March 5, 2001
Protesters end "Dharma Walk" in Lompoc
By Shane Zimmer - Of The Record Staff
3/05/01 They walked more than 500 miles through California in about a month to end their journey yesterday in Lompoc in front of the U.S. Penitentiary.
With a banner identifying themselves as participants of the California Prison Dharma Walk, a group of about 35 people walked 12 miles in the wind and rain, concluding what they have called "an interfaith pilgrimage to the major prisons of California, to vigil and seek a more humane alternative to imprisonment."
The group ranged from teenagers to the elderly. They gathered to chant, pray, and raise awareness of alternatives to the criminal justice system.
The walk began with about 20 people in Oakland. As they traveled down the Central Valley to Los Angeles and finally back north to Lompoc. The group visited more than 25 prisons and jails to hold vigils.
Jun Yasuda a Buddhist nun living in New York, initiated the walk, saying it is a step toward changing the system of punishment and incarceration.
"Everything changes step-by-step," said Yasuda.
"I believe everybody has a good heart," she said. "If we realize that everyone has a good heart, we can choose another way than this kind of punishment."
During the journey, the size of the group fluctuated from 20 to 100, as people joined the walkers for short periods of time to show their support.
Laura Johnson, of Colorado, explained the walk's purpose.
"It's to get society to look at itself and realize that the answer is not to build more prisons," she said. "The answer is to take a look at what kind of society we have created that makes people think they have to put that many people in these prisons.
"A lot of people in these prisons are in for non-violent offenses. They need help. They don't need to be warehoused. That's not working. These people get out of jail and they are not prepared to live outside."
The walkers chose to end the event in Lompoc, said participant Carolynne Fargey, of Santa Barbara, because of prison-inmate Charles Liteky, who is serving two consecutive six-month sentences for trespassing on Fort Benning, Ga., while protesting its School of Americas (SOA).
The SOA has allegedly trained multiple Latin Americans who have been accused of political assassinations and human torture, according to SOA opponents. Last November protesters demonstrated in front of the prison to support Liteky and to demand his release.
The prison walker's received room and board during their trip from the generosity of others, said Yasuda. They stayed in people's homes, in camps, and in churches.
The group included followers of many religious faiths, including Buddhists, Christians, Jews, and Native American religions.
"There has been other walks like this one, and there will be more until we straighten this mess out," said Johnson.
Here are excerpts from a webpage about this walk,
see the page itself for live links and more information.
California Prison Dharma Walk
Updates and Pictures at http://walk.prisonwall.org
A Call to Connect, to Learn, to Change
February 1 – March 4, 2001
Oakland to Lompoc
Na Mu Myo Ho Ren Ge Kyo
The California Prison Dharma Walk is an interfaith pilgrimage to the major prisons of California to vigil, pray, and seek a more humane alternative to imprisonment. Dharma is a word used in the Buddhist spiritual teaching, meaning universal or natural truth.
This walk is an invitation – an urgent cry – to dissolve the walls of punishment, of shame, of fear, and of isolation that separate the incarcerated and the non-incarcerated. It is a call to all of us to connect and learn, to see what is the reality of prisons in California, and across the United States. We believe that by seeing this reality of vast and preventable suffering and injustice, we will be moved to profoundly change the nature of the correctional system.
The old notion that punishing a perpetrator somehow alleviates the suffering of a victim does not match the reality of human nature. Who is imprisoned? For what reasons? The spiritual, psychological, emotional, and physical suffering which incarcerated men, women, and adolescents endure goes on with little or no knowledge or apparent concern of the larger society. With rare exception, the overwhelming result of imprisonment is the profound deterioration of the human spirit, the breakdown of essential human capacity for trust, the destruction of the already battered sense of self worth. The violence of this increasingly punitive system is devastating for those incarcerated and for their families; it is also harmful for those who work in the prisons and the criminal justice system, and for all members of society – because all is connected.
Even in the relatively small number of situations where people need to be restrained because of violence or threat of violence, we believe the thinking that guides this restraint must be realistic and responsible, not based on shame. We – all citizens – are responsible for the policies of punishment carried out by the state. We are responsible for these policies, and we are deeply affected by them.
* * * *
The initiator of the walk, Sister Jun Yasuda (affectionately known as Jun-san), has been a Buddhist nun for over 25 years. She has worked extensively with indigenous spiritual leaders and many religious people, and she has personally walked several times across the United States and other continents, offering her prayers for peace and social justice.
She will likely not be giving speeches during this prison walk, but offering her prayers and ceremonies. Therefore, she is asking local activists to help organize and speak their messages at local events along the way to bring public, media, and government attention to the many prison-issue related social justice and global peace issues.
Jun-san will help conduct a memorial ceremony at the Los Angeles Nipponzan Myohoji Dojo on January 14th at 11:30 a.m., after which an afternoon meeting to finalize walk events planning may take place. Please join the Dharma-Walk Yahoogroup to post your ideas and commitments for local events along the walk route.
We will walk approximately 15-17 miles per day, visiting about 22 prisons and covering about 500 miles in total. Drugs and alcohol are strictly forbidden to participants. You are welcome to join us for a day, a week, or any amount of time that you would like.
Now in California:
There are more than 160,000 people behind bars, more than 300,000 under the control of the corrections system. Approximately two thirds are people of color.
The California Department of Corrections' inmate population "increased from 23,511 in 1980 to 154,000 in 1997. The growth was accommodated by building 21 new prisons and by adding beds to some of the 12 previously existing prisons."
(from the Little Hoover Commission)
There are 565 people on California's Death Row, including 415 at San Quentin. 11 are women.
More people are being sent to prison for drug and other non-violent offenses than for rape or murder. (See the 1999 Characteristics of Felon Admissions and Parole Violators Returned with a New Term, Tables 2 and 6)
California spends more on prisons than on higher education. (From Classrooms to Cellblocks: How Prison Building Affects Higher Education and African American Enrollment in California, a publication of the Justice Policy Institute)
Since the 1960's California has had the largest prison building program in the U.S.
California has 33 state prisons.
Crime and Prisons Data for California from Stateline.org
Offender Information from the California Department of Corrections
Local route/events coordinators and hospitality for walkers needed.
Please contact organizers to assist or for more information:
Jun Yasuda, Initiator
Grafton Peace Pagoda
87 Crandall Road
Petersburg, NY 12138
Phone: (518) 658-9301
Arnold Erickson, Main California Coordinator
85 Taylor Drive
Fairfax, CA 94930
Phone: (415) 457-1573
Carolynne Fargey, Santa Barbara Coordinator
2520 Mesa School Lane
Santa Barbara, CA 93109
David Williams, Tehachapi Coordinator
20411 Steeple Court
Tehachapi, CA 93561
Global Emergency Alert Response
The Other Side of the Wall
Links Toward Abolition
Nichidatsu Fujii: Taking a Path to Peace