Editor's Note: In 2004, the Indy published a story about spiritual leader and prison minister Bo Lozoff and his efforts to raise $1.5 million for a bio-diesel initiative in Hillsborough that would employ ex-offenders.
However, earlier this year, several ex-offenders and former volunteers came forward with allegations about Lozoff's conduct at Kindness House, an integral part of his prison ministry, and the Human Kindness Foundation, of which he was the director. This story is based on extensive individual interviews with former volunteers and ex-offenders who were involved with Kindness House; a group interview with Bo Lozoff (also present were his wife, Sita Lozoff, and Human Kindness Foundation co-director Catherine Dumas Miller); Departments of Correction in five states; another parole program; and two religious studies experts at U.S. universities.
We also used material from Bo Lozoff's published books and inmate newsletters, as well as e-mails and other documents that were provided by former volunteers and parolees. Federal tax returns referenced in the story are public record; click a year to download the PDF: 2004 (1.9 MB), 2005 (2.1 MB), 2006 (2.1 MB), 2007 (2.4 MB).
No anonymous sources were used in the reporting of this story; however, we did agree to keep the identities of several people confidential. The women asked not to be named, as did one man, an ex-offender and supporter of Lozoff, who served his parole at Kindness House. Other people were interviewed for background information. We verified personal information through research on public records databases.
A three-part workshop series is being established at the Orange County Rape Crisis Center for people who volunteered or were paroled at Kindness House and would prefer to speak about their experiences privately. For information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
"I was a terrible, terrible leader of that community. I was a terrible choice by God, to try to do what we did. But we got people out of prison who would've never gotten out otherwise," he said. "And so I can't say that I'm sorry that I did it. But absolutely, I can say the place folded because I wasn't the right person, with my unconventional manner, the fact I didn't have any counseling or therapeutic skills—we didn't know that we would need any—that fact that I had been unconventional sexually, I was not the right person to try to do what we did, but we did it."
Nonetheless, Lozoff continues to attract devotees, tour prisons, correspond with and advise inmates, and accept contributions for his ministry.
Yet Lozoff is not the only one who bears examining. Parole and probation departments in several states—including North Carolina, which is currently under federal scrutiny for alleged mismanagement—had little or no oversight of Kindness House. Through an interstate compact agreement, the N.C. Department of Corrections has jurisdiction over out-of-state parolees. But unlike other states like Alabama, it does not screen the parolees' host sites, such as Kindness House, which takes them in as residents and employees.
The Departments of Correction contacted for this story say they know nothing of the abuses that allegedly occurred there, and contend they aren't aware of Lozoff, Kindness House or his interfaith prison ministry, which he claims to be the world's largest of its kind.
"It was full-tilt, genuine and authentic, putting all our lives on the line together, with people who really needed a helping hand," Lozoff said. "And I can't apologize for that. Because there are people who are out of prison now, who would not have gotten out of prison if I hadn't fondled [a woman's] breast. To me, the whole thing was one piece."
Kindness House took in former inmates from across the country who were eligible for parole, typically four or five at a time. In exchange for $50 a month, plus room and board, a group of 10 to 15 parolees and volunteers performed daily labor that included construction, gardening, cooking, raising pigs and chickens, and sorting and responding to mail from prisoners. Parolees, volunteers and the Lozoffs ate, worked and meditated together. They studied Lozoff's teachings, a hybrid of yoga, Eastern religion, Christianity and Western pop music that he had long espoused in his books and newsletters to prisoners.
Parolees who chose Kindness House did so for the program's spiritual aspects. However, upon arriving, several parolees discovered the atmosphere was anything but kind.
David Timmerman was in prison for seven months for international marijuana trafficking. After his release from prison all his friends and family had abandoned him, he said, and when he arrived at Kindness House in 2000, he was "enchanted." Lozoff's organization seemed to accept him unconditionally. "What I was looking for were the open arms, and non-judgmental love of the Human Kindness Foundation, as embodied in Bo's writing," Timmerman said.
However, shortly afterward Timmerman discovered the community was starkly different than he had expected. He described it as having the "hierarchical behavior set-up of a cult."
As a condition of being accepted, parolees signed agreements—based on Lozoff's Interfaith Order of Communion and Community [download PDF, 823 KB]—that they would adhere to strict vows against alcohol, drugs, meat, coffee, cigarettes, excessive chatting, overindulgence in music, gossip, lying and deception, violence, pornography, and harmful sexual behavior—which Lozoff defined as "sex with an unwilling partner, sex without mutual affection and respect, or sex which degrades or betrays others."
Even minor infractions, like buying coffee or eating too much at breakfast, incurred Lozoff's wrath, according to several volunteers and ex-offenders who paroled at Kindness House. If parolees violated any portion of their agreement, Lozoff used intimidation to remind them that, just as he got them out of prison, he could send them back.
Departments of Correction in North Carolina, Texas, Florida, Alabama and Illinois—which sent parolees to Kindness House—deny any knowledge of these agreements. The parolees' contracts with Kindness House lay outside the bounds of state parole and probation programs, according to spokespersons in North Carolina and Illinois, which require only that parolees are gainfully employed, have a dependable residence, check in with their parole officer, and avoid drugs and other criminal behavior.
An Alabama spokesman said that if a parolee commited a serious breach at a host site, the parole officer could decide to remand the person to prison. But in the case of a minor infraction, such as arriving 20 minutes late for curfew, the officer could decline or try to find the parolee another program.
Kindness House satisfied the requirements of a job and a residency, and in some cases enticed judges with an isolated, drug-free environment.
"I wanted it to work," Timmerman said. "It's like you're in a bad marriage—you do everything you can to make it work. I tried to change my behavior. I tried to change my attitude. I wanted to please him. I looked to him as a spiritual mentor. Clearly, he knew a lot more than I did, and wrote these beautiful books. I wanted it to work. I didn't want to go back [to prison]. I did everything I could, and then I decided, 'This just isn't going to work.'"
Among the most traumatic experiences for parolees and volunteers interviewed for this article were the weekly "tuning sessions" at Kindness House, in which Lozoff would face the group in the meditation hall, discuss religious texts and, according to former community members, ridicule and assert his authority over ex-offenders.
"He often tried to use intimidation with these guys from prison to keep them in line," one female volunteer said.
Ex-offender Bruce Thomas, who did 17 years for armed robbery, and one female volunteer who independently verified the story, said they witnessed a frightening outburst that occurred during a tuning. They recalled that an ex-offender, who could not be reached for comment, dared to speak back to Lozoff. "He would not challenge Bo, but question Bo on some of the things he would say," Thomas said of the parolee. "And Bo does not like people to question him, or to challenge him.
"This is 17 years, I'm out of prison, and in prison I done seen people get killed. I done seen officers abuse their authority. You name it, I saw it," Thomas said. "So, I'm sitting there, and all of a sudden, [the parolee] says something, and Bo just, I mean, he loses it. He has an anger problem out of this world. He jumps up. He tells him to shut up, and threatens to send him back to prison. [The parolee] was really low-key, so he just lowered his head, and Bo jumped up, got in his face, cussed him, and then he told him to get the hell up out of the meditation hall."
According to Thomas, Lozoff had to be restrained from kicking the man. "When I saw that, I busted out and started crying," Thomas said, "because this is the stuff I've seen in prison."
Lozoff denied the account. "I have never had to be restrained from hurting anybody at Kindness House, or any kind of physical violence. I should have sent [the parolee] back to prison."
Lozoff justified the tunings in a 2001 interview with Ascent Magazine, a Canadian yoga publication. "We try to look at whatever's come up and really be open and communicate. We remind ourselves of what it is that we really want here and what we're doing here. It's not always to respect each others' boundaries; it's not to interact with each other in a way that always makes you feel good."
The weekly tunings gravely upset Timmerman, Thomas and several other parolees interviewed for this article. "I was almost crying from despair over the possibility of going back to prison," Timmerman said. "I didn't have a place to go back to in California. I had no home. If things didn't work out here, I didn't really have any choice, and I would have to either go AWOL or accept another stint in federal custody."
Timmerman added: "He invokes the fear of God in all of us."
Thomas said he was so distraught that he once went into an abandoned house and contemplated killing himself.
What Timmerman and other ex-offenders didn't know is that Lozoff could not send them back to prison. Nor was he responsible for releasing them. Despite parolees' overwhelming acknowledgement that Lozoff's writings motivated them and other inmates to keep a clean record—a requirement for early release and parole—Lozoff played no direct role, as he claimed, in getting inmates "out of prison," according to spokespersons for several Departments of Correction.
In at least one case, Lozoff petitioned for an Alabama prisoner, who later had his life sentence reduced and was released. Robert Oakes, assistant executive director of the Alabama Board of Pardon and Parole, said they have no record of Lozoff, but added he could not disclose whether Lozoff petitioned for the parolee's early release because the information is "privileged."
Parole boards in several states insisted that no outside individual could influence their final decisions. And for the most part, Lozoff provided one option, out of many, where ex-offenders could parole.
Timmerman, a former methamphetamine addict, said that he showed a federal judge in San Diego a copy of Lozoff's book, We're All Doing Time: A Guide For Getting Free, in pleading for parole to be granted at Kindness House. His sentence was reduced from two or three years to seven months, but he doesn't know if his proposal to live at Kindness House influenced his early release. "As far as the judge was concerned, all he wanted to make sure of was that I wasn't taking any drugs, drinking any alcohol, or getting into any trouble."
Some ex-offenders did not have a negative experience at Kindness House. One parolee, who requested confidentiality, lived on the property for 90 days, before Lozoff hired him for a paying job at the since-failed bio-diesel venture in Hillsborough. He said he never saw Lozoff yell at anyone or act violently.
"You can't even fathom the number of people that Bo Lozoff has helped in that prison system. He could've done anything he wanted to, and he has devoted his life to helping people," said the parolee, who did time for murder.
The parolee still has strong ties to Lozoff. He bought a condo from Lozoff and is financing the property through him.
Most ex-offenders who paroled at Kindness House, even those critical of him, feel indebted to Lozoff, which made their time at Kindness House—and their decision to talk for this story—difficult.
Even ex-offender Bruce Thomas credited We're All Doing Time as having a positive impact on his life in prison, as did all ex-offenders who spoke to the Indy for this article.
"Bo's a great man. But when you take your greatness and you abuse it, and you use it to take advantage of people, it's no longer greatness. "
Most of the parolees at Kindness House were men. However, one female parolee came to the community but left early, she said, because of several sexual encounters with Lozoff, and her fears she'd be sent back to prison if she thwarted his advances.
The woman approached Lozoff with a question about her spiritual energy. Unexpectedly, Lozoff, who had berated her for ditching a Human Kindness Foundation staff member in the mall to buy cigarettes (she insisted it was a brand of tampons not recommended by the Foundation), placed her on the ground and fondled her vagina to release her from a "chakra." The parolee and Lozoff disagree on whether the fondling was under or over her clothes.
"It wasn't about sex and it wasn't about orgasm. It was about energy," Lozoff told the Indy.
"Even though I was willing at the time, it just didn't feel right," she said. "And I knew better. I was very vulnerable, and I didn't know what to do—whether not to do it, or open my mouth and say, 'I'm not ready.' I didn't want to disappoint him. After being yelled at, I wanted to do what was right."
"I was upfront and honest about all my feelings, including my sexual ones. But I didn't know that I would end up being touched," she said of the counseling sessions. "I was afraid that there would be some retribution. I'd go back to prison."
The woman left after just six weeks, although Lozoff required parolees to commit to a three-month program. Lozoff and Foundation co-director Catherine Miller claimed they don't remember if they kicked her out. However, the parolee said she was asked to not only leave Kindness House but also North Carolina. Miller acknowledged "it's quite plausible" she told the woman that, if she left Kindness House, she would be forced to return to her home state.
"It wasn't a threat. It wasn't me saying that she had to leave the state. It was me saying what I thought would be true for her," Miller said. "Now maybe it didn't turn out to be true in her case, but that's what we told people, before they came, that you've got to commit to these three months, otherwise the parole folks won't let you stay."
Yet, state parole boards dispute Lozoff's and Miller's contentions. Asked about the three-month period that Miller and Lozoff attributed to "parole folks," Patsy Joiner, administrator of the Parole Division at the N.C. Post-Release Supervision and Parole Program, replied, "We don't work like that."
(TROSA, a substance-abuse recovery program in Durham, accredited through the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, accepts parolees in a two-year program, but prisoners are not threatened with prison if they don't complete it, according to Director of Development Michelle Kucerak.)
Januari Smith, spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Corrections, which had paroled an ex-offender to Kindness House, said the same holds true in that state: "In Illinois, a host site, or in the case you are referring, a halfway house, is able to set its own rules for residents but does not have the authority to violate or send a person back to prison."
None of the correctional agencies or parole divisions who had sent parolees to Kindness House kept tabs on the them; that was the job of local parole officers and North Carolina's parole division, which has an interstate agreement with other corrections departments.
Unlike North Carolina, which has no formal application process for parole programs, Alabama requires that any place accepting parolees to live and work must be certified by the Alabama Department of Mental Health. Halfway houses are exempted from the rule, but can only provide beds for ex-offenders, not employment or treatment.
Mike Stater, spokesman for the N.C. Department of Corrections, said it's up to individual parole officers to report suspicions or instances of abuse. There is a notoriously high turnover rate among probation and parole employees, and Stater said he couldn't find anyone who had any information about Human Kindness Foundation, with the exception of one man who had worked with Lozoff on a radio show. Repeated calls to a parole officer who worked with one of the parolees at Kindness House were unreturned.
Whether it was fear, ambivalence, confusion or devotion to Lozoff, except for the woman ex-offender, whose parole officer helped her transfer to another program (she did not go back to prison), none of the parolees who spoke to the Indy mentioned any allegations of abuse to their parole officers.
"There's a certain amount of loyalty that I have for him, and appreciation and gratitude," said Kevin Dessert, who paroled at Kindness House and lived there for about three years. "Because I'm a product of the work that he did."
Unlike parolees, volunteers didn't have to sign set of lifestyle agreements, though they were encouraged to join the Interfaith Order of Communion and Community, requiring them to abide by strict lifestyle rules. It was an Order that Lozoff neither signed nor adhered to himself.
Lozoff wrote several e-mails and documents obtained by the Indy that confirm the most glaring contradiction in these teachings: He claimed to be celibate and railed against deceptive behavior and harmful sex to his followers. Meanwhile, he was sexually involved with at least five women for several years while they volunteered at Kindness House.
"We were an intimate family. We were people living together doing some very bold, unconventional and intense stuff," Lozoff said.
According to additional e-mails, documents and personal accounts from five women who spoke on the condition that the Indy not reveal their names, this behavior began as consensual. Yet each of the women allege that Lozoff was coercive in using his position of authority to make advances that were secretive and contradictory to his own teachings. Moreover, when necessary, he allegedly used intimidation to keep the women from revealing the encounters to the rest of the community or stopping the affairs.
Lozoff confirmed to the Indy the essential allegations of sexual activity but denied any abuse. He dismissed the volunteers' accounts as "an old scandal, that all of us have been hurt by and pained by," adding, "you're dealing with a small group of disgruntled people who have had a little bit too much therapy—people convincing them what victims they are. It really is a shame."
He also mentioned his conduct to select community members in a 2002 letter [download PDF, 925 KB]: "If I were self-seeking, conventional or someone who protects myself in other ways, it would be easy to argue that I am distorting spiritual teachings to rationalize sexual hypocrisy. But as Catherine has pointed out, you all know I am unconventional and very wild in many ways." (Emphasis in the original.)
One woman arrived in 1997. She told the Indy about a code of conduct that was "non-sexual" at the Kindness House. "It was supposed to be an environment that was safe for people just coming out of prison, and not be bombarded with sexual energy. Bo had explained to me that he was living celibately."
After the woman left Kindness House in early 1998, due to what she characterizes as Lozoff's "psychological terror" of community members, he invited her to watch a movie with the "spiritual family," then brought her to his private cabin and kissed her and fondled her breasts. She said she felt guilty about the encounter and decided she should tell the community. When she informed Lozoff of her plans, he responded with rage—a pattern that allegedly emerged in dealing with women who felt ambivalent about their sexual experiences with him.
"He just screamed at me that I was going to destroy Kindness Foundation and his marriage, and how could I dare to do this, and who did I think I was? He was screaming and mad," she recalled. "At one moment I was certainly afraid that he would get violent. We were standing out by the new construction site—we were building a new pavilion. He ripped a plank out of it. That was just showing how angry he was."
Lozoff said he did not recall the detail of ripping out a plank and insisted he was never violent while at Kindness House.
The woman said she kept quiet for fear of further reprisal. Lozoff continued to pressure her against revealing the encounter in his cabin.
At a weekly tuning, the woman said she recognized Lozoff's hypocrisy as he discussed with the group proper sexual conduct.
"He's talking about the precepts—what 'right sexual conduct' means. And I'm [thinking] 'Whoa. How can you put these two together? How can you do this?' That was definitely for me how I knew, this ain't right. 'Here, you shall not lie. While I'm doing it at the very moment I say it.'"
Lozoff then began using his second-floor office, located next to the community's meditation hall, to engage in sexual behavior with women who looked to him for spiritual guidance. Though he did not require one-on-one meetings with all community members, he prescribed a mandatory routine for those seeking his help.
In 2001, Lozoff wrote of these exchanges shortly after emerging from a 40-day retreat, during which he claimed not to drink water for 10 days: "In my private meetings, I was so many things to different people, that became confusing as well. I lost any sense of context for those relationships—some too dependent, some too aloof, some brought out attachment in me, some were spiritual, some psychological, some philosophical, some argumentative. I was counseling, hypnotizing, managing, motivating, mediating, shakti-pat-ing [shaktipat is the transfer of spiritual power from a guru to a devotee]. I had too much energy and influence, and not enough respect for any guidelines for that energy and influence."
Another woman, who arrived in 1999, said she was drawn to Lozoff's spiritual teachings and prison work and had been receiving the Human Kindness Foundation newsletter for years. She was also struggling with the memory of a relative molesting her as a child.
Shortly after she arrived, Lozoff offered to treat her traumatic memory, "sexual blockages," and a health condition, using image therapy and "sexual energy work"—including oral and manual sex—which Lozoff asked her to keep secret. Lozoff insists he used his power to help the woman, and within a year the two became part of a "love triangle" Lozoff claimed was devised by God. The affair lasted more than two years, until she left Kindness House in 2002 to escape from her affair with Lozoff.
She said she saw herself as "the chosen one" of an enlightened guru, and though she described her state of mind during this time period as being "in the fog," she said she had the arrogance to believe she played an important role in his life.
The woman said she developed self-harming behavior and depression as a result of her relationship with Lozoff. But in his interview with the Indy, Lozoff continued to take credit for helping the woman "get over" the condition and heal from her memories of childhood molestation. He wrote about it in the 2002 letter to select community members: "I helped her overcome her condition so that she now has a normal [lifestyle] for the first time in her life. My intense love for her finally broke through her barriers of unworthiness and revealed, to herself and to the world, her inner and outer beauty as a woman."
He went on to describe a more universal healing power, stemming from his sexual energy work: "At least two women had multiple orgasms with God, sitting alone in front of their altars, in meditation, after my work with their sexual energies. Like it or not, life is not just thoughts and psychology and opinions. These energies are very real, and they were coursing through me for months on end."
All of the sexual behavior that Lozoff acknowledges occurred while he promoted himself as a spiritual guide and teacher and spoke publicly about the sanctity of his marriage, which he called a "path of service" that allowed him to taste "the salt of the world's tears."
In his writing to prisoners, which he published in books and newsletters, he often counseled inmates on their sexuality. "Love comes from the heart; not the balls," he wrote one prisoner.
Lozoff made sexual advances to several other women while counseling them on personal and spiritual issues. One of these women told a parolee, David Timmerman, that while visiting on a retreat, Lozoff "had done some stuff that made her feel uncomfortable." Lozoff had kissed and touched her during counseling sessions about "opening up" to romantic relationships with other men.
"At one point, he just started kissing me. He was trying to say, 'Look. It's not that hard,'" she told the Indy. "Now that I think about it, it was probably a test to see how far he could go with this kind of contact."
After returning home from visits to Kindness House, she began to question why Lozoff had used sexual contact during their sessions. She called Lozoff to express her doubts, and he convinced her that it was merely spiritual work. Ambivalent, she decided to return for future retreats.
"I was still confused. I would have conversations where I would try to work it all out: What was he trying to teach me? What did it mean? Did I want to trust the sexual element of the teachings or not?"
She also felt confused, she said, because she respected Lozoff's prison ministry and wanted to contribute to the project at Kindness House. "He's done so much for these people in prison," she said. "Going on tour, singing to them, just being with them for 30 years of his life. He's changed a lot of lives and a lot of perspectives about how people live in prison."
At one point, she said Lozoff told her that, if she wanted a spiritual teacher, she would have to learn to accept clandestine sexual experiences with that teacher—a comment Lozoff insisted was a "philosophical conversation."
"I may have said something like, 'The Dalai Lama says that once you take someone as your spiritual teacher, you do whatever they tell you,'" Lozoff said. "But, that's one of the reasons I don't call myself a spiritual teacher. I've called myself a spiritual teacher in the sense of my writings and my lectures, but I don't have one-on-one students. And I didn't. I was the spiritual director of Kindness House."
Around this time, Lozoff went into his 40-day retreat, and when he emerged, he e-mailed the woman to say that he was wrong about their sexual contact.
Lozoff said he sent many e-mails after emerging from the retreat and does not recall the details of his correspondence with the woman. Touched by Lozoff's private apology, the woman decided to move to Kindness House in 2002 to fulfill her dream of community living. She lived there for two years.
"Moving there, and living there, was a whole different experience. It became clear after living there, especially when he started speaking again [Lozoff had been in a year of silence], that he was a bully, that he used intimidation."
Some women who volunteered at Kindness House said they did not see any indications of sexual activity between Lozoff and women. In an interview with the Indy, Katrina Holley, a Human Kindness Foundation volunteer who visited Kindness House, insisted she knew nothing about allegations of sexual abuse. She compared Lozoff to Jesus Christ and the Dalai Lama, who has written prefaces to several of Lozoff's books. "While he [Lozoff] probably wouldn't want me to call him my guru, if I was to identify with a guru, it would definitely be Bo. Because he emulates the love of Jesus Christ and the perseverance of Jesus Christ," she said.
Lozoff insisted in his interview with the Indy that he went out of his way "to make it very clear to people not to see me like that."
Lozoff's guru is the now-deceased Neem Karoli Baba, whom Lozoff claims to have seen in a dream when he was 8 but never met. Author Ram Dass described Baba in his biography, Miracle of Love, as a "master of abuse" who sheltered criminals but also had sex with his devotees. Baba tormented devotees with "playful" abuse such as making arbitrary and often conflicting demands and humiliating them publicly, as a means to "loosen the minds" of followers.
Catherine Wessinger, professor of The History of Religions and Women's Studies at Loyola University in New Orleans, said Baba's biography is relevant in analyzing Lozoff's behavior.
"He's got a spiritual calling, or he feels he does," she said of Lozoff. "He feels he's following his guru in terms of the service he was doing, but also it's possible he was following his guru in terms of sexual activity. He just seems blind to the fact that these women were not in a position of having much choice. Their choices were pretty limited, given their circumstances. He doesn't really see that."
The sexual power dynamic between Lozoff, a spiritual teacher, and the woman parolee and other female acolytes was at best unhealthy and at worst abusive, according to Wessinger and another religious studies expert.
Sexual yoga and tantra "can be abused," Wessinger said, adding, "Ideally, it's about two partners engaged in spiritual practice together. The inequality in these relationships [at Kindness House], and also the lack of knowledge on the part of the women, would have put them at a disadvantage. I don't see where it would have been spiritually beneficial to the women where they weren't equal partners in that sexual and spiritual relationship."
She said Lozoff's insistence that he was a "mystic," and not a teacher, was specious.
"Lozoff is claiming he's not a guru, he's not a teacher—he's claiming to be a mystic. Yet, how would these women have known anything about sexual energies, tantra, chakra, unless he taught it to them? That would have put him in a teacher role."
Timothy Miller, professor of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas and an expert on intentional communities, said a common problem among all faiths is for leaders to have unchecked power.
"I think it's bad for people to be in a position of leadership where not only do they have authority and power, but also they have people looking up to them and telling them how wonderful they are."
He said that, in an environment of adoration, it's hard to "keep your bearings."
"If he [Lozoff] set down these rules, and expected people to follow them, there's no reason to think he didn't intend to follow it himself, originally," he said. "But things change, and you get carried away. And people are sexual beings, men and women alike. It's a temptation that's there."
Miller said having a mystical calling is common across religious beliefs, and in the proper perspective, can be beneficial.
"What becomes a problem is that you decide, therefore, you're superior," he said. "It can make you think 'I'm so spiritually advanced that the normal rules don't apply to me.'"
Sexual relationships are never appropriate between teachers and students, according to Jack Kornfield, co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society and Spirit Rock Meditation Center. He helped develop a Teacher's Code of Ethics for spiritual communities that prohibits such contact.
Kornfield, who was trained as a Buddhist monk and holds a doctorate in clinical psychology, addresses the difficulties of sexual abuse, including actions justified as tantra, within spiritual communities in A Path with Heart: "The teacher's role can be misused in hypocritical or clandestine sex that contradicts the vows or tenets of the teachings, in forms of exploitation, adultery, and abuse, or other behavior that endangers the physical and emotional well-being of students."
Kornfield, who did not respond to multiple requests for comment, has praised Lozoff's writing as "straight from the heart," and Lozoff said he knows Kornfield well.
However, Lozoff said he was unconventional by Kornfield's standards and does not operate in the "psychological mode."
Lozoff has no certification as a spiritual leader, psychologist, counselor or teacher—he received an honorary doctorate from the Chicago Theological Seminary—and used his lack of training to excuse his behavior.
"I don't have any professional ethics to abide by, any licensure or anything like that. And everybody knows that from the get-go," Lozoff told the Indy. "There's this sort of wild guy who's got a good heart, who has a lot of power that seems helpful to a lot of people, so let's try to do this experiment together."
He added: "I'm just this guy who doesn't fit into one particular box. I know there's always risky behavior, to put something into practice like that, or to touch somebody sexually, but it's also risky behavior to take a 240-pound brute out of prison for five different crimes and live with him with your little kids and your wife. I perform all kinds of risky behavior that I generally believe in."
Lozoff's unconventional beliefs extend to every aspect of his life, he said, including his sexuality. He justified his anger toward ex-offenders as the result of a spiritual "explosion." And ultimately, he attributed his own actions to the downfall of Kindness House.
"We shut it all down because it blew up in our faces. We shut it all down because I was unconventional sexually. We shut it all down because there was controversy about whether I was manipulative or sincere. We shut it all down years ago," he said.
In a winter 2007 newsletter to supporters, Lozoff disclosed that Kindness House had closed "because during the time I was on tour, things changed quite a bit for Human Kindness Foundation." There was no mention of Lozoff's "unconventional" relationships with community members. Lozoff's reasons for closing Kindness House surprised many people who spoke to the Indy for this story.
Bo and Sita Lozoff now live in Durham on 7.5 acres, purchased by the Human Kindness Foundation for $285,000 last year. The Foundation spent $100,000 of this exclusively for the Lozoffs' 864-square-foot cabin (which Lozoff built) "while they work full-time for HKF and take only room and board, no salary," according to Foundation co-director Catherine Miller.
The land contains an office, concert area (Lozoff sings and plays the guitar) and a warehouse for his books, but no accommodation for overnight guests or parolees.
Lozoff said he no longer acts as a teacher, due to being "ripped apart" by his sexual encounters with former students. Instead, he said he uses Human Kindness Foundation donations to write newsletters and correspond with inmates, the bread and butter of his advocacy work before he founded Kindness House.
"What we do on Etta Road is about a dozen people from all over Durham and Chapel Hill and Hillsborough come and read these heartbreaking prisoners' letters that are thanking us for saving their lives, and asking for our love and prayers and blessings, and copies of my books," Lozoff said. "We do that faithfully. This is what we do."
Corrections (Aug. 31 and Sept. 3, 2008): The cutline beneath the Foundation newsletters was misleading; it has been reworded. Also, the story incorrectly stated that Lozoff's office was windowless. There is a window; it faces outside rather than the interior of the building, and the office is on the second floor.
Bo Lozoff has often justified his conduct by saying he is "unconventional." An analysis of federal tax returns filed by the Human Kindness Foundation, of which he was the director until last year, show further unconventionalities.
Lozoff founded the Human Kindness Foundation in 1987. He resigned as its director last year, he said, because he has "always been reluctant" to lead.
"I don't want to have power over anybody. And the board, until this year, has convinced me not to leave the board," he said.
In 1993, the Foundation bought 13 acres in southern Orange County to launch Kindness House, using a $120,000 donation from Mickey Singer, a software company CEO and founder of Temple of the Universe, a Florida-based yoga and meditation center. When the Foundation purchased an additional 56 acres for $250,000, Singer was the primary contributor, according to Lozoff.
Singer is on trial in federal court in South Carolina for allegedly defrauding investors. He confirmed his contributions to the Foundation, but declined additional comment for this article.
While Lozoff told the Indy that Kindness House closed in 2005 as a result of his sexual encounters with volunteers and one female parolee, he never disclosed the reason to donors.
"Donors gave money to Human Kindness Foundation," Lozoff said. "They didn't give money to a parole program. They gave money because they respect and admire our work."
The Foundation's 2007 tax filings show it continued to spend money on "a residential facility for former inmates and volunteers" at the defunct Kindness House. In fact, nearly two-thirds of its program expenses—$108,788 of $174,288—went to Kindness House, the largest amount in four years. The Foundation did not distinguish between its parole program and the intentional community in its tax filings.
Asked to clarify this discrepancy in the timeline, Foundation Co-Director Catherine Miller wrote in an e-mail, "We did begin closing Kindness House in 2005 in the sense that we stopped accepting new applications from parolees into the program," adding there was one ex-offender living there in 2007.
Private donations, land sales and mortgage collections form the basis of the Foundation's $1.7 million in assets. Last year, the Foundation sold the former site of Kindness House for $1.4 million. In addition to the Kindness House land, the Foundation has sold two properties and holds mortgages on them: the former site of a failed bio-diesel program near Mebane that Lozoff incorporated in 2004 and sold one year later ($200,000), and a condominium that the Foundation rented to two ex-offenders before selling it two years ago ($96,000).
Trisha Lester, vice president of the N.C. Center for Nonprofits. described the mortgage payments as a "very unusual" method of fundraising, though not necessarily unethical.
Lozoff, who said he doesn't earn a salary from the Foundation, bought a $125,000 condominium in his name in July 2005. (He and his wife have money from investing in Microsoft stock.) He then sold it three months later for $135,000 to a former parolee who had spent time at Kindness House. The parolee, who asked that his name not be used, is paying his mortgage directly to Lozoff.
Lozoff's intentions appear to be benevolent. He wrote in an e-mail to the Indy that he did not profit from this transaction, and he bought and sold the condo specifically to help the parolee who couldn't qualify for a loan because of his criminal record. "None of these transactions had anything to do with the Foundation or our donors' funds," he added.
However, Lester said private financial transactions, such as property sales between a director and a member of an organization, present a potential conflict of interest: "That's not good."
Asked how the Foundation has used donations since Kindness House closed, Lozoff said it spends "$100,000 at the post office," mailing newsletters and letters to prisoners. Another $100,000, Lozoff said, is used for publishing books, most of which are provided for free.
However, the tax filings don't reflect Lozoff's contentions. Since 2003, the Foundation has reported an average of just $44,000 in annual expenses toward newsletters and correspondence. Over the same amount of time, the Foundation reported an average of roughly $80,000 per year in book publishing expenses.
Lozoff insisted about 90 percent of the Foundation's revenue goes to program expenses. Yet, in its 2007 filing, the Foundation listed $976,000 in revenue and program expenses (including books) of $257,9000—26 percent.
Miller later wrote in an e-mail to the Indy that Lozoff was "not speaking as our accountant."
Lozoff maintains that the Foundation's finances are above-board: "We are the cleanest organization you have ever met in your entire life." —Matt Saldaña
Correction (Feb. 6, 2009): The Indy incorrectly stated that Human Kindness Foundation reported no book publishing expenses in 2005 and 2006. These expenses are listed in the foundation's tax reports, though under a different section than other programming expenses, because they factor in some profit from book sales.