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Monk brings peace to prisoners
In the 1970s, Jeonghyeon was studying at the Donghwa Temple in Daegu. One day, two men stole a small screen from the temple, but the police quickly apprehended the two thieves.
“They were two middle-aged men with kids,” she said. At that moment, she was struck with a thought: “Who would feed the kids if their fathers were imprisoned?” So Jeonghyeon, 53, dropped the charges and the police released the men. Then the monk began visiting prisons in the mid-1980s.
This year marks the 22nd anniversary of Jeonghyeon’s service. She recently received the Camellia Medal from the government for her evangelism among prison inmates, an award she adds to her large collection.
“The many times that the president or ministers had given me awards, my heart pounded,” Jeonghyeon said, describing her nerves at awards ceremonies. “But now I know I was serving the Buddha himself.”
Jeonghyeon’s work in the prisons has introduced her to many different people. The first day she came back from visiting one, she burst into tears. “The lives of the inmates were so heartbreaking,” she said.
“In the early days the inmates were only laymen to me,” she said, but her perspective has since changed. She began to see the inmates as Buddhas with many lessons to share. “They are truly my teachers,” she said.
Nowadays, she sometimes encounters people who bow to her in the street whom she doesn’t recognize at first glance. They are former inmates whose lives she had changed. “Their faces are bright,” she said. “I know they are living a happy life following the ideas of Buddha.”