We carry out counseling services in batches on a weekly basis. The inmates whom we counsel are those sentenced on a short term, long term, life imprisonment & death sentences. Inmates are free to choose, which religious counseling they would want. We have counselors from various religions such as Christian, Roman Catholic, Buddhist, Muslim, Sikh, and Hindu. We come under Hindu counseling. Within Hindusism there are few different groups doing counseling at the prison, preaching the various types of philosophy like Mayavada, Sai Baba, etc. Currently, we have a team of 8 counselors who are Krishna Conscious devotees doing this seva. The prisons provides us with fully air conditioned counseling rooms, overhead projectors, DVD players, PC facilities and TV monitors for us to use. We use this equipment in our counseling session.
Our format of the counseling is based on what Srila Prabhupada has recommended for our temples and centres. We conduct Hare Krishna Kirtan, Vaishnava bhajans, Bhagavad Gita discourse and japa chanting. Unfortunately we are not allowed to bring in prasadam for distribution. In Bhagavad Gita we concentrate on chapters where Lord Krishna touches on the spirit soul, Karma, Karma in Krishna Conscious etc which is directly relevant to the suffering that the inmates are going thorough. We also emphasis on how mahamantra can elevate the sufferings of a living entity. Many inmates took up chanting. Some even chant 16 rounds daily. At times we use to let inmates who are chanting to share with others how they feel when they chant. They often have inspiring experiences to narrate. Some attend our Centre programs after they are released. We have inmates who are now married and successfully settled down and practicing Krishna Consciousness in their lives. We have been doing this service for the past 20 years. The result is encouraging.
We had one inmate who was involved in a murder case and subsequently sentenced to death by hanging. This inmate was very restless and begged the prisons authorities for religious counseling. Since he was from a Hindu background, he requested for Hindu counseling. This happened in the early 1990s. At that time there were no Hindu counselors covering the death row unit. We took up the challenge and accepted to counsel the inmate. Normally the inmates who are on a death row seldom asks for counseling. We got the prison authorities to clear some of Srila Prabhupada books and gave them to the inmate. He was happy to receive them. During the counseling session we use to recite a Baghavad Gita verse and spoke on the relevance of his current position. He was very responsive. He use to ask many questions and clear his doubts. We told him to read Prabhupada’s books and chant the mahamantra whenever he can. Somehow the first book he started reading was The Science of Self realization. Eventually, we advised him to read 1 sloka of Bhagavad Gita everyday. Over a short period he was chanting 16 rounds and he use to bury himself in Prabhupada’s books. He began asking more questions and when he got the answers he was very pleased. At one counseling session he told me. “Although I am a great sinner, how merciful Lord Krishna is . Even at the tail-end of my life he is showering mercy although I am unable to do any tangible devotional service unto Him. He send His devotee and Srila Ptabhupada’s books to me. Many people whom I have mixed with in the past, was only trying to exploit me for their enjoyment. However, in the past, if I had an opportunity like this, to come into contact with Krishna devotees, my life would have changed. I am an unfortunate soul, who did not have a parent who could have pass down some knowledge about Krishna Conciousness. Nevertheless, I am sure with Srila Prabhupada mercy, Lord Krishna would award me a better birth in my next life. Like this he use to open his heart and speak the greatness of Lord Krishna and His devotees.
Eventually the date of execution was announced. Usually the announcement of the date is done about 3 to 4 days before execution date. The prisons informed his parents and they visited him. They were allowed to spend long hours with him. He was very cool and the parents could never believe it. He confidently explained to his parents that he had to go as he has to repay for the gross sin he has committed. The parents could not believe their ears. Previously he use to blame others who were involved in the failure of his life. During the visit, whenever his parents and family members had nothing much to say, he made use of that silent gap to chant. As a usual practice, the prisons asked for his last wish. He said as his last wish he would like to beg permission from the prison authorities to allow him to bring along the Bhagavad Gita right to the gallows. So that Lord Krishna’s instructions which I could not practice in this life will give me guidance and accompany me to my next life. His last wish was approved. Finally, the execution date arrived. It is the prison practice to deploy additional Officers when escorting the inmates to the gallows. The officers hardly have any problem bringing him over. On his way to gallows, when he came across other inmates in their cells, he would say good-bye to them and continued, silently chanting the mahamantra. When he was positioned on the gallows, he was given the Bhagavad Gita to hold. He kept saying loudly “Krishna, Krishna…” until his soul departed. As far as the officers concerned this was their first time in their career to see someone so confidently walk to the gallows in such a cool manner and utter the Lord’s name to his last breath. Hare Krishna.
Wishing to remain anonymous Das