Buddhism, like anything else in Samsara, can be misused and blemished. This is a difficult subject to talk about, but by talking about it the hope is that people will be encouraged to make more informed decisions about their sources for Buddhist inspiration and teachings. The loudest voice in the room is not necessarily the voice that should be listened to, this applies to sources for Buddhist inspiration and teachings. The author of a book is described below, while the book is inspiring their involvement with Buddhism might not as straight forward as it initially seems. We can apply the same line of thought to other sources for Buddhist books and teachings.
‘Razor-wire Dharma: A Buddhist Life in Prison’ is written by Calvin Elmer Malone. It was originally published in 2008 by Wisdom Publications. This autobiographical book describes Malone’s difficulties approaching Buddhism and his experiences of trying to apply Buddhism in a prison environment. The gritty descriptions of prison seem incredibly tough. Despite the rough environment, we found it inspiring that somebody would apply the Dharma even in prison. We read the book some years ago while enjoying the comforts of a Buddhist retreat center.
‘Razor-wire Dharma: A Buddhist Life in Prison’ by Calvin Malone
We would like to think that people in prison can change for the better through rehabilitation. Many people in prison are in there for doing something stupid when they were young, making a bad choice in a difficult situation, or have been made an unnecessary example of. With this in mind we approached the book with a certain hope that the author would have moved on form their past mistakes. We knew the author was in prison for 10+ years, so the crime would be severe, but we read the book with a certain optimism and focus on Malone’s own capacity for compassion and wisdom.
However, Calvin Elmer Malone was in prison because he is a convicted paedophile. In 2014 it was a jury’s decision that Malone is a sexually violent predator. A little web searching indicates that he was a former Scout Leader over multiple years across multiple countries. This raises difficult questions around whether the former Scout Leader might face prosecution in the future.
A prisoner becoming Budddhist is one matter. Nobody is disputing the difficulty that would be involved in practicing the Dharma in a prison environment. But writing a book about those experiences while still in prison raises questions about the motivation to write the book and the author’s agenda. The book was published in 2008 and Malone was released from prison in 2014.
Was the book written for the benefit of the probation review board so that they would look on Malone in a favorable light? It is impossible to say what Malone’s motivation was in writing the book and whether he is a real Dharma practitioner. The only motivation that you can talk about with any certainty is your own.
Instead of asking impossible questions, a better question to ask is what sources do you take your inspiration from and what Buddhist lineage do you want to follow? The easiest way to check is to take a look at the background of the author or Buddhist lineage by doing a little web searching for yourself.
In contrast to Malone’s own book, here are two books written by prisoners where their motivation seems more clear. In our opinion, we take inspiration from the description of applying the Dharma even when faced with the realities of a prison environment. They certainly make our mundane problems seem laughably trivial.
‘Finding Freedom: Writings from Death Row’ by Jarvis Jay Masters
ISBN 13: 9781881847083
‘Letters from the Dhamma Brothers: Meditation Behind Bars’ by Jenny Phillips
ISBN 13: 9781928706311