Not To My Heart's Liking

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Not To My Heart's Liking

Book excerpt

By: Bo Lozoff

Date: 1985

Source: Lozoff, Bo. We're All Doing Time: A Guide to Getting Free. Durham, NC: Human Kindness Foundation, 1985.

About the Author: Bo Lozoff, along with his wife, Sita, founded the Prison-Ashram Project in 1973, with the help of Ram Dass. The initial premise of the project entailed going into prisons and offering educational programs involving yoga and meditation, spirituality, and self-awareness. Their Human Kindness Foundation, as well as the book We're All Doing Time stemmed from the same philosophy of kindness, compassion, self-awareness, and a sincere belief in the possibility of rehabilitation from a criminal lifestyle.


Bo Lozoff was an early advocate of a paradigm similar to that utilized in prison's with faith-based cell blocks, in which incarcerated felons are permitted to live in housing units aligned with specific spiritual practices, and to encourage the embodiment of that religious or spiritual philosophy in their rehabilitation and educational efforts as well as in their day-to-day functioning within the prison system.

In the early 1970s, Lozoff sought to create meditation and spiritual practice groups in high security correctional facilities, and was not permitted to do so. In collaboration with Ram Dass, he decided to try to create an analogous movement within the United States prison system in which prisoners could shift their thinking about incarceration, turning their cells into virtual ashrams. It was their (Lozoff and Ram Dass) intention to create a program of education and spiritual teaching, tailored to the needs of incarcerated individuals. Lozoff began a widespread project in which he contacted inmates and sought their feedback and guidance on the generation of a curriculum that would be suited to their needs. In addition, he and his wife, Sita, began to put together materials for a series of workshops that could be incorporated into the inmate programming at lower security facilities. The Prison-Ashram Project was well underway by the mid-1970s, and the philosophy of prison as ashram was being practiced by inmates all over the country. Lozoff's book, We're All Doing Time, has been sent to individual convicts as well as prison libraries throughout the country, and in several countries around the world. It has been translated into the more widely spoken global languages (Spanish, Italian, and French). The book is available to incarcerated individuals without any cost, through the auspices of the Human Kindness Foundation. The objectives of the Prison-Ashram Project entail encouraging individuals to take full responsibility for their own behavior (past as well as current and future), to engage in inner-directed spiritual practice, and to become positive forces of change within themselves, their immediate environment, and the world.

One of the major concerns expressed by those involved in Lozoff's charitable organization, the Human Kindness Foundation (HKF) is that persons who are incarcerated, are not involved in rehabilitation efforts, and that a system based on retributive, rather than restorative, justice, ultimately creates more violence and crime than it corrects. The HKF posits that many jails and prisons are very effective at instilling bitterness and violence among those incarcerated, and that one way of quelling this would be to completely separate violent from nonviolent inmates. Robin Casarjian's Houses of Healing program is similar to that proposed by the HKF. It encourages inmates to look for the stillness within themselves, and to find a place of peace, rather than one of anger and violence. Both types of (prison) program advocate shifting to a life that is inner-directed and founded on peaceful interaction and higher meaning as the most effective means of achieving rehabilitation. The letter below is from a prisoner on death row in Idaho who is seeking help in obtaining peace in the context of his crimes and incarceration.


Dear Friends,

I'm searching for my spiritual awakening that so far I've not been able to find, and my life has come to a point where I need to find myself before I'm lost in the terrible maze of unknowing.

Let me take a few minutes to tell you a little about myself and my present situation. Hopefully it will help you to know what it is I'm trying to find. I'm twenty-seven years old, born Sept. 8, 1950. I'm presently in the Idaho State Prison for first-degree murder, two counts. I was sentenced to death in March 1976, but the Idaho Supreme Court vacated my death penalty. (Tommy's death penalty has been reinstated, and at this time [1985] he's back on death row.) These two charges in Idaho aren't the only ones I have. There are even more in other states. Please let me explain why I did these cold-blooded, without any mercy, killings.

In April of 1974, eleven men entered my home in Portland, Oregon, raped my seventeen-year-old wife, who was three months pregnant at the time, then threw her four stories out our apartment window.

You see, I had been running drugs and guns for some people out of Nevada. My wife had asked me to stop so I tried to get out but they said no. On my next run I kept the goods I was to deliver and told them I'd turn it over to the feds if they tried causing me any trouble. I never would have, but they thought I was serious. Well, they set me up on a phony bust to get me out of the way thinking I had told my wife where I had stashed the stuff. I never did!

So, when they went to our house, after beating her and realizing she really didn't know where I put the stuff, they gang-raped her and threw her out the window. By some freak accident she lived for several months after that, long enough to tell me who most of the eleven were. She committed suicide while in a state mental institution, as her body was so crippled up from the fall, she had lost all hope and just wanted to die. In August of 1974, I went after the eleven guys who did it and caught nine of them in several different states. I was unable to complete my death mission and get the last two because I got caught here in Idaho.

Since all of this happened, I've had no inner peace at all. All I can think of is my wife, the only person who ever loved me and all I had in this world. I can see the men I killed and the look of pure fear and disbelief that I'd found them, as I took their lives. I'm not saying I was right for what I did, and I can't really say I'm sorry. I only know that I have no peace, happiness, or love, but at times I feel that I can have, but I just don't know where to look. I need help but I have nobody to turn to. My family has turned from me and I have nobody to write to or to visit me. I can't carry my burden alone anymore, so I ask you from the deepest of my heart, please send me any material that you think might help me. I am in maximum-security, solitary confinement and have been for almost four years.

Really, all I want to do is find that something that I know for a fact exists that will free me from all my burdens.

                          Sincerely yours, Tommy/Idaho


America has become a country noted for its crime rate, its exceptionally high degree of interpersonal violence, and the number of individuals incarcerated at any given time. Since the institution of the truth in sentencing and "three strikes and you're out" laws, the number of persons incarcerated in the United States has increased exponentially. As a consequence, prisons have become crowded, and educational, vocational, and rehabilitative programming have all suffered. Many sociologists have described American prisons, particularly higher-security facilities, as human warehouses, where inmates have a great deal of time, every day, to dwell on their anger and beliefs about injustices perpetrated upon them. It is the belief of Bo Lozoff and others like him that prisons encourage anger and negative behavior, that they do not require inmates to look inward and to take personal responsibility for their criminal actions, and that they do not mandate any form of reparative justice or restitution for wrongdoing. It is Lozoff's belief that there is no place for the concept of compassion within the present criminal justice system—neither for nor by the inmates. In jails and prisons set up to accommodate general populations—those in which the inmates are permitted to move about within portions of the facility and are not confined exclusively to their cells—violent and nonviolent offenders are typically mixed within the same housing units. There is considerable between-inmate violence in many prisons, and gangs are very active within the walls. In some jails and prisons, there is significant predatory violence, in which young, "soft"(either overtly homosexual, or not stereotypically hard-core masculine inmates), nonviolent, easily intimidated inmates are harassed, bullied, or brutalized (physically, sexually, or both).

The spiritual underpinnings of the Human Kindness Foundation and Houses of Healing paradigms are centered on the concepts of personal responsibility, reconciliation, compassion, and forgiveness. The premise of the prison cell as ashram suggests embarking on an inward (spiritual) journey in which inmates can use meditation and spiritual practice in order to transform and improve themselves. It is Lozoff's assertion that the prison cell can be likened to a monastery, as there are limited trappings of society, and few distractions to prevent the fostering of spiritual growth. Inmates can use their time to grow and develop as peaceful spiritual beings who are potentially capable of making positive contributions to society, whether from within or outside the prison walls.

Much of the HKF's work is founded on the restorative justice model, which holds that any criminal act impacts the whole of the community, which then must be repaired and restored to wholeness. They would suggest that the criminal offender, if possible, be returned to the community (after a period of incarceration, if that is adjudicated) and encouraged to make a positive contribution by becoming a viable, employed, proactive member of society. From a practical standpoint, this is often a difficult ideal to achieve, as it is extremely difficult for convicted felons to obtain and keep gainful employment.

The Human Kindness Foundation has created a sort of halfway house called the Kindness House on their North Carolina grounds, in which returning prisoners can obtain transitional housing, engage in spiritual practice, and become involved in human service activities. One of the larger tasks to be accomplished while in residence is the acquisition of job-related skills: the ability to adhere to a fixed daily schedule, to meet personal responsibilities, to work for another person, and to acquire some basic employability training. Lozoff has also created a source of direct employment and job training, by opening a biodiesel refinery to be staffed primarily by former inmates. In addition to his direct work with inmates and former prisoners, Lozoff advocates that all people show kindness and compassion toward former inmates and recovering addicts (drugs and alcohol) who are striving to turn their lives around and participate in society in a meaningful fashion.



Casarjian, Robin. Houses of Healing: A Prisoner's Guide to Inner Power and Freedom. Boston, Massachusetts: The Lionheart Foundation, 1995.

Kipnis, Aaron. Angry Young Men: How Parents, Teachers and Counselors Can Help "Bad Boys" Become Good Men. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1999.

Lozoff, Bo. It's a Meaningful Life, It Just Takes Practice. New York, New York: Penguin Compass, 2000.

Web sites

Human Kindness Foundation. "Prison-Ashram Project." 〈〉 (accessed March 11, 2006).

Shambhala Sun Online. "A Nation Behind Bars." 〈〉 (accessed March 11, 2006).