Bullying involves threats, ridicule, and deliberate targeting of victims. Please cut and paste where I have done any of those things. I have no power to punish or manipulate anyone, nor do I wish to. Instead I've disclosed exactly what my relationship is to Bo Lozoff, revealed my association with The Independent, exposed my own history as a sexual abuse survivor who's made bad relationship decisions, and used my own name while doing all of that.
I'm defending my friend, you bet. But I've also made no secret of my opinion that he behaved badly and of my disappointment in him. If those sentiments don't seem angry or judgmental enough, too bad.
I have never said that this situation should be ignored, that people should just roll over and go back to sleep, etc. I do believe, however, that fair is fair. I feel strongly that the people who are so eager for Bo to be trashed in the media, and publicly humiliated, should be willing to practice equal disclosure about themselves--starting with using their own names.
The conflicts between Bo Lozoff and many of the people who are angry with him have been dealt with by the principals. They have confronted each other and in some cases have severed their relationships. Bo Lozoff is no longer doing private spiritual counseling or attempting to help women work through their sexual traumas. Kindness House is closed. So I think that my questions about why all of this is being brought to public attention now, who can be protected by it, and how old wounds can be healed by it, are both legitimate and necessary.
The instigators claim that they want justice. Well, three indispensable parts of that process are assuming that people are innocent until proven guilty, making sure that witnesses are reliable, and taking confessions made by the accused into account. Myself, I don't believe that Bo Lozoff should be allowed to hide behind his good works and intentions any more than those who accuse him should be given a free pass because of their pain and suffering.
What I do believe is that Bo Lozoff is not a threat to vulnerable women, however outrageously stupid and misguided his past actions might have been. I do not believe that Bo Lozoff is a habitual, coercive sexual predator or that the women who claim to have been victimized by him are as innocent or naive as they present themselves to be. I also believe that he's paying a heavy price for his mistakes, which just in itself makes him vulnerable to people with all kinds of agendas whose motives, background, etc. cannot be scrutinized nearly so closely and carefully as his. If he wasn't my friend I probably wouldn't have become involved in a public debate like this--not to this level, certainly. But please be assured that I would have exactly the same questions about any public figure caught up in such a scandal, and that I would at least hope for the same level of scrutiny to be applied to his accusers as they are attempting to apply to him.
If there's a criminal case to be made here, against Bo Lozoff or the board of HKF, I wonder why the people who believe they were helpless victims have not pursued legal action. As things are, I see this situation as the belated airing of private matters and as such I think it is far too complex and volatile a situation to be the province of a hostile media and an underinformed public. I also think its timing, years after Bo has resigned his position at Kindness House, Kindness House itself has closed, and his relationships with the women in question have ended, is suspect.
Onepeace, I do know how difficult it is to talk about sexual abuse. I was molested when I was 10 years old and 38 years later it's still having an effect in my life. It's affected every relationship with a man I've had, and flat-out ruined things between me and several close family members. I also know what it feels like to try and talk about that trauma and not be believed and/or be told that what happened was my fault. As for disastrous illicit relationships, I was involved in one as a young adult that radically changed the course of my life and who I have become.
So yes, I absolutely get what it takes to put yourself on the line...even anonymously, about a respected public figure, as you have done. What I don't get is what you (or, for that matter, the other women who made complaints to The Independent) really hope to accomplish with going public about what happened between you and Bo Lozoff--events from the past which can never be fully proven one way or the other and that the public cannot help resolve at all.
Plus I know that when a woman attempts to ruin a man's personal, social, and professional reputation over a sexual relationship, even if he was egregiously at fault, it can become harder for other women to speak out instead of easier. At your instigation, Bo Lozoff has been accused, tried, and sentenced by the press. So I hope for several reasons that your motives are as pure as you claim.
I would like to think that you wouldn't have started down this road at all if you weren't prepared to at least explain yourself. It's not about tit for tat--it's about standing behind your accusations. Why wouldn't you be willing to do that? Did you really think that you could blow the whistle on something like this, deliberately trash someone who means so much to thousands of people, over a consensual relationship that's been over for years, without being challenged?
A letter in Back Talk will of course be more widely read than replies here would be. Unlike here, there you'll have the last word. The Indy will keep attention focused on its coverage. Bo will still have been humiliated in public. The Human Kindness Foundation will still be under a cloud of suspicion. But, with all respect to your pain and suffering, I'm not sure I'll be convinced that you and The Independent have brought all that about simply as a noble act of altruism.
If these matters hadn't become the scandal du jour (des temps perdu!) I certainly wouldn't be addressing you on such an intimate level--and believe me, I'm not doing it now for my own gratification. I don't wish to violate your privacy, and I don't deny that you've suffered. But the person you're punishing for your suffering is my friend, who I've known for more than half my life. I'm willing to consider that you might not have known, when you made the decision to go public with all this, that you were going to have to deal with people like me eventually. If you post to a discussion like this, however, surely you know that you're gonna get called out.
You're not just warning "followers," your accusations are being presented as truth--as news--to people who don't consider themselves to be anything like followers and even by people who had never heard of Bo Lozoff or the Human Kindness Foundation before last week. Yet you've managed to protect your own privacy throughout.
I'm not impressed.
It's going to be hard to use this article to consistently "warn" people, unless you plan to have a copy inserted in each and every book of Bo's that gets sent to prisoners, every tape of his that gets distributed, etc.
So I'm wondering if you have motivations other than the ones you've expressed in this discussion, and to that end I have some questions for you:
1. Why did you wait for more than five years after your first report to the HKF board, five years after leaving Kindness House, and one year after Kindness House closed, before you contacted The Independent?
Have you also been "inclined" to take legal action against the board or against Bo Lozoff himself? Did you investigate those possibilities, receive word that you have no case, and only then decide to try and persuade The Independent to punish Bo for you?
2. With Kindness House closed, who do you think is now in real danger of being victimized by Bo Lozoff's allegedly sexually predatory behavior?
3. You entered into a consensual relationship, both emotional and erotic, with Bo Lozoff--who was not only your spiritual counselor and someone you trusted enough to let him try to help you resolve psychological trauma but also a married man and the leader of an intentional community that you joined of your own free will. You agreed to keep the nature of your relationship with him secret not only from the rest of the people in your intentional community, but from Sita Lozoff as well. With that kind of terrible judgment, who do you think is going to take you seriously as an accuser of HIS bad behavior? In your estimation, has your judgment improved since the affair ended? If so, how has it improved?
Why did you hold your wedding at Kindness House if escaping Bo Lozoff and the hold he supposedly had over you was so vitally important? Is it true that you asked Bo to perform the wedding himself, and that you spoke in praise of him to the wedding guests? If he was really so manipulative, coercive, and abusive to you, why did you do those things?
Is it true that you began dating the man who is now your husband on the encouragement of Bo Lozoff? How does your husband feel the Indy article--is he pleased that his rival for your affections is being publicly humiliated?
Was it partly to please your husband and make him feel more secure that you've gone public with your accusations against Bo Lozoff?
Onepeace, I look forward to your replies.
I'm not a follower of Bo's and never have been. Both he and Sita are friends of mine and will continue to be. In addition, I admire their work and will continue to support it.
My friend Bo Lozoff, whose work I deeply admire, has made some very serious mistakes in his professional and personal life. However, even if the person under discussion here didn't happen to be a friend of mine, I wouldn't approve of a bunch of people sitting around on the Internet trying to pin psychological diagnoses onto someone they know about mainly from a highly biased and badly reported newspaper article. It's even less helpful when people with obvious grudges use their inside information to inflame others' sense of self-righteousness. When it gets to the point of batting around New Age b.s. phrases like "through the lens of my experience," and viciously discrediting other participants in the discussion (followed by the obviously phony assurance of "love"), it's definitely time to hang it up.
Using Bo's Lozoff's arrogance as an excuse to behave arrogantly helps no one. Nor does vilifying him in public somehow validate the people who have been wounded by his actions--especially when only a few of those people (nearly a hundred by one estimation!) even have the guts to come forth publicly with their own accusations under their own names. Instead they let The Independent do their dirty work, in some cases years after the fact. What's going on here doesn't validate them or usefully reprimand of Bo Lozoff; instead, it's not much more than gossip and revenge. And I think it stinks.
Even people who have legitimate grievances should have more self-control than to air their one-sided stories, whether in a newspaper or on the Internet, for the public's supposed edification. In my opinion that sort of outing is a hostile form of self-indulgence that only leads to the public mistakenly assuming that it has real information, is qualified to make judgments, and is entitled to make them. But all that's happened, really, is that half-told tales about an old scandal have been dangled in front of them.
The Independent tried to reduce a complex situation into a witch hunt, but all it really did was fling the barn door open long after the horses had fled. And now the whole thing is getting chewed over on this forum. But none of it is helping Bo Lozoff come to terms with his mistakes; it's not even helping him come to a better understanding of what his mistakes were or how he came to make them. Nor is it helping the people harmed by his behavior come to a better understanding of what happened to them or how they can best deal with it (including, in some cases, their own culpability).
I believe that those matters are best dealt with in private--with prayer, counseling, honest self-examination, repentance and regret, direct apology to those who were actually harmed, and attempts not only to make amends but to not make the same mistakes again. The superficial judgments and clumsy advice of outsiders only complicate matters and inflame what is already an ugly, difficult situation. Would any of the people who've dumped on Bo here be happy if their own divorces and other breakups, affairs, custody disputes, job firings, legal problems, spiritual hypocrisies, and psychological illnesses were being raked over the coals as they feel so entitled to do to Bo Lozoff?
I think the answer is no--hell no. I think that if they were faced with comparable public exposure, and the pressure that goes with it, most of the people who are so eager to parade their judgments in this forum would fold like wet envelopes.
"What is hateful to you, do not do unto others. All the rest is commentary."
Speculation by experts is just that--speculation. People can't be reliably diagnosed on paper or by hearsay.
Comparing a real person who's done a lot of good in the world to a fictional, totally evil character is incredibly shallow and stupid. It's also incredibly un-helpful in this situation.
"The public has a right to know"--why? What can be accomplished by raking Bo Lozoff over the coals now, other than additional harm to his reputation and the reputation of the Human Kindness Foundation?
I think that the kindest, most helpful thing that everyone who isn't directly involved in this situation can do is stay out of it. Allow the people whose lives are directly affected the privacy to work through their problems. Pray for their healing if you're so moved. Comfort and encourage them if you know them personally. Enough armchair therapists have weighed in already.
Thanks to The Independent, there are also more than enough people gawking at a very private situation, some of them with agendas of their own that have more to do with revenge than with truth or healing. Maybe they should stick to reality TV...
Sorry that the above ran as one long paragraph--I hit "post" before I put in the paragraph marks.
If I could edit it now, and make it easier to wade through, please know that I would.
First, two disclaimers:
--I've known Bo and Sita for more than 20 years, am friends with them, and deeply admire their work;
--I am a past staff member of The Independent, and publishing is still my profession.
It seems to me that Matt Saldana's article would better have been titled "The Two Faces of The Independent." The first face was shown in Melinda Ruley's cover story, which to me looked like a cheerleader's dream in which she parroted Bo's own naivete and overconfidence about what it would take to start up a biodiesel plant in eastern North Carolina. The second, while equally sincere, looks to me like a self-righteous smear job.
Before reading the posts made to this discussion over the past three days (including, to the paper's credit, the transcript of Saldana's interview with Bo, Sita, and Catherine), I was already thunderstruck by the defensiveness, distortion, and oversimplification that are evident throughout Saldana's piece.
His overall tone of doubt and betrayal emerges immediately. Of the first 15 paragraphs, 5 (1/3) begin with oppositional signals such as however, but, yet, and nonetheless; two more lead off with negative signal words such as "allegation" and "terrible, terrible."
The fourth paragraph of the story itself (not including the introductory paragraphs in italic) begins with a significant double entendre: "on these grounds." Is Saldana referring to the physical grounds of Kindness House, which he describes in the first two paragraphs, or is he referring to the spiritual grounds set forth in the third paragraph, in which he quotes Bo Lozoff's reference to Jesus Christ? Or is Saldana trying to merge the two sets of "grounds" in a subliminal attempt to convince the reader, before the story has even been fully presented, that Bo Lozoff fancies himself the master of a domain that is both spiritual and temporal?
My suspicion that the latter is the case, as well as my suspicion that the Independent's own sense of betrayal underlies the entire investigation, were sparked by the article's italicized preface. The first sentence, which simply states that an article about Bo's fundraising efforts was published in 2004, is followed by a new paragraph beginning with the word "However." But the rest of that paragraph, which erroneously states that it was only "earlier this year" that former volunteers and residents (some ex-offenders) "came forward" with various accusations, does not actually contradict anything in the first paragraph.
The fact that in 2004 the Independent published an article about Bo Lozoff would not be inherently oppositional to a decision to publish another article about him--unless the paper's own attitude toward him had changed radically. Only if the first sentence is interpreted as "In 2004, we published an unquestioningly laudatory article about Bo Lozoff," is the "However" that begins the next paragraph justified ("...because it's been brought to our attention that he's not as perfect as we made him out to be"). Unfortunately, it's left to the reader to discern the real common thread: that Bo Lozoff is a spiritual and temporal risk-taker who has always adamantly admitted his own imperfections and striven tirelessly to improve them.
To me, as someone who knows Bo and Sita, has carefully read each and every newsletter and publication put out by Bo and HKF since 1984, and has interacted with them both spiritually and socially, Matt Saldana's unfamiliarity with the kind of work they do, as well as with their substance as human beings, was crystal clear throughout the article. If he had been at all willing to portray them as they genuinely are, instead of being afraid of giving the impression that his so-called objectivity had been compromised, he would never have referred to Sita Lozoff merely as "his [Bo's] wife"--Bo has always insisted that Sita is his absolute equal in life and work. Nor would Saldana have referred to Bo and Sita's lodgings at Kindness House as Bo''s "private cabin"--the only space Bo had at Kindness House that could be called exclusive was his office (which Saldana, true to form, made sure to describe as "windowless").
Furthermore, a journalist with no axe to grind would not have repeated he said/she said accusations about things that happened in group meetings among people who admittedly had no training in counseling or therapy--let alone private sexual encounters between parties who were admittedly ambivalent and confused about the substance of these encounters--and left the veracity of all in the hands of an equally underinformed public.
Because part of what I do for a living is deconstruct other people's writing, I was alerted by the above problems and therefore strongly suspected that the quotes from Bo Lozoff chosen by Saldana would be taken out of context throughout the piece, to illustrate Saldana's own conclusions. But after reading the interview in which the quotes were given, I can only wonder who did a worse job: Saldana, as the writer who misapplied the quotes, or his editors who now defend his distortions.
In the interview, Bo Lozoff takes full responsibility for his own bad behavior--the deceit, dishonesty, unpreparedness, irresponsibility, and hubris that have damaged not only his own reputation but also the reputation of the Human Kindness Foundation. He speaks without equivocation of his own pain, confusion, and shame. But according to the quotes chosen by Saldana, Bo expresses no remorse, to the point of blaming G!d Himself for choosing him to lead Kindness House. Even more damningly--and less accurately-- he seems to arrogantly inhabit an enormous contradiction: teaching, guiding, and counseling vulnerable people while repeatedly denying that he is a teacher, counselor, or spiritual guide.
But these are only the defamations applied to Bo as a person. The entire article is sprinkled with scandalous innuendo:
1) It speaks confidently of the "devotees" and "acolytes" that Bo Lozoff continues to "attract" (contrary to his own repeated assertions and the fact that it's been more than 2 years since he resigned as spiritual director of Kindness House).
2) It conveniently muddles whether parolee residents signed agreements binding them to the rules of a parole program or binding them to a "self-styled" religion.
3) It drops all forms of "allege" after the first mentions of each supposed incident of Bo Lozoff's violent, coercive conduct (which signals the reader that these accusations are in fact true).
4) It quotes some general defenses of the value of Bo's work but offers no refutations of specific "alleged" events other than Bo's and Catherine's (because, as one finds out only if one goes online and follows the link to Saldana's interview with them, Saldana did not take it upon himself to find any refutation but rather gave the Lozoffs and Catherine Miller less than a week to recommend their own).
4) Unlike a real trash tabloid such as the National Enquirer, The Independent's article fails to include the caveat that none of the scholarly experts interviewed by Saldana have ever met Bo Lozoff or have professionally evaluated HKF or Kindness House.
5) Least objectively of all, it paints Bo Lozoff throughout as an egomaniac within his life's work, whose deliberate attempts to "justify" his methods date back as far as 2001 (instead, the quote from his interview with Ascent Magazine would have been far more accurately described as an explanation).
Despite these (and other) examples of bad writing, the article--as well as Saldana himself in his interview with Bo, Sita, and Catherine--goes to notable lengths to assure the reader that Saldana's sources were myriad (if not named, which the reader is expected to accept is different than "anonymous") and that his interviews were "extensive" (never mind that one cannot interview an entire Department of Corrections or "another state parole program"). Saldana's defensiveness is further revealed by the parenthetical refutation of Bo Lozoff's reference to TROSA--this, at least, makes sense after one has seen the context in which Bo originally compared the two institutions.
In my opinion, the most irresponsible aspect of Saldana's attack on Bo Lozoff involves the question of whether or not Bo had the authority to send offenders back to prison, or whether he at any time truly believed that he had such authority. Here, Saldana echoes Melinda Ruley's wide-eyed reporting by swallowing whole the denials of various parole boards that they "had records" or had ever even heard of Bo Lozoff, HKF, and so forth.
He further cements his own bias with two unsupported claims: first, that "Parolees who chose Kindness House did so for its spiritual aspects" and "...for the most part, Lozoff provided one option, out of many, where ex-offenders could parole."
Significantly, Saldana does not examine the possibility that spirituality could have been only one of many reasons that parolees could have had for choosing Kindness House as a parole site. Nor does he include any statistics about the number of similar parole opportunities within the United States, the number of parolees who are denied for lack of suitable environments to parole them to, or any other information that might raise doubts about the statements he chose to present as fact. He also ignores the possibility that department of corrections staffs could have very good reasons of their own not to comment on a program that is a: no longer in existence; b: undergoing media scrutiny; and c: run by someone who has been openly and influentially critical of the U.S. prison system for decades.
Evidently, it seemed like the better choice to imply that Bo Lozoff (and, by extension, HKF) have widely misrepresented themselves than to openly discuss what options are really out there for parolees and whether Bo Lozoff and HKF were simply left out to dry by the parole board reps with whom Saldana spoke. If his questions to them by phone were as slanted and innuendo-laden as his questions were to Bo, Sita, and Catherine in person, it doesn't strain my credulity at all to think that they may have done exactly that.
Similarly, Saldana twists his prose like a pretzel to convince the reader that Bo Lozoff is in fact a spiritual teacher, counselor and guide who nonetheless persistently, ingeniously denies his roles in all of those areas. A centerpiece of this portrayal is Saldana's attempt to show that Bo Lozoff egotistically believes that he, himself, has gotten people released from prison and that he has had the sole power to send them back.
It defies not only belief but also common sense and logic that a man who has been intimately and successfully involved in the incarceration, prison life, spiritual development, release, and rehabilitation of thousands of prisoners, over four decades, could have such mistaken ideas about not only himself but also about the U.S. criminal justice system. It is even less credible that a reporter who is so quick to reiterate the mores of his profession ("that's the way it's done," etc.) would fail to recognize genuine professionalism in someone else.
In plain English: Bo Lozoff knows perfectly well that he personally does not decide whether any prisoner receives parole or whether the parole of any single prisoner is revoked. He has, however, played the game long enough to know that, as an authority figure both known to and trusted by parole officers and parole boards across the United States, his recommendation about whether a prisoner should be remanded would be taken so seriously that it would probably be followed without additional investigation. He also knows that his books, and the correspondence sent by himself, Sita, and other HKF volunteers, are not only spiritual lifelines to thousands of desperate people but also a primary influence in their lives while imprisoned, as well as a primary factor in whether they are able to survive prison both mentally and spiritually.
That Matt Saldana chose to literally interpret Bo Lozoff's statements about his involvement in these matters and spend a good deal of his article trying to disprove them on a literal level, while understating the effectiveness and positive influence of his mission, is only one of the many regrettable things about this piece. As both a writer and editor, my professional opinion is that it was researched poorly; focused with bias on matters that were either exaggerated or have been resolved, with no discernible goal (other than to report "news"); and published to the detriment of a man and a program whose positive effects vastly outweigh their foibles and errors.
I'm disappointed in Bo Lozoff for his mistakes, but I'm appalled at The Independent for publishing a trumped-up expose that cannot rectify any of those mistakes. What it can do, however, is become fuel for draconian prison administrations that would use any excuse to deny prisoners access to HKF materials or correspondence with HKF staff. If these were the intentions of Matt Saldana and the paper's editors, I congratulate you all. Under the rubric of speaking out for the weak and disempowered, you may end up depriving people far more weak and disempowered of help freely offered that they truly need.
I don't deny that Bo Lozoff behaved badly, that he misused his position and authority, and that he hurt and betrayed people. He doesn't deny those things either. I now wonder if you, also, will face up to the damage you've caused by publishing this article, and try to make amends. I wonder if you can even admit your own hubris and misuse of power and authority.
Although I believe in The Independent's mission as an alternative news source, my experience with the paper warns me not to hold my breath. However, I will continue to be friends with Bo and Sita and to support their work--my experience with them assures me that such faith and trust is not misplaced.
Indy Week • 302 E. Pettigrew St., Suite 300, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
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