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Letter: Prison Buddhist group feels ‘harassed’

by Shane Bell, inmate, South Dakota State Pententiary, Sioux Falls, The Argus Leader, November 1, 2015

I’m writing this letter to let you know that it is not only the Native American inmates that are being harassed and discriminated against when it comes to their practice of religious beliefs.

I’m currently the leader of the Buddhist group here at the Jameson Annex of the South Dakota State Penitentiary. We practice Zen Buddhism.

Recently, we were told that the Buddhist group could no longer hang up the approved tapestry of the Buddha, while we practice our Zazen meditation. The official response to my grievance was that no religious groups can hang anything on the walls.

I find this hypocrisy funny, considering the Christian group has eight tapestries that they are allowed to hang up in their own chapel 24/7. No other group can do that. That clearly is not being treated equally under the law (14th Amendment).

I finally got permission to hang up the tapestry using tacks, but now there are other forms of harassment and retaliation, such as: our locker being opened and our approved items of books, candles, DVD’s being taken and the TV/DVD player being taken, so we can’t use it to finish watching a new DVD on the life of the Buddha.

The officials at the prison need to hold prison staff accountable for their actions when they retaliate against religious groups out of malice, but they don’t. They just ignore it.

The corrections secretary, Denny Kaemingk’s statements in the Oct. 1 Argus Leader is just the usual spin on words. They don’t really care about protecting a prisoner’s religious freedoms, just looking good in the media when a lawsuit is filed against them. They need to be held accountable, don’t you think?

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