In late November, 2007, the Washington State Department of Corrections officially appointed Rev. Genko Kathy Blackman of Dai Bai Zan Cho Bo Zen Ji, a Seattle Rinzai temple, to a position on its Religious Services Advisory Committee. As a member of RSAC, Blackman represents the interests and concerns of both inmates and volunteers.
While the right of people incarcerated in Washington state to practice their chosen faith is protected by both federal and state law, the logistics of providing for the exercise of these rights are quite complex. Staff chaplains and corrections officers, along with community volunteers, are involved in a busy schedule of activities at each correctional facility, constantly under pressure of security concerns. It is a daunting responsibility for everyone involved.
In order to assist in the process, the Washington State Department of Corrections is advised on matters of prisoners’ faiths by its Religious Services Advisory Committee. The committee’s tasks include reviewing existing policies that have an impact on religious programs, and advising administration staff and facility chaplains when specific faith-related issues arise. RSAC has a current membership of 12, representing as closely as possible the diversity of faith traditions in the prison system.
Buddhists have been represented on the committee for several years, beginning in 1999 with the late Dharmachari Aryadaka, who later served as Washington state’s (and this country’s) first paid Buddhist chaplain. Aryadaka was succeeded by Eido Frances Carney, Roshi of Olympia Zen Center.
Blackman takes over Eido Roshi’s slot on RSAC . She currently volunteers at the Minimum Security Unit at Monroe Correctional Complex, as well as at the King County jail.
Says Blackman, “It would be helpful for those of us who are currently volunteering with Buddhist groups in Washington state corrections facilities to have more connection with each other, in order to better represent the concerns and insights of Buddhist volunteers and inmates to RSAC. Methods of communication could include an e-mail network, or an interest group on the Prison Dharma Network site, in order to exchange information and identify problems. We can all learn from each other.”
Current prison dharma volunteers, as well as others interested in finding our more about volunteering, are encouraged to contact Genko Kathy Blackman at email@example.com.
Potential volunteers need to apply with the state and go through the screening and training process. Volunteers make a commitment to attend consistently, usually once or twice a month on the scheduled days.
Contributor: Genko Kathy Blackman
Photo: Kaj Wyn Berry