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The movement to bring yoga into the prisons was started by Bo and Sita Lozoff in the early '70s. Here is how it came about.

Bo Lozoff and his wife Sita are the directors of the Human Kindness Foundation which administers the Prison Ashram Project. They give workshops at prisons in the United States and throughout the world in which they encourage prisoners to use their time behind bars to grow mentally and spiritually. During their workshops they lead exercises in yoga, meditation and prayer. In addition, they maintain an extensive correspondence with prisoners, answering up to 100 letters per day. Through their newsletter (which has a mailing list of 20,000) and books their message is being spread to countless prisoners, social workers and others interested in reforming the criminal justice system.

 The Lozoffs' road to their current occupation began in an ironic fashion. During the late 1960s they were part of the hippie movement. After tiring of taking drugs they turned to yoga and meditation and became residents of a spiritual community (Ashram) in North Carolina. Their first visits to prison came in the early 1970s, to visit Bo's brother-in-law Pete who was serving a 12-to-40 year sentence for drug trafficking. When they compared their lifestyle with Pete they realized that it was not much different. In the Ashram they woke up early practiced yoga and worked long hours on the community's farm. There was no TV, movies, restaurant-going or other social activities. Pete, the prisoner, also woke up early and worked long hours on the prison farm, and lived a very austere life. The difference, they noted, was that they had voluntarily chosen austerity while Pete's austerity was imposed on him. Afterwards they got the idea that with a little bit of guidance prisoners could use their time in prison to do the same kind of inner work which they were doing at the ashram. Bo tried to put this idea into practice by applying for a job as a guard at a prison which was being built near the ashram in North Carolina. Bo was turned down.

 When he was questioned as to why he wanted such a job, he replied "I am a karma yogi and my spiritual path is one of service to mankind, and I thought that being a prison guard would be a good opportunity for doing service." In his book, We're All Doing Time, Bo fondly recounts the reply of the prison official: "to my utter amazement, this crew-cutted, cowboy-booted career prison official was suddenly all over me with questions and sincere enthusiasm and saying things like "..and you know what I think? I think reincarnation was taken out of the Bible hundreds of years after Christ". What a wild moment that was, I loved it." Next Bo was invited to write a proposal for a yoga and meditation program for the US federal prisons and was flown to Washington as a paid consultant to the very government which in his hippie days he had so detested. "I can still remember sitting at that long table with all those big-shots, and marveling that just a few years earlier, I sat around with revolutionaries arguing about how to blow up those very buildings," Bo wrote in his book. His program with the government was cancelled before it even began, but he used his credentials as a "paid government consultant" to enter into prisons to give workshops and classes. He was invited to more and more prisons and soon "prison doors throughout the world suddenly flew open to me."

 At this time, Sita came across the book Be Here Now, written by Ram Dass, a former Harvard psychology professor who became a well known spiritual teacher. They contacted Ram Dass, who had already begun sending copies of his books free of charge to prisoners around the world. They took over Ram Dass's correspondence with the prisoners and the Prison Ashram Project was born. During the past twenty two years they have sent thousands of books, booklets and tapes to prisoners around the world. Most recently, they started a thirteen acre community, called Kindness House, in which former prisoners as well as other spiritual seekers can pursue a "lifestyle of personal spiritual practice combined with a sincere dedication to unselfish service."


Contact Address: The Human Kindness Foundation, rt. 1, box 201-n, Durham, NC 27705, Tel (919) 942-2540 Fax: 942-0830.


This article was published in New Renaissance magazine Vol.5 No.3