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Lions Roar : January 2018
By the time he heard the city was looking to hire a chaplain for Rikers, he was spending three days a week there as a volunteer and several more hours per week working with administrators to improve the programs he ran there. It made sense for him to apply. He was hired in September 2016. At first, he focused mainly on responding to staff health problems and hospital visits, a natural transition from his hospice work. Now he runs the weekly medita- tion program, works to develop other emotional and spiritual support pro- grams, provides one-on-one counseling for officers, and is starting a chaplaincy unit. The goal is to hire at least three chaplains, and eventually expand to up to a dozen, like the New York Police Department’s chaplain unit. When Warden Smith was asked to hire a chaplain for the jail as part of overall efforts to better support staff and help with stress reduction, she could have chosen a candidate from a religion more prevalent among the staff—Jew- ish, Protestant, Catholic, or Baptist, for instance. But in the end, she felt von Bujdoss was best for the job. “We struggled with that,” she says. “I don’t think I know anyone in the depart- ment who is of the Buddhist faith. But when I looked at all of the things that Justin could be for us, that was the deci- sion I made.” She appreciated the work he had done at Rikers as a volunteer and knew that inmates had benefitted from his work. “I decided I’d deal with the naysayers. He’s just a dynamo when it comes to helping people.” As von Bujdoss says, “Once people begin to understand how deeply rooted in being nonjudgmental the Buddhist tradition is, they realize it’s a great fit. It’s useful in situations of great stress.” PHOTOSBYA.JESSEJIRYUDAVIS Von Bujdoss usually includes three short medita- tions in his hour-long sessions with Rikers Island staff. He says the nonjudgmental nature of Bud- dhism makes it useful in situations of great stress. LION’S ROAR | JANUARY 2018 37