Petersburg Krishna Kirtan Concert

By Phalini Devi Dasi

At 7:00 a.m. on August 22, 2015, my husband and I climbed into the car with Sarva-drik dasa and his wife Sudevi. We all drove to the Petersburg (Virginia) Federal Correctional Complex where we all had gone for a kirtan and preaching program in September of 2014. Our first trip there had been such a positive experience that we were eager to go again.

By Phalini Devi Dasi

At 7:00 a.m. on August 22, 2015, my husband and I climbed into the car with Sarva-drik dasa and his wife Sudevi. We all drove to the Petersburg (Virginia) Federal Correctional Complex where we all had gone for a kirtan and preaching program in September of 2014. Our first trip there had been such a positive experience that we were eager to go again.
During the pleasantly scenic drive between Sandy Ridge and Petersburg, we learned that before relocating to Prabhupada Village six years before, Sarva-drik Prabhu had lived at the Denver ISKCON Temple for twenty-five years. While living there, he used to regularly go to the prison in Englewood, Colorado to chant, preach and teach the inmates about Krsna Consciousness, as well as to distribute prasadam. He now works in connection with the ISKCON Prison Ministry. Over the last six years, he developped and now follows a regular prison preaching route. Prison preaching has given Sarva-drik Prabhu such a sweet taste that he goes to at least five prisons every month—one or two per weekend—including facilities in South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia.

We arrived in Petersburg right on time, with our closed-toe shoes (visitors are not allowed to wear flip-flops there) and our otherwise completely devotional dress, tilaka and musical instruments. After clearing security, we were escorted to the chapel. The Prison Chaplain and Bhakta Richard (aka “Krishna Kirtan”–the devotee who is in charge of the Bhakti-Yoga Club at the medium-security facility) met us there and led us into a large room which is part of the vast prison chapel complex.

We were not prepared for what awaited us. Forty men greeted us, many of whom were positioned and ready to play various types of musical instruments to accompany the kirtan. We recognized some of the faces and gave nods and smiles of recognition to those whom we had met the previous year—Simon, Louis, and David were a few of the names we remembered.

Bhakta David, the now-famous origami florist, had handmade many more paper flowers this year than he had the previous year (Petersburg Correction Facility still does not allow real flowers on campus). In fact, he had made more than two-hundred paper flowers, dozens of which were strung together as garlands. As we entered the concert hall, we were lovingly garlanded by four of the men. Bhakta David had also learned how to make multi-colored origami lotus flowers, which were beautifully arranged in vases on the altar. Their Lordships Sri Sri Gaura-Nitai, dressed in simple yet lovely outfits, graced the altar with Their effulgent, benevolent forms and were accompanied by an attractive statue of Sri-Sri Radha-Krishna as well as a set of blissful Jagannatha deities. Bhakta Louis, Krishna Kirtan’s cell-mate, is particularly attracted to Lord Jagannatha, so he always makes sure that Jagannatha, Baladeva and Subhadra are prominently placed on the altar and a huge three-foot wall-hanging of Lord Jagannatha’s face is hung on the wall behind the altar.
We were happy to see the familiar Prabhupada Pastimes video playing on a screen to the right of the altar. It always fills our hearts with joy and makes us smile to see old clips of Srila Prabhupada and his disciples from the sixties and seventies.

Krishna Kirtan Prabhu signaled for the kirtan to start. We were amazed by how all the men sang Hare Krishna so enthusiastically and played their instruments so expertly together. I was especially impressed that all the instruments were in tune with each other and even with our harmonium! The kirtan sounded so sweet that I found myself hoping that someone was recording it. Bhakta Simon played the congas and there were even a bass guitar and another harmonium playing along. It was phenomenal. A veritable Petersburg Krishna Kirtan Concert!

After the kirtan, both my husband and Sarva-drik Prabhu took turns speaking. Haripada Prabhu reminded the men that there are 8,400,000 species of life and that the human form of life is very rare. He said that we are all lucky to be in human bodies because we have the opportunity to reconnect with Krishna, God. He said that God is known as Yogeshvara—the master of all mystic powers—and that each of us has some powers, but God has all powers—all potencies—to the fullest degree. Krishna can be compared to the unfathomable ocean, and we can be compared to small quantities of ocean water. If you take a drop of ocean water or dip a bucket into the ocean, you’ll find salt just like in the vast ocean, but in a small quantity. So we are like Krishna, in that we have a small, minute quantity of powers compared to His unlimited powers.

Recalling for the men the Bible story of the prodigal son, Haripada Prabhu painted a mental picture for them, “Imagine a wealthy family. One of the children leaves home and becomes a drunkard. The family tries to encourage him to come back, but he refuses. But some day he may decide to reconnect with his father, with his family. We are like that prodigal child. We have the wealthiest, most loving father, yet because of our minute independence, we have somehow chosen to leave home, to disconnect from our family and to try to enjoy this material world in a separate way. As in the story of the prodigal son, when we decide to return home to Lord Krishna, we are welcomed with open arms and unconditional love.”
Sarva-drik Prabhu spoke about Canakya Pandita’s verse in Niti-sastra which explains that time is the most valuable asset for the human being. He emphasized that we cannot buy back even a moment of time, even with unlimited money. He questioned the men, “How do you invest your time, your most valuable asset? Do you spend time contemplating ‘who am I’?” Then he took that thought further by asking, “If you don’t know who you are, how can you be happy?” He asked, “You have all lost your families, your cars, your bank accounts, and your reputations. How can you be happy without these things?” Then he proceeded to explain how to be happy without material attachments and affluences. He advised, “Meditate on who you really are, and what is your relationship with God. Ask yourself, ‘Why do I have to be sick and grow old and die?” Sarva Prabhu told the men that only a fortunate person feels inspired to ask these questions. He concluded by urging the men to become fortunate, and to learn to use the wealth of their time wisely. “If you misuse wealth, all you have left is sorrow, but if you use your time efficiently to understand what is the soul’s relationship with God, you can become happy. That is the actual object of human life, the real wealth of human life.”

After the devotees spoke, we all joined together in another sweet, melodious kirtan. Although we sang a melody that the inmates had not heard before, they caught on quickly and soon became absorbed in the sound of the holy names. We noticed many of the men closing their eyes and really trying to hear the holy names. Some even accompanied us with their musical instruments. By Sri Nama Prabhu’s mercy, we all felt purified and uplifted by the beautiful kirtan of Krishna’s holy names.

Following the kirtan, Haripada Prabhu spoke again. “The Vedas tell us that God created two realms, the material realm and the spiritual realm. Both realms originate from Krishna. When we come to the human form of life, Krishna grants us the freedom to choose whether to reside in the spiritual realm or the material realm. In the human form of life, we have the chance to read transcendental literatures which describe both realms. We also have the chance to decide in which realm we want to reside.” He illustrated a scenario: “Someone may find himself in a bad neighborhood, a dangerous neighborhood. He may then choose to move to a better neighborhood. The human form of life allows us the chance to choose to move to a better neighborhood, the spiritual world. So how does one go about moving to that better neighborhood of the spiritual world? The method for transferring ourselves to the spiritual world is given by Lord Caitanya in this Age of Kali—the chanting of the holy names of the Lord.” He compared the chanting of Hare Krishna to a spiritual alarm clock. “This chanting is a sound vibration that wakes us up from the dream of identifying with our body and everything connected to our body. The chanting is a sound vibration that wakes us up so that we can realize who we are. Lord Caitanya, Krishna Himself, came five-hundred years ago to give us this process of mantra-meditation. The chanting of Hare Krishna wakes us up so we can understand our eternal relationship with Krishna.”

Because the Petersburg Facility does not allow prasadam distribution, the inmates bought candies and after offering them to Sri Sri Gaura-Nitai, happily distributed them to all.

Many of the men had requested to have their pictures taken with us. Unfortunately, the photographer arrived late, so many participants had already left before the camera was able to capture them. After much picture-taking with those who were still present, we said our good-byes, feeling very grateful to Lord Caitanya and the Guru-parampara for engaging us in prison preaching.

On the drive home to North Carolina, my husband and I expressed our gratitude to Sarva-drik Prabhu for his years of hard work, traveling to prisons and sharing Krishna consciousness with inmates who might otherwise never get a chance to hear the kirtan of Krishna’s holy names or Krishna conscious philosophy. We thanked him for encouraging us to come along and experience the nectar that is freely and readily available to those who are willing to take the time and effort to touch prisoners’ lives with Lord Caitanya’s mercy.


This article is just a small part of the bi-monthly IPM NEWS, an electronic newsletter. To read the whole Nov/Dec 2015 issue, please go to:

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You can also view more excerpts of inmate letters and also their artwork on our website:
You want to help?

OUR PRESSING NEED OF THE MOMENT: One of our donors who, for many years (thank you!), sponsored all the shipping of boxes of books to chapel libraries will be unable to do so for an indefinite time. Without this donation, I am unable to send books to chapel libraries.
This is vital, as hundreds of inmates have access, for years on end, to the material placed in libraries. Please help!
The yearly cost is $2,000 a year (or $500 every trimester/ or $167 a month).

If you can help, please contact Mukunda Dasa or Bhakti-lata Dasi at:
ISKCON Prison Ministry
3759 McCreary’s Ridge Road
NBU #46
Moundsville, WV 26041