sharing the teachings of the Buddha with men in prison has done as much for them as it has for me. I can think of no other activity I’ve engaged in since I started practice that has taught me as much about compassion as participating in the True Freedom program. It is challenging to play some part in the lives of these people I will never meet, but who rely on me, to some degree, for feedback, knowledge, and guidance. I’m honored to be a part of True Freedom. – Andy R

I’ve been part of the True Freedom pen pal program for five years now. It takes roughly three weeks for a letter to get from prison to my home (through Deer Park), and about the same time for one of my letters to reach my inmate “pal” (through prison security). So, basically once a month, I receive a letter and I write a letter. I enjoy the fact that – due to the circumstances – these are old-fashioned hand-written letters. It is always like a special meditation when I sit down with a writing pad and a pen and take a few hours to connect with my Dharma brother “inside.” My current pal is a gifted writer. Over our three-year-long exchange, he’s come up with very creative terms for the place he finds himself in. My favorite is “Pri-Zen,” but I also like the “Hoosegow Hermitage,” the “Prajna-tentiary,” the “Gated Ashram Cell,” and “my Concrete Condo,” One letter began like this: “Greetings from the tropical paradise in my mind where I bask in the sea of serenity and the soothing breeze of ease while in exile at this all-inclusive resort.” I just love it when the Buddhist mind-set is let loose in a “correctional” facility!  Ray B

This opportunity to serve is rewarding for all. Allowing someone to be heard, or to tell their truth, without judgment or perception is a beautiful way to touch another’s heart. For me there is a feeling of continuity shared by all. The writing and receiving of a letter is an elegant constructive relationship. Jack F.- Compassionate Vision of the Heart

This program was started in fall of 2010, but it is actually a continuation. For years prisoners have written to our monasteries and monastics and lay friends have responded. But the few people involved could not handle the incoming volume of letters. The True Freedom Pen Pal Program was developed and guidelines were set up. The group of pen pals have an e-mail group in order to share about our experience and to learn from each other. All pen pals are required to read some books regarding Dharma and practice inside, as well as having a regular personal practice and participation in a Plum Village tradition local Sangha. We are very fortunate to have a coordinator of the project, since all pen pal writers are anonymous and all incoming mail goes through Deer Park. If you are interested to learn more and potentially join as a pen pal, please e-mail Pete our coordinator: In addition to the True Freedom Program there are many practitioners in our Order of Interbeing community, who are supporting practitioners inside.

Many letters ask for a complimentary subscription to the Mindfulness Bell, the newsletter in the Plum Village tradition. Currently 70 inmates receive the Mindfulness Bell. During the past couple of years we have also been able to send hundreds of books by our teacher Thich Nhat Hanh to prisoners, since Parallax Press offered damaged books to the program. 

Writing meditation is a deep practice that opens the doors of the heart 

and generates the energy of healing and compassion for both writer and reader.