I wrestled with this for some time. In time, I saw that by revealing unnecessary details of my case, I would be creating evil. So I stuck with my cover story and completed my five-year sentence mostly without incident. Now, in the five months since my release, I have been actively engaged with my local practice center and otherwise contributing to life.

Nowadays, I look at the precepts as an interconnected whole. To practice any of them truly means to practice all of them. For each action I take, I consider the greatest good for the greatest number, and the whole truth, not just the bare facts.


Several weeks ago, I was standing in the prison mail room line. A guy behind me began a 15 minute tirade about an incident that had just occurred in the dorm. He was upset about an altercation he had with another inmate and he blamed that inmate for his continued anger and stress. Prior to devoting myself to Buddhist study and practice, I would simply have noted and forgotten the guy’s distress. But these days I vow daily to save all sentient beings, and that means helping them whenever possible.

I pointed out to the guy that his antagonist was some distance away in the dorm and asked how he could possibly be causing the continued anger and stress. At first, the guy became defensive but I could see his anger dissipate with the realization that he, and he alone, was the source of his distress.

While it may not be possible for us to save everyone, the little things we can do make the world a better place for some, and that alone is enough to justify our efforts. When we see suffering, we should try to alleviate it. That’s the Buddhist way.



I’d been practicing meditation and mindfulness for quite a while when I was arrested at 22 for having a sexual relationship with a 14 year-old girl. I had tried to justify my actions to myself by reminding myself that ours was a common type of courtship in my home country of Azores, Portugal. But, in Portugal, such courtships end in marriage.

At this time, I had not yet been exposed to the Sixteen Buddhist Precepts. After my incarceration I began to study with the NBPS. When I began to see the truth of the precept Do Not Create Evil and of the precept Honor the body; do not misuse sexuality, I realized the gravity of what I’d actually been up to, but not in the way you might think.

Now I feel that I had done evil by cultivating the idea of sex as currency within this impressionable mind—a currency used to buy acceptance, freedom, popularity, social status and even love. I allowed and even encouraged her to believe that her value lay in her physical beauty, her ability to cause physical pleasure and her charm. Any real affection for her would have manifested itself as encouragement, companionship and guardianship—none of which I offered. I violated the precept of Honor the body by using her for sexual pleasure and perceiving her in those terms, instead of sharing intimacy as a natural expression of genuine connection.

I am not yet a wise man, but I have learned these things: a person who strives towards truth must be guided along the way by all of the precepts and cannot bend their meaning to allow his own impurity. And although the young are legally protected from the lust of the older, they need to develop an understanding of their own self-worth, so that their decision to participate in physical love is not skewed by their insecurity.

Until a human being is wise enough to be a whole person, confident in his or her ability to take or leave any other person based on an educated ascertainment of their intentions and motivations, he or she should remain free from the pressure of having to make that choice. That is our mature and moral responsibility.

  William Redshaw