In meetings across the state over the next few weeks — including meetings with inmates at the Warren and Windham prisons — Mainers will get a chance to discuss prison life with Bo Lozoff, who has “probably been in more prisons than anyone on Earth,” he says — around 1100 in 34 years of directing what has become “the world’s largest interfaith prison ministry.”
Place the emphasis on the word “interfaith.” Although Lozoff, 60, expresses a deep connection to Christ, when he fills out a form with a line for “Religion,” he says, he writes “Yes!”
He calls himself a mystic and a yogi: “I’m a messenger boy of the saints and sages of all the great traditions.”
The Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan leader, has written a foreword to Lozoff’s most popular book, We’re All Doing Time: A Guide for Getting Free, which is sent free to inmates by his Human Kindness Foundation in Durham, North Carolina.
Lozoff is extremely critical of American prisons and the society that has created them.
The fact that the United States alone locks up a quarter of the world’s prisoners in an “irresponsibly vicious” system — as he describes it on his Web site, www.humankindness.org — reflects an arrogant, brutal, selfish, depressed society “descending into open madness,” he says in a telephone interview from Vermont.
In such a society, he says, “No politician can get elected by saying 'I want to be more compassionate.'”
Eighty percent of inmates shouldn’t be in prison, he says. The high recidivism rate — the return to crime — shows prisons don’t work. “By venting our rage and hatred [against prisoners], we make things worse,” he writes on his Web site in discussing possible reforms.
So how does someone with these views persuade the authorities to let him meet with prisoners?
“My work is not prison reform,” he replies. He tries to help prisoners be calmer, stronger, and more compassionate. Prison is an opportunity for individuals to be spiritual seekers, he says, because they are not surrounded by distractions like consumerism and electronic gadgetry. They can turn their cells into “ashrams,” a Hindu word meaning places for religious retreats.
Although he teaches yoga and meditation, he realizes these practices are hard to follow in crowded prisons. His most significant contribution may be that some prisoners are “touched by what I’ve written and said,” and “their hearts and minds may be changed a little bit.”
Lozoff will meet with the public in Portland at 7 pm on July 24 at the First Parish Church, 425 Congress Street. He also will have public meetings in Blue Hill, Ellsworth, Bangor, and Belfast between July 27 and August 3. He will be giving “workshops” in the Maine Correctional Center in Windham, July 24-25, and the Maine State Prison in Warren, August 4-5.
He also will give a free concert in Ellsworth at 7:30 pm, July 28, at the Unitarian Universalist Church. He sings and plays the guitar and harmonica. His 36-year-old son Josh will perform magic tricks.
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