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Buddhist Peace Fellowship Receives Funding from San Francisco Foundation to Support “Coming Home” Initiative for Ex-Prisoners

The Buddhist Channel, Dec 25, 2006

Berkeley, CA (USA) -- The Buddhist Peace Fellowship (BPF), the nation’s first socially engaged Buddhist organization, announced that it has received a $15,000 grant from the San Francisco Foundation to help launch “Coming Home,” an innovative new spiritually-based project that will serve ex-prisoners and the greater San Francisco Bay Area community.

BPF Board President Anchalee Kurutach said, “We are honored that the San Francisco Foundation has expressed its support for the Coming Home Initiative. The Foundation has a strong commitment to transform the criminal justice system, and we believe we have developed a much needed spiritually grounded approach that supports this goal.”

Coming Home: Designed to Empower Individuals and the Community California’s parole system and reentry programs have been unable to meet the core challenges people face when leaving prison. In California, 71% percent of parolees end up back in prison within 18 months. There are only 200 shelter beds for 10,000 homeless parolees, four mental health clinics for 18,000 parolees diagnosed with mental illness, and 750 treatment beds for 85,000 people released with substance addictions. Over 70% of formerly incarcerated people are unemployed.

Clearly, there is a critical need to develop holistic alternatives that address the complex challenges facing both those returning home and the community. The Coming Home Initiative was envisioned to meet this need, and specifically to serve those who began a meditation practice while incarcerated.

The first step of the project is to open the Coming Home Center in the San Francisco Bay Area by May 2007: a place where people leaving prison can deepen their meditation practice, build community, and receive individual support, counseling, and referral to community resources. Because the founding principle of the initiative is to develop the capacity of those most affected by the prison industrial complex, men
from the San Quentin’s Buddhadharma Sangha, Folsom Prison Pathways Sangha, and other groups will be trained to become leaders, staff, and peer counselors. Subsequent phases of Coming Home will address needs for economic self-sufficiency and healthy living situations. All phases of the project will be firmly rooted in Buddhist principles and practices, and each element will be designed with input from prisoners, former prisoners, and community members.

Hong Chingkuang, co-coordinator of the project, says, “The vision of Coming Home is to act in fellowship with those who have found the resolve to practice the dharma while imprisoned. This project is intended to meet the material, emotional, and spiritual needs of people coming home and the larger community. Our long-term vision is to end
cycles of imprisonment as they manifest both in society and within our own hearts and minds.”

BPF’s Background in Transformative Justice The Buddhist Peace Fellowship is uniquely situated to support an initiative that addresses the root causes of suffering, and that demonstrates that all human beings can participate in transformation.
For nearly 30 years, BPF has been an agent for social justice organizing from a dharmic perspective. Since 1998, BPF’s Transformative Justice Program (formerly known as the Prison Program, founded by Diana Lion) has worked with thousands of imprisoned individuals through ministry, advocacy, correspondence, and education. Many of the people who will participate in the Coming Home Project have benefited from BPF’s prison correspondence and ministry.

The Coming Home project will be staffed by Bhante Suhita Dharma, Michael Callahan, and Hong Chingkuang. Bhante has extensive experience as a chaplain and social worker, including work with Bernie Glassman’s Greyston Foundation in Yonkers, NY.

Staff members Michael Callahan, and Hong Chingkuang joined the BPF staff in July 2005. The two came from seemingly different worlds—Michael arrived with a history of local organizing experience with Critical Resistance and Hong joined the staff shortly after serving an eight-year prison term.

During one of their first conversations at work, Hong shared with Michael his experience upon release. With one bag of belongings slung across his shoulder and a small amount of cash in his pocket, Hong was sent out into the world with hardly any resources for housing or employment, little guidance and no support. Having entered the prison industrial complex [prison] as a youth, he realized his odds of succeeding in the world were stacked against him. Strengthened by his foundation as a long-time dharma practitioner grounded in Chinese Pureland tradition, Hong found his way to the Buddhist Peace Fellowship.

As a local organizer and a practitioner of Soto Zen, Michael came to BPF with a strong belief that a radically different world—one without prisons and oppression—is possible. The two put their heads together and imagined a way to confront the isolation and suffering that is endemic within the prison population, but also among all whose lives
are affected by state and interpersonal violence, confinement, and oppression.

The need for this vision was reinforced when Michael and Hong received a letter from a member of the Buddhadharma Sangha, based in San Quentin State Prison, who asked for solidarity and support for himself and others who would soon be released. The Coming Home Initiative was born as a way to meet this request.

BPF is seeking other funding partners and donors who wish to help manifest this vision and support the future phases of the Coming Home project.


ABOUT THE BUDDHIST PEACE FELLOWSHIP
The mission of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship (BPF), founded in 1978, is to serve as a catalyst for socially engaged Buddhism. BPF's programs, publications, and global network of 35 chapters link Buddhist teachings of wisdom and compassion with progressive social change. BPF is an affiliate of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the International Network of Engaged Buddhists. More information is available at
www.bpf.org.



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