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Bo Lozoff, Director of the Prison Ashram Project was a dear friend (and friend/guide to so many more). He was also someone from whom I learned a tremendous amount. He died in a motorcycle accident in 2012, but not before leaving a prodigious cultural legacy.
In 1973 former Harvard psychology professor and current spiritual teacher, Ram Dass, had been sending his book Be Here Now into prisons and receiving many letters back.
Incarcerated inmates wrote about their personal transformations and also asked a variety of challenging questions. Ram Dass"-informed Bo and his wife Sita that he was overwhelmed by the prospect of responding to them all. Bo and Sita had felt a personal connection with Ram Dass's book, as well as with the prison population, because their own brother-in-law who was incarcerated. They realized that prisoners were essentially leading a monastic life rather similar to the one they were living at an ashram in North Carolina."-In this way the Prison-Ashram Project was born.
By 1987, the flow of requests had grown so large that they formed their own foundation, The Human Kindness Foundation, and focused on responding to letters from inmates, teaching yoga and meditation in prisons, writing spiritual books, sending them to inmates, and preparing inmates for leading a life of service-whether they ever got out of prison or not. The goal was helping others use this unique "opportunity" for personal transformation. Inmates could choose to be "cons" - or monks/nuns in an unusual and difficult situation. It was up to them.
What followed was more than 30 years in which Bo traveled around the world giving talks in hundreds of prisons, churches and community centers. His various roles included author, spiritual teacher, friend, counselor, musician, and modern-day mystic/awakener.
Bo's focus was on those most shunned by society. The genuine wisdom and love that passed through him flowed onto the pages of his books, the letters he exchanged (and published in his books with permission) and into the hearts of people locked in cells - or in their own minds.
Bo's uniqueness isn't easy to define. I can describe him as a "street-wise mystic." He was able to go toe-to-toe with rapists, murderers, etc. - speaking their language and meeting their challenges - while clearly articulating a non-denominational, heart-centered spiritual context for their lives - and to do so with love, humility and wisdom. Speaking simply as a human being, he was able to embrace both the potential for light and the deep darkness within individuals.
Bo was by no means a perfect person. He did not always handle the power he possessed well. In spite of his flaws, he was able to reach countless people who all else had abandoned. He made a powerful contribution to "the least of these," in enabling them to radically transform their lives. And he held out the promise of genuine enlightenment for prisoners, prison workers, prison clergy, and many others.
My Prison Work
Bo inspired me to teach and offer psychotherapy in the prison system. I found it incredibly rewarding (even though inmates desperately wanted out, and I voluntarily entered the high security lock-up every day!).
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