Sunday, September 07, 2008

[indyweek] Fall from grace: The two faces of Bo Lozoff

by Matt Saldaña
August 27, 2008

For at least a decade, hundreds of people seeking spiritual guidance passed through Kindness House, headquarters of an interfaith prison ministry and an intentional community led by widely revered spiritual leader Bo Lozoff. Located on 69 acres off a country road 15 miles from Chapel Hill, the site of the former commune contains a pond, garden, outdoor pavilion, wood-paneled cabins, barn and chicken coop, hermitage, meditation hall and a ranch-style house, an ideal setting for spiritual reflection and simple living.

At the head of a dinner table stretching the length of five upright pianos, Lozoff, founder and former director of the Human Kindness Foundation, which operated Kindness House, regularly sat at group meals with volunteers wishing to live in a sacred, communal environment, and with ex-offenders fulfilling the commitments of their parole by working and living there.

In his 2000 book, It's a Meaningful Life: It Just Takes Practice, Lozoff describes "an almost ecstatic sense of gratitude" when he saw visitors at the table "holding the tattooed hand of a reformed murderer who spent many years in brutal prisons." He adds: "Gazing around at such a bizarre mix of human beings, I can almost hear Jesus cheering at the top of his lungs, 'Now this is what I had in mind!'"

But it was on these grounds that Lozoff, who, since 1973, has inspired thousands of prisoners through plainspoken correspondence and spiritual advice, allegedly bullied and intimidated ex-offenders paroled at Kindness House. He berated them for their personal failings and threatened to send them back to prison—which, unknown to the parolees, he could not do—if they violated a strict set of lifestyle agreements, many of which Lozoff himself did not follow.

Despite his teachings against harmful sexual behavior, several female volunteers and one female parolee also allege that Lozoff, who claimed to be celibate, had sexual encounters with them during one-on-one counseling sessions, in which he initiated kissing, touching, and oral and manual sex as a method of spiritual healing. While some of the sexual encounters were initially consensual, the women volunteers say others were not, and that his power over them and the Kindness House community prevented them from speaking out or rebuffing his advances.

These allegations, many of which Lozoff does not deny, prompted the self-styled mystic to close Kindness House, although he did not disclose to his supporters or donors—including an investor currently on trial in South Carolina for fraud—the reason.

Lozoff told the Indy that ultimately, his "unconventional" sexual behavior led to the Human Kindness Foundation's decision to sell the land and close the parole program.

[View the entire article at the Independent Weekly.]