The primary purpose of the Prison-Ashram Project is to inspire and encourage prisoners and prison staff to recognize their depth as human beings, and to behave accordingly. Our inmost nature is divine. The nature of our lives is an incomprehensibly wonderful mystery which each human being can experience for themselves. Prisoners have the opportunity to dedicate themselves to this inward journey without the distractions and luxuries which occupy many people in the “free world.”
We teach a balance between “Communion,” which is an entirely inward, transcendent experience, and “Community,” which includes everything else — our behavior toward others, our worldly goals, our treatment of the planet and its resources, etc. Our books and other materials center both on personal spiritual practice, and committed social activism. The Prison-Ashram Project encourages prisoners to take responsibility for changing their prisons, their communities, and the world.
How the Project Began
In 1973, Bo Lozoff and Ram Dass came up with the idea to help prisoners to use their prisons as ashrams if they were tired enough of seeing themselves as convicts just biding their time until they were released.
Ashram is a Sanskrit word meaning “House of God.” In the East, an ashram is a place where people live for some period of time in order to strengthen their spiritual practice and self-discipline. Many ashrams are very strict. Residents, or ashramites, abide by an exhaustive schedule and live very simply, without many comforts or luxuries.
Ram Dass funded the work, and Bo began corresponding with prisoners and, with their feedback, developing spiritual materials especially suited to that environment.
Neither Bo nor Ram Dass ever imagined that hundreds of thousands of hard-core convicts would be interested in such an idea. But within the first couple of years, the letters began pouring in and have not stopped to this day. By 1975, the Prison-Ashram Project had become Bo’s full time job, and that same year Sita committed herself to the work as well. Bo & Sita visited over 500 prisons, leading thousands of workshops, before Bo’s death in 2012. Bo’s books, in particular the well-known We’re All Doing Time, have become “the convicts’ Bible” in institutions around the world. These books, as well as CDs of Bo’s music and talks, are sent free of charge to any prison inmate who requests them.
The Prison Phoenix Trust
The Prison-Ashram Project has a sister organization in the UK. The Prison Phoenix Trust sends out free copies of We’re All Doing Time, another book called Becoming Free Through Meditation and Yoga, by Sister Elaine MacInnes and Sandy Chubb, and several other great titles. It also sponsors yoga and meditation classes in British prisons, distributes newsletters and carries on correspondence. Check out their website.