A Tibetan Buddhist nun for 31 years, Robina Courtin founded Liberation Prison Project in 1996. She served as executive director for 13 years. She continues to teach all over the world, raising funds to support the prison project and working with people in prisons. Ven. Robina regularly visits prisons in Australia and the United States, giving teachings to groups and meeting prisoners one-on-one. Many of these men are on death row or have life sentences. Most have been in gangs, both on the streets and in prison.
Liberation Prison Project offers spiritual advice and teachings, as well as books and materials, to people in prison interested in exploring, studying and practicing Buddhism. A Tibetan Buddhist organization and social services project affiliated with the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition, since 1996 the project has supported the Buddhist practice of over 20,000 prisoners.
Prisoners first contact the project after hearing about its services from another prisoner or one of its volunteer Buddhist teachers, reading its newsletter, or seeing its name in a book donated to a prison library.
The project started in 1996 with a letter from Arturo Esquer, a young Mexican-American ex-gangster serving three life sentences at Pelican Bay, one of California’s maximum-security prisons. Arturo had read Introduction to Tantra (Wisdom Publications), a book by Lama Yeshe, the founder of FPMT, and was moved by Lama’s talk of compassion. He wrote to the organization wanting to learn more. “I’m writing in hope to be able to receive the Foundation’s journal on a regular basis. If possible, I would like to personally get involved in the Buddhist way of life.”
Ven. Robina, at that time the editor of Mandala, the magazine of FPMT, responded to Arturo’s request and sent him some books and copies of Mandala. That year, at his request, she visited Pelican Bay and gave him the Refuge and Lay Vows and later Bodhisattva Vows. As his practice and study grew she continued to advise him. Not long after, other Pelican Bay inmates, including Arturo’s cellmate Francisco Vasques began writing Ven. Robina.
By mid-1997 40 prisoners from all over the US – all of whom had heard about her through word of mouth – were writing and receiving spiritual advice from Ven. Robina. Many also requested visits and took Refuge and the Lay Vows.
In 2000 the project became a nonprofit organization in the US and with the blessing of Lama Zopa Rinpoche, officially became a social services project affiliated with the FPMT.
In 2001 following the success of the film Chasing Buddha, a documentary about Ven. Robina’s life and work, the prison project was established as a nonprofit in Australia. In 2006 branches opened in Spain and Mexico, and the following year in Mongolia; and this year LPP began in Italy as well as resumed activities in New Zealand.
Liberation Prison Project has touched the hearts of thousands of prisoners all over the world.
“It was as if there were no choice but to allow it to grow,” says Ven. Robina. “Here are people whose needs are strong, if not desperate, who are clearly in situations where they have little power to control their own lives. Most, it seems, have nothing, and have no one to turn to. How could we not help?”
Source: Liberation Prison Project.