Editor's Note: Our Aug. 27 cover story, "The two faces of Bo Lozoff," generated significant response from supporters and critics of the spiritual leader. The Indy stands behind the story; we made two corrections (see note on story).
Shortly after the interview with Lozoff, we received and confirmed information that he had contacted one of our sources by e-mail and phone, pressing her to discuss with him why she approached the Indy. The Indy also received e-mails from Lozoff and his supporters asking us not to run the story.
Before the story was published, Lozoff contacted his supporters via e-mail, criticizing the Indy and suggested "if they feel so moved" they should write letters to the paper. This isn't to say that all the supportive letters were prompted by that e-mail, only that there was an attempt to organize such an effort.
A full transcript of the interview between reporter Matt Saldaña and Lozoff is posted on the online story. There are more than 50 comments from readers online. More letters will be printed next week.
As a practitioner of a spiritual path (Tibetan Buddhism), and as a former counselor in a halfway house for parolees, I have some background to speak of these matters. I am also acquainted with Bo and HKF, having visited Kindness House on a number of occasions.
Unfortunately, sex scandals are par for the course in spiritual communities, not to mention the cover stories in supermarket magazines and the tabloids. It doesn't tell us so much about the individuals involved as it does about the deeply conflicted and hypocritical attitudes that so many Americans have about sex. And this story comes perilously close to tabloid journalism—albeit a politically correct version.
It would be nearly impossible for your readers to grasp the immensity and difficulty of the task he set himself, which only a true bodhisattva (someone who works for the benefit of others) would even attempt. In the process he has provided wisdom and comfort to tens of thousands of prisoners in the American gulag. His is the oldest and most effective prison meditation project in the country.
But he is no saint and never pretended to be. He's only human. I hope that his friends and supporters in this community will have the courage and integrity not to turn their backs on him now that the wind blows ill. He is a local treasure. We should forgive him his trespasses, whatever they may be, and be proud of him. I am.
I am sad to see the Indy sink to this level of unethical tabloid journalism. Of the many hundreds of visitors and many violent, manipulative ex-cons who passed through Kindness House over 13 years, it is understandable that a few left with hard feelings and would like to destroy us. What is mind-boggling is why the Indy got behind so few in such a vicious and slanted way, cutting and pasting even my own remarks out of context to make me sound like a cult leader and demagogue.
Now I am allowed only 400 words to rebut 7,000 used against me. What I cannot begin to address in so few words are the allegations of sexual abuse and unconventional sexual views and conduct. This is perhaps the most controversial, difficult subject of our culture and requires more depth and discussion than a letter. So I will simply state that I did not abuse anyone sexually and am not the coercive bully this article painted through distortions, innuendoes and lies.
One outright lie is the photo caption that says "In two of his newsletters, Lozoff compared himself to Jesus and accused Oprah of being Satan." I invite readers to read those newsletters at www.humankindness.org and see the total disregard for truth. In spring 2001, I never compare myself to Jesus, and in fact make several references to my not being any great sage. In spring 2007, where Oprah is mentioned, nothing remotely accuses Oprah of being Satan. The sole purpose of the caption is to make me sound like a self-appointed messiah. Anyone who knows me knows how laughable that is.
One of your primary sources, Kevin Dessert, joined us after 16 years in prison, with a history of lying, stealing, manipulating and conniving. Kevin says we used threats of returning parolees to prison. Not only is that a lie, but Kevin broke our rules constantly, yet neither he nor any other parolee were ever returned to prison. The article falsely implies many sources. There were actually very few. I have never seen the Indy this unethical. All I can say is shame on you.
As a Lozoff that hasn't been heard yet, I felt I should come forward. Overall, I wish a more accurate article was written, but I do agree there are two faces of Bo. I do not believe there are two faces of Human Kindness Foundation.
I am deeply saddened and hurt by the sexual misconduct. Though the experiences in the article were more complex than came across, the bottom line is, I feel it was terribly wrong, and women were harmed. It should not have happened, and I support the brave women who came forward to share their stories. Bo has decided to stop teaching, which brings me great comfort. I hope it comforts the other women as well. This will be a loss because he is an amazing speaker, and his talks have inspired thousands and literally saved lives. However, I believe it is for the best.
Regarding other aspects of the piece, the financial information stated was completely skewed. I have never seen an organization raise or spend money with more integrity.
Though I never lived at Kindness House, I came out regularly over the course of many years. Most of the time it was a very sweet and kind place to be. I will not claim that Bo never got angry or intimidating, but the overall atmosphere was very different than the Indy portrays it. It was like a big family. There was a tremendous amount of love and support among staff, volunteers and ex-cons alike. I'm truly sorry if any of them suffered. Kindness House was created to help, not harm. It grieves me that it ended up causing so much pain as well. My heart goes out to everyone involved.
The writer is Bo Lozoff's daughter-in-law.
I was a tremendous admirer of Bo Lozoff, the Prison Ashram Project and Kindness House. I met him and the staff in 1996 and began volunteering regularly, as I revered their simple lifestyle, devotion to service and spiritual practices very deeply. Shortly after I began volunteering, Bo created a Spiritual Order that I became a novice and then member of. I did not take the precepts, requirements or vows lightly and was delighted to have found a structured, accountable mechanism to give my spiritual life a greater emphasis.
In fall 2002, I began dating a woman whom I had met while volunteering at Kindness House. Within a very short period of time I discovered that she had been involved with Bo sexually and romantically. I was crushed, outraged, in a state of utter disbelief.
In the weeks following, there was a major damage control effort prompted by Bo and endorsed by the board: how this was all sacred, spiritual and mysterious. I went on to marry this woman in haste despite a resounding amount of information that suggested I might want to wait. I look back now and see that I was in a haze of naivety and spiritual hypnosis. I take full responsibility for this.
Yet I never heard a word from Bo or any member of the Board. No "Sorry, buddy, no hard feelings." These acts are not, in and of themselves, inexcusable or irreparable. But what is excruciatingly violating and traumatizing is the silence. Bo had no accountability for his actions to me whatsoever. And, perhaps even more frightening, no accountability to the Board.
My marriage has all but dissolved. I don't want to imply that Bo is the sole reason, but I've never been able to put that incident behind me. I hope someone or something can help Bo. I hope I can open my heart and trust again.
I have volunteered at Human Kindness Foundation for over five years, mainly reading and responding to a portion of the 500-plus letters they receive weekly from prisoners. I know what Bo's writing means to them. Many of these inmates have opened themselves up to spirituality after reading Bo's book We're All Doing Time. In the forward of that book, the Dalai Lama writes, "It is futile to harbor hatred and ill-will even towards those who abuse us."
Unfortunately, it appears that Mr. Saldaña and some of the people interviewed for the article are coming from such a place of hostility. I don't necessarily agree or disagree with Bo's unconventional style of spiritual healing. Nor do I dismiss the suffering that some individuals feel over what happened to them in their relationships with Bo. However, I believe that lashing out at him and HKF with such malice is counterproductive. Such enmity will negatively affect the work of HKF, and all organizations that promote spirituality and service to humankind.
I sought Bo's help when I felt completely stuck in my life, precisely because I knew him to be unconventional and that he would think outside the box. We met together several times in his office (which did have a window) and spoke at length. I credit him with helping me on my spiritual journey and encouraging me to continue to work at my current relationships, including the one with my life partner. I am forever grateful not only to Bo, but to HKF for following their calling to serve God and humankind.
May I remind everyone of Bo's other face. Spiritual life is difficult, leadership of a spiritual community more difficult. Perhaps, we enjoy seeing gurus fail; it lessens the burdens of our own shortcomings.
Much of my early life was spent behind bars. My rehabilitation is attributable mostly to age, luck and good marriage. But I feel a karmic debt to Bo. In solitary confinement in Central Prison, I encountered Bo's book. I carried it for 14 years.
There is a moment for many prisoners when the outside world washes its hands of you. Dark isolation sets in, you stop living and begin surviving. These are the forgotten souls Kindness House serves. Men cling to the hope they receive in a letter from a Kindness volunteer.
Upon release, I received $30, one set of used clothing, no coat (in November), and was released to a boarding house—no job, no counseling. Oversight consisted only of periodic parole visits.
After marrying, I learned my wife had been a Kindness House volunteer. We began meditating at KH. Could you do what Bo and Sita did? Invite murderers, rapists and drug-dealers into their home with the courage and compassion to look past the crime and see the individual? What sort of tactics would you employ to ensure that nothing goes wrong?
I am acquainted with the sources for your article. I understand this had to happen. The alternative was unsustainable. But so is this. Let's not scorch and burn everything KH has done. The prison outreach should continue. Time will ease our sense of betrayal, leading us to the healing we need, and the redemption Bo deserves.
I'm the woman in the article who arrived in 1999. I really don't think Bo understands the harm he has caused; otherwise why would he continue to minimize and invalidate my experience so much? For Bo to call our relationship "mutual sexual behavior" is not taking into account the power differential and my prior history of abuse. Bo describes the situation as "painful and confusing to us both," whereas I'd call the fallout downright devastating. My life and my marriage have mostly been a mess since I left Kindness House, and while I've done a tremendous amount of personal healing, my marriage is also ending from what I consider the toxic fallout of this situation.
The only reason I approached the Indy is because I don't want other women (or men, for that matter) to be hurt. Yes, this is a private, personal matter, but Bo has a very wide reach, thus my inclination to go with a public venue and warn followers who are not aware of Bo's other side. People who came to KH as vulnerable as I did deserve to know (even now) what they're getting into, since Bo does not have any checks and balances on his behavior.
The fact that Bo engaged in deceitful behavior that took advantage of me emotionally, psychologically, spiritually and sexually, not just once but over a sustained period of time, and not just with me but with other women, is a violation and betrayal of relational trust that must be condemned and condemned loudly and publicly, as the scandal of pedophilia within the Catholic priesthood has taught us. As the gay community often reminded us during the days when public support for AIDS victims was weak, "silence = death."
Name withheld by request
As a volunteer and friend of Human Kindness Foundation for 15 years, and a constant visitor to Kindness House over the lifespan of that community, I am absolutely certain that Bo Lozoff has never "psychologically terrorized" or been physically violent with another human being.
The parolees who came to Kindness House brought plenty of their personal issues into the daily life of the community, to the extent that often its other members were not able to get their own work done. Bo never stopped caring about, supporting and showing incredible generosity to anyone who came to Kindness House, including specifically those who "came forward with allegations."
It is tragically easy for someone who has no direct experience of the circumstances, and is crediting only one side of the story, to create an impression of what is already assumed. And for the public to then assume implications to be truth. Bo Lozoff has given the whole of his life—every iota of it—in service to others. I don't know of anyone else about whom that could be said.