April 23rd 2013 Karlovac Jail Program

Judging from the start of our trip from Rijeka, I could say it was going to be a very successful program. And it was, indeed. Even more than that.

Just before leaving for prison program in Karlovac, I had to visit the hospital laboratory in Rijeka, so I went there dressed in my festival pink – orange South Indian sari, hoping to be ready on time, for Mahasimha Prabhu was already waiting in the car. Knocking shyly on the lab door during the break time, I sneaked in, excusing myself and awaiting harsh complaints from the nurses. But as soon as ladies cast their eyes on my shining silk sari, their faces start beaming with curiosity. The three of them gathered friendly around and quickly solved my case, without taking their eyes from the sari while I was explaining about the dress and the program ahead.

Similar thing happened in the prison. After a brief examination by the guards, we squeezed in the really narrow room, arranging few chairs and our instruments and waiting for the inmates. Suddenly a loud cry came from somewhere above us – Here there are! Catholics in the mission of Hare Krishna! –  ten inmates poured in, accompanied by two guards – a tall young man, and shorter one with loud walky-talky in hand, making distracting noise. Candramauli Maharaja commented to us that real meaning of ‘Catholic’ is ‘universal’, which made sense – Lord Caitanya’s preaching is really universal, reaching even, by material calculations, insignificant Karlovac prison.

One inmate laughed repeatedly and uncontrollably for apparently no reason. Another one, sitting in the front row was our acquaintance from the last visit and he was smiling benevolently, while all the others had gloomy faces, suspiciously looking at us. Mohan Prabhu explained softly what we were going to do and Raghunath Prabhu broke the ice with his meditative bhajan. Then Maharaja spoke about karma, stressing that by that knowledge one can change his life completely. As he was speaking about the laws of nature, i.e. laws of God, the inmates’ faces were changing. Even the morose guard lowered the volume of his walky-talky and listened carefully. Everybody was drinking Maharaja’s words through the ears, with rapt attention, not taking their eyes from the speaker. He impressed them with the (true) story about the restaurant owner who was roasting alive lobsters, and ended up being scooped up by the fire extinguishing plane, together with the sea water in which he was deep diving, and afterwards poured over the forest fire near his restaurant. Even the tall guard was amazed and perplexed.

When Maharaja mentioned the example of a lady whose sentence was miraculously changed after the visit of her future spiritual master, our audience was ready to give it a try. Candramauli Swami convinced them that one can be happy even in the prison if has peace of mind and that there is nothing to lose in trying to chant Hare Krishna and in such a way connect to God who can alone change our karma. The lecture was short but spicy. There were no questions, though. So Raghunath Prabhu sang one more bhajan after which someone inquired about tilak. Prompted by Maharaja, Mohan Prabhu expertly explained about the temple of God and need to take good care of the body in which we live. At that moment another, senior guard enthusiastically tuned in, with a big smile and his thumb up, saying to the audience, “You should learn it from them“.

They wanted more bhajans and Dasaratha Prabhu took the lead. Shyly the inmates were joining the singing. But it was only after Mahasimha Prabhu prompted them to repeat the mantra after Maharaja,-reading it from the cards that they had been given at the beginning of the program that everybody gathered the courage. Dasaratha Prabhu sang again and this time everybody was singing along, all the time, loud like anything. One big, muscular young lad at the end of the room stood up, shouting maha mantra all the while from the top of his lungs, and urged by Mahasimha Prabhu, others followed suit, along with the senior guard. We also got up and started to dance the swami step. The tall guard was avoiding to join in, but he opened the window so that the whole prison could hear loud, concentrated chanting of Maha Mantra.

Absorbed in the Holy Names It became very difficult for the inmates to stop.But being over time we gradually ended the kirtan. Mohan Prabhu invited them for a free lunch in our nearby devotee restaurant as soon as they get out and Mahasimha Prabhu gave them books and promised that we will soon come again. The inmates faces were beaming with new joy as they were, one by one, approaching Candramauli Maharaja and shaking his hand, thanking him. One inmate was focusing on Mahasimha Prabhu and repeating, “I shall write you.“ Deeply satisfied, we were leaving the prison astonished once again with the power of the Holy Name and the mission that Srila Prabhupada handed to us.

Vinata dd (Krk, Croatia)

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