A remarkable story
A mother writes about her son’s transformation in jail.
In August, 2005, Sravasti Abbey sent out an email to our e-list informing them of nearby property for sale. We received a reply from Jobekah and since we didn’t know her, we asked how she heard about the Abbey and our email. A storyteller by profession, she wrote this account. Of course, everyone should not expect to experience such a dramatic change from reading a book, but it seems many good circumstances were in place for her son and these types of turn-arounds do happen.
Amazingly I received the notification that these properties were available. Assuming they were in the Shasta, California area, I responded right away, knowing full well how quickly properties appear and then disappear off the California real estate market. However I subsequently discovered they were located in the lush quietude of Eastern Washington. This was a little further than I wanted to seek a new address, but the way of the fates had a different reason for pointing the way.
My oldest son was jailed for six months for spousal abuse. Angry all of his life, wearing the weight of a huge chip on his shoulder, there were no words or counsel that would encourage to seek help. We were so very sad when he lost his house, wife, children, and everything he owned during those six months.
It was then that I was prompted to peruse books on Amazon for anger. Being a novice practitioner, I particularly wanted to find something that could inspire him in the way that taking refuge in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition did for me over a year ago. (That is another complete story in itself). I must have looked at nearly a hundred books, reading carefully the first few pages that were available to read and make a decision based on its contents. I was scrolling when I saw one of the books offered for sale, framed in a bright golden light. None of the others had used that idea, so I went to its pages and read, not wanting to stop, and was convinced this was the book to send to my son in the county jail.
I wrote telling him of my book find and went back to the same page to copy the information. I had to do some searching, because when I found the book again, it didn’t have the golden frame around it. I wondered why they had taken it off because it was so effective as an “attention getter.”
My son received the book, and when he had it unwrapped and placed in his hands, he sat before opening it and asked the spiritual world that he be able to absorb and understand the meaning of the words inside in order to have the help he needed. He read and reread and reread it again, and then one afternoon alone in his cell, as he explained to me, it was like an electric switch turned to “on”! A flood of recognition rushed over him as though he had been given a new set of eyes, a new brain, a new heart, a new being and purpose. He wrote an energetic, positive, stream of consciousness, six-page letter to his father and me. Gone like a darkened bird from the top of a roof, he did not sound like the same person.
He took the book to his counseling session and told the counselor that if he read this book, he would think of approaching his psychological techniques in a totally different way. He gave his book to the counselor and in two weeks a dozen copies of the same book had been purchased through Amazon used books. The counselor expressed that he would and did change the way that he approached counseling sessions with people in prison based on his reading of the book and how it impressed him to change his techniques.
My son declared to everyone he would never be violent or verbally abusive to anyone for the rest of his life. These are not solid words when you are incarcerated and everyone has an animal survival consciousness, waiting for the prey, looking for the attack, preparing for the most negative of circumstance. People challenged this odd behavior with the threat of beating him up, killing him, and setting him in different questionable circumstances. He held his peaceful ground. The other men nicknamed him “Holy Man” and began to come to him asking questions, wanting answers, asking for help. He referred them over and over and over again to this book on anger. People read the book and contacted their families they had not spoken to in over a decade and asked them to read the book. It changed their lives as well.
A race riot was brewing in the quad one evening; things were getting very negative and violent. My son jumped up on a table and invited everyone to look within and see who they were even if they were trapped in the circumstance of being behind bars and lacking freedom. He asked that a representative of every one of the races who felt they were an example of an intelligent and spiritual leader to come forward and to shake hands. All races were represented, and all shook hands. They began to shout from the tiers, “Holy Man! Holy Man!” He replied, “No it is not me! It is you—you made the decision to change in that moment, to change what you did and thought.”
Even the police remarked that they had never had anyone turn things around using that approach and saw that there was something to this person. Every sentence, every paragraph, every focused presentation of the Dharma has been a life-altering present one gives oneself.
When he left prison, the Native Americans sent him off with a song, the Latinos shook his hand, and the African Americans called him “brother.” My son truly thought much of all of them.
He has exceeded expectations in counseling now that he is on the outside. Others constantly ask him to speak at meetings and seminars, and all he can say is that it is a simple story from a simple person who had a chance to change his life due to a book his mother saw on the internet. He has tried to find as many ways as he can to personally apologize to others for having caused pain or suffering in their lives. It has left many with a codfish expression of voiceless open-mouth disbelief at his change and his apology.
I know that this is a long story, but when I clicked on to the page where Sravasti Abbey had its information, I kept seeing the smiling face of Thubten Chodron. All of a sudden it hit me! This is the very person whose words, assembled on paper in Working with Anger before my son’s eyes, changed his life, his focus, his way of thinking, doing, and being. I am eternally grateful for her perception, her outreach, and her sharing of the Dharma.
My son now, is a novice practitioner as am I, and we exchange our stories, our travels, and the tiny precious droplets of wisdom we have gleaned.
And to answer your question: I don’t know how you even had my email address to send the message about the property to me!
Now I am beginning to wonder if, once again, I am being led to discover the deeper, more complex meaning behind the communiqué received about the land.
Thank you for writing,
Venerable Thubten Chodron
Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.