Prison Visits


LAST UPDATED: December 10, 2022

Illustration by Dianne Hopkins, prison sangha member since 2014

Volunteering with Incarcerated People

Are you interested in helping incarcerated people learn about meditation? For over 30 years the Austin Shambhala Meditation Center has worked with incarcerated men and women in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice system. About 10 years ago the Austin Dharmata Sangha joined the program, and both organizations now collaborate closely.

Our work includes both on-site visits and correspondence. The prison environment is very challenging for all, inmates and staff alike. Inmates have reported that the only quiet time they have is during the volunteer program. Over the years we have received many letters from inmates expressing deep appreciation for the opportunity to learn to meditate. In fact, the visits have been going on for so many years that we’re seeing former inmates being released and entering the free world.

What We Do

Our goal is to ease the prison experience for inmates by giving them the tools to develop a meditation practice. We offer basic instruction to a general audience, usually accompanied by some body practice such as yoga. For the inmates who are Buddhists we provide more specific religious content. While we focus almost exclusively on shamatha meditation, we try to make our instruction comfortable and welcoming for people of all faiths and experience. We also provide Communal Meals on TDCJ-recognized Buddhist holidays twice yearly.

Where We Go

All the prisons we serve are in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice system:

  • Crain Unit, Gatesville (women) – second Thursday of the month, 4:00-5:15 pm

  • Lockhart Unit, Lockhart (women) – third Saturday of the month, 1:00-2:30 pm

  • Mountain View Unit, Gatesville (women) – first Friday of the month, 3:15-5:15 pm

How to Get Involved

Because our Prison Program operates within TDCJ's Chaplaincy Department, we request that you have been meditating for at least three years in a recognized Buddhist lineage. Some experience with yoga or other body awareness practice is also helpful. Our volunteers are committed to meditation as a tool for spiritual development or self-awareness and have personal experience with shamatha meditation. A basic familiarity with Buddhist or Shambhala teachings is also helpful.

For more information about helping with this important project, please contact Volunteer Coordinator Jessica.

TDCJ Volunteer Training

To become an Approved Volunteer in the TDCJ system, you will need to submit an application to TDCJ and attend a training session. TDCJ will conduct a background check as part of the application process. For more information about becoming a volunteer, see the TDCJ Volunteer page.

Due to COVID, TDCJ training is taking place mostly online, although some in-person sessions have resumed. Volunteers are required to retrain every two years.

TDCJ allows volunteers to attend up to four times as a "Special Volunteer" without having taken the training. You will be paired with an experienced volunteer when you go.

New Approved Volunteers are always accompanied by an experienced volunteer for several visits and until you feel comfortable going by yourself.