Mind Without Borders is a prison dharma program organized by the New York City Nalandabodhi sangha. We provide Buddhist study through correspondence courses, dharma pen palsand practice instructors. We are able to nurture Buddhist study and meditation groups within some prisons and send DVDs  for the inmates to view and discuss together. When possible, we make personal visits to the prisoners with whom we are working.

Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche has told us, in general, that those of us who have been fortunate enough to hear, contemplate and meditate upon the Buddhadharma have a responsibility to share it with others, especially those who are in the greatest need.  Specifically, in respect to prisoners and the dharma, he says, “Prisoners should have the same opportunity as any one of us.”  He considers prison outreach work to be very important social justice work.

The mission of our program is to provide prisoners personal and structured support in the Tibetan Buddhist path. We work with those inmates who are drawn to us karmically rather than by advertisement. We are also committed to working with those most hidden and difficult to reach prisoners, those inmates in Solitary and those serving life or other long-terms. We aspire to benefit these most stigmatized members of our society, so that they in turn will benefit others, and that together, we may spread harmony and happiness in our shared and interdependent worlds — because heart and mind know no prison walls or borders.


Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche gave the program its name and blessing during the summer of 2007, a year after the program began germinating. Mind Without Borders originally developed out of a personal correspondence between an inmate in Solitary Confinement at Pelican Bay State Prison (a level IV super max in northern California) and a member of Nalandabodhi New York. This inmate, Luis Ramirez, is now a formal student of Rinpoche, and a full member of Nalandabodhi. Luis was given his Bodhisattva Vows by Rinpoche in April. Three other prisoner-participants were given Refuge names. We now have four inmate participants at Pelican Bay. Three of these are graduating from the Mahayana curriculum course as correspondent students. We also have a growing population of prisoner-participants in Kern Valley State Prison in southern California, and inmates working with us in other prisons in the U.S.

Mind Without Borders is still a small program that has been growing slowly. We prefer to provide more personal support to inmates who have a karmic connection to us rather than providing general information, and we’ve preferred to grow slowly instead of quickly by advertising our services in prisoner newsletters. This slow growth has also enabled us to learn how to conduct and organize such a program. Prison outreach work is not easy.

Getting Involved

We invite others who are involved in prison dharma work to let inmates with whom they are working know they can contact us if they would like to participate in the correspondence course aspect of our program. We welcome collaboration with those of you who are able to visit prisons in your area that are more accessible than our prisons are. We believe that support for prisoners returning to community is a crucial aspect of prison dharma work. We are eager to learn about and participate in this kind of work, as we will also want to support our prisoners when some are are released in the future.

We also need donations to further our work. Providing study materials, sending these, and visitation to out-of-the way SuperMaxes is expensive – but very, very important to many of our inmates for whom our personal support and commitment is tremendously encouraging.


Mind Without Borders

For more information, or to send a donation, please contact co-directors Isabel Kirsch or Jonathan Swann.

Visit the Mind Without Borders Facebook group by clicking here.