PEP Manager Sherry Weinstein shares an interesting story about the introduction of the Peace Education Program at San Quentin State Prison in California.
This is a story about not giving up and showing your humanity.
There is a nurse named Sue Patrick, who has worked at San Quentin State Prison for over 20 years.
Fifteen years ago, she began listening to Prem Rawat’s talks, and ever since then, she and her friend, Carole Diaz, have wanted to bring Prem Rawat’s message of peace to the inmates—and they have.
In 2007, the “Words of Peace” series was approved by the Director of Education at San Quentin for broadcast on SQTV, the closed-circuit TV station at the prison. When the new prison library opened, Sue donated copies of “Peace is Possible,” a biography of Prem Rawat, and ADI magazines, featuring excerpts of his international addresses. In 2011, Sue and Carole donated two new Hitachi external hard drives to SQTV, to upgrade the TV station’s equipment.
San Quentin is the oldest prison in California with 5,000 inmates, and most have a TV in their cells. 700 inmates are on Death Row, and the rest are “Lifers.”
Carole, who I know and appreciate so much, called me about a year ago, because she and Sue wanted to do a PEP program at the prison. They formed a team including Ted Wright and Rik Penn as facilitators.
Meanwhile, the prison newspaper, San Quentin News, staffed entirely by inmates with an outside advisor or two, wanted to interview Sue. She is loved by all because she genuinely cares about everyone and treats each person with so much respect. Instead of the interview with Sue, the team formed a strategy and made an alternative proposal.
“I have someone better to interview—the Peace Education Program Manager,” Sue said. The idea was to have me do the newspaper interview, have the paper write about PEP and announce an introductory program in the large chapel/auditorium, where inmates could come and sign up.
It took about 6 months, but I finally got clearance to go. With very little notice, the prison gave us a date for the program—February 22, from 9:00 to 10:00 AM. The team flew me up the night before. We had a great meeting about PEP, and they put me up in a nice hotel near San Quentin, which ironically is situated in a beautiful spot surrounded by water.
The next morning, we met Sue at the prison at 8:30 am. Carole waited outside, and Sue escorted me first past a guard, then through some buildings to the courtyard, through the middle of a court where a lot of guys were playing basketball (everyone stopped to say hi to Sue), and then down to a trailer where the newspaper people were gathered to do the interview. I expected about two or three guys sitting across from me. Instead, I encountered the entire Journalism Guild, about 25 men and one woman, who is an outside advisor to the newspaper.
A podium and microphone had been set up for me, and a crew filmed the interview for TV. I spoke about PEP—really spoke from my heart—about the program and the way Prem Rawat sees the beauty and value of each person, mentioning his visits to various prison facilities.
The journalists were writing everything down! When I mentioned the 10 themes, they asked me to say them slowly, so they could get all of them… Peace, appreciation, inner-strength. As I was speaking, the guys were smiling, nodding their heads, totally focused, soaking it up.
Then, at one point, the writers were told they could ask questions, and so many hands went up. The Assistant Editor stood up and started calling on people. They asked me how I initially got involved, how Prem Rawat started doing this, how it was different from a religion, how Prem Rawat’s message was different from Deepak Chopra, how it compared to Ifa—an ancient West African philosophy celebrating the energy of life that is within everyone.
At the end, after someone asked a question about religion, an older, respected man sitting on the side spoke up and said, “I have read articles by Prem Rawat, and I can tell you, this is not a religion. This man is very inspiring!”
Then it was over. Most of the people left and the advisor and the Assistant Editor both thanked me heartily for coming. They said they were very interested in having the Peace Education Program at San Quentin, that they were cutting down on seminars that all seemed alike, but wanted to launch a new project and wanted PEP to be part of it. They asked if I could come back later in March and talk with a group launching it. I mentioned Sue and the team, but they wanted me to come, and took my card.
As I was walking away with Sue, feeling totally transformed by these people, a young man who had been in the front row came up to me. He asked if we could get Prem Rawat to come for the May 11th Peace Day, an annual tradition at the prison, with speakers and a lot of promotion.
When I said his schedule was full already, but maybe next year, if there was a Peace Education Program and people appreciated his message, the young man responded, “I’m going to work on that, getting the program here and getting Prem Rawat to come and speak with us next year! I’m going to make it happen.”
Then I asked him if I could write down a question he had asked during the interview, and he repeated it:
“Would you say that it is an accurate summary of what you said about the difference between religion and what Prem Rawat offers is that religion prescribes a way of living and gives precepts, while with these teachings of Prem Rawat, you learn who you are, and from that wisdom, you can show yourself how to live?”
I couldn’t agree more.
Since then, word went around the prison about PEP, and now 120 inmates have signed up for the class, even before the article has come out in the newspaper (expected sometime in April).