Prison Dharma Program at Attica

RZC’s Prison Dharma program serves incarcerated people at Attica Correctional Facility, a maximum-security federal prison. We offer short rounds of timed sitting, as well as 10-20 minutes of body work and relaxation per visit, to help ease the extremely difficult conditions of life in prison, where the incarcerated face noise, lack of sleep, abusive behavior from some guards, racism, poor food, and so on.

Compared to formal sittings at Arnold Park or Chapin Mill, Prison Dharma sessions offer a less hierarchical feeling, and more of a sense that we all are interconnected Sangha. Most significantly, Prison Dharma volunteers take time for conversation, including with the incarcerated attendees. We hear and learn from each other’s experience.

I feel it is a privilege to sit with the incarcerated people at Attica. It has enriched my life immeasurably and my hands are palm-to-palm with gratitude for this opportunity.

Who – and where – we serve

The incarcerated people who regularly attend our Prison Dharma offering are serious meditators. Most work with a breath practice. Some do other forms of meditation, but all understand the need to turn inward. Part of the practice for Prison Dharma volunteers is keeping an open mind in working with attendees.

Attica is an imposing brick-and-concrete fortress with a heavy, oppressive feel to it. The walk to the “Academic School” where our “meditation class” is held is long, maybe a quarter mile, as we pass through various sections of the institution. It can feel depressing, but it gives us another opportunity to liberate ourselves and others, and we inevitably feel uplifted and tuned into the practice when we depart.

Interested in joining our efforts at Attica?

Please complete this short form.

Volunteering at Attica offers us a wonderful opportunity to activate our dana. It helps me work with some of my own conflicts about authority, race, the criminal justice system, and more.

Prison Dharma logistics

Volunteering with RZC’s Prison Dharma group involves a significant time commitment. We have decreased our sessions post-pandemic to every 1st, 3rd, and 5th Thursday, from the former weekly schedule. However, it would be wonderful to have enough volunteers to make it weekly again, in order to better support the community of meditators we serve.

From Rochester, it takes at least an hour to go the approximately 50 miles to Attica. Driving time from downtown Buffalo is roughly similar. Expect to leave at 4:15pm and get home by 10:45pm at the earliest. Volunteers must arrive at Attica between 5:30pm and 5:45pm. If you get to Attica after 5:45pm, you’ll be sent back home.

Attica’s schedule isn’t always predictable. We are checked in, and wait at the front gate until 6:00pm, or sometimes much later before we walk to the classroom. Sometime between 6:30 and 7:00pm, or even later, our meditators join us in the classroom. We say goodbye between 9:00pm (usually) and 9:30pm, depending on what is going down inside the walls of Attica.

The physical environment in the classroom can be uncomfortable. The heating system is quirky and can be very hot. We can open windows, and there are fans. Sometimes it’s chilly. Bring a sweater in the fall.

The process of coming on board as a volunteer involves coming out to Attica for fingerprinting and an in-person orientation, as well as a tuberculosis (TB) test. If you have a history of arrest, it can’t be too recent.

We’d love to have you join us in this powerful work. Get in touch here to indicate your interest.

Quotes by James Thompson