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.

16 responses to “True Freedom – Prison Pen Pal Project”

  1. I would like to connect with someone in prison who practices in the thich nhat hanh tradition. I am interested in being pen pals

  2. am interested in having a pen pal with someone who is in prison and practicing meditation in the thich nhat hanh tradition. thank you, pru

  3. Would like to connect with a prisoner who wants to correspond with someone practicing in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hahn. Have practiced in the tradition for about 8 years and belong to a local Sangha. I am concerned about people in prison who have little spiritual support and wish to communicate back and forth and learn from them as well. I am elderly and a female.

    • Hi! I received a reach out letter from a federal inmate, DENZIAL TITTLE 66072 179 B53 POB 9000 FCI Seagoville TX 75159-9000. He is looking for a Buddhist pen pal who can correspond with him to share ideas about Buddhism (he has expressed interest in Thich Nhah Hanh’s teachings) , meditation, gardening and permaculture. If you are interested in corresponding with him, please let me know. I can send you his reach out letter if you wish so.

      • Please send me the reach out letter. I don’t know much about gardening or permaculture but would be happy to correspond on Buddhism and meditation. Thanks, Crystal Wright

        • Hi Crystal! So grateful you are willing to correspond with Mr. Tittle!
          I no longer have his reach out letter with me because I sent it to another potential pen pal. If I am able to get a scanned copy of it, I can email it to you.
          You can start corresponding with Mr. Tittle addressing your letters to: DENZIAL TITTLE 66072 179 B53 POB 9000 FCI Seagoville TX 75159-9000. You can mention that Galia from DMC contacted you or you can simply say you were informed at Deer Park Monastery that he was looking for a Dharma sharing pen pal.
          I would appreciate if you can let me know when you send your first letter to him.
          With a bow,

          • Hi Galia, I have just written to Denzial Tittle and will mail the letter today. Maybe he will be Ok with having two pen pals. Thanks for the opportunity and may be and all being benefit from our correspondence, Crystal Joy

          • Hi Galia, I noticed after I send the last message that I typed the message at the end wrong. It should read maybe he won’t mind having two pen pals and may our correspondence together benefit both of us and all sentient beings. With a bow, Crystal

          • Thanks Crystal. Mr. Tittle will be very happy to hear that you will become his pen pal. The other person could not commit, so you would be his only pen pal. I already sent you Mr. Tittle contact info, let me know if you need it. Please let me know when you send your first letter to him.
            With a bow,

          • Hi Galia, I mailed the first letter this afternoon. I did not receive to my knowledge the information on him as you had already sent it to the other person. It is OK, I asked him to send me the information in my first letter. I hope it works out as I have wanted to do this for a long time. It is just that my work is very demanding and sometimes I just can’t respond immediately but I let him know that too. Thanks again, Crystal

  4. I am interested in corresponding with an inmate. I have been a member of our local Sangha, practicing in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, for about 6 years. I am female and middle aged.
    Thank you,

  5. Thank you for sharing this. I hope many people will be like you who don’t scare to be friends with prisoners. We can encourage prison pen pals so they have motivation in life. This blog is worth reading.

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