A Letter from PrisonBo Lozoff runs the Prison-Ashram Project, designed to teach prisoners alternative way of dealing with incarceration --- away from anger, bitterness, violence, mostly through meditation and the practice of kindness (towards the self; towards other).
The quarterly newsletter of the Project features letters from prisoners, with answers from Lozoff. This one is typical.Bo,
I'll warn you now this is going to be a letter written while I find myself in a state of mind that is not very good. I started writing you and getting your books about a year ago. Since that time I have written a number of letters to you and have read We're All Doing Time, Deep and Simple, Lineage, Open Secrets, Finding Freedom, and I just finished Just Another Spiritual Book. The books were informative and have helped me so far.A question I have for you is in your books you include extensive sections of letters written to you and your response. I understand that the amount of letters you receive must be immense. My question is why have I never heard back from you?Anyway, this is where I am right now. I am serving a 60 year sentence for bank robbery. I just started it 2 years ago, so needless to say, my trip has just started. I'm at a super maximum security prison and I'm pretty much losing my fucking mind --- what's left of it anyway. I'm 31 years old and doing time is nothing new to me. I have been in one institute or another for the past 19 years. What's new to me is never getting out again. I have over 50 years to serve on my sentence.
Basically, I'm fucked. I don't know what to do. I never really have I guess. I didn't belong on the street, and I don't belong in here. I just don't fit in anywhere. I have accomplished nothing in life except hurting those who love me. I have no friends --- never have --- never had any girlfriends, never worked a job longer than a month in my life, never had a license for a car, never had an apartment or bank account, nothing. I've either been locked up or on the run.
I've sold my body for food, killed people for pocket change, all the while looking for "something." Always that "something."
Well, I've never found it, and I'm sick of the anger, pain, loneliness and misery. I want to die, plain and simple. Bo, I'm not crazy --- desperate, yes, but not crazy. I just don't know what to do anymore. Reality is slipping away and my mind is getting sticky.
Please help me, if that's even possible, I wonder. I'm stuck in a hole that is rapidly filling in around me, and I don't even have the will to do anything about it. I'm trapped under ice, cold and alone watching the world go by.
If this is life, I don't want it.--- "C"
§ § §Dear C,
Well, it's me this time --- Bo. I haven't been ignoring you, little brother, it's just that my job has changed a lot since the letter-exchanges you've read in my books. We get about a hundred letters a day, every day, addressed to Bo. How would you handle that if you were me? The thing is, my books are all very personal, very direct, like letters to a friend. You have read hundreds of pages of advice and sympathy and friendship from me to you. There's nothing I can say in this letter that can help you more than the classic ideas and practices I wrote about in my books. My books are about you. They're about the journey each of us takes from a life of selfishness to a life of devotion --- devotion to something bigger than ourselves. When you understand that, you'll be on the road to inner peace, even if you never see the streets again. If you do not understand it, your life will continue to be hell even if they let you out tomorrow by some kind of clerical error or miracle.
From selfishness to devotion. Just focus on that one simple idea.
Your life has been so selfish you "killed people for pocket change." You are living in Hell now for that degree of selfishness, and it has little to do with being in prison. Were you happy before you got locked up?
I know many prisoners who devote their lives to helping other cons learn to read, or file court papers, or who help new young prisoners to avoid getting raped, or avoid falling in with the wrong people. I know many cons who help make their cellblock a less violent place. Anywhere we ever find ourselves, there are always people who need kindness; there are always little improvements we can make in our neighborhood.
Somehow you desperately need to find a way to begin the slow, patient process of changing the habitual way you see, think and feel --- because it's always been about you. Yet for all that self-centered behavior, where did it get you? Isn't it time to try a different strategy? That's all my books are about, C.
I suggest you start them all over again, but this time taking them personally and beginning to make the actual changes in your daily life. Take a brutally honest look at how you spend each day, and begin to experiment with various forms of self-discipline, a schedule of spiritual practices, giving up smoking and excessive sweets, junk food, etc. You say you hate life, but do you hate it enough to make some bold changes? That's the big question.
There are bound to be other cons in your prison who are on this same journey. You may not have noticed or found them simply because you haven't been on it yourself in any real, practical way. You know the old saying, "God helps those who help themselves." It's true. If you begin to do your part, you'll find all sorts of little surprises and helping hands from unexpected sources. Life works, little brother. But like they say in twelve-step groups, "you have to work the program." In life, the program is unselfishness. No excuses. All the power is right there in your hands and heart. I offer you every blessing and good wish for turning it all around, C.--- Love, BoThe Human Kindness Newsletter
Durham NC 27715
Dear Ms Lark:
I recently saw at RALPH a linocut illustration of a skeleton --- Death --- leading off an 18th Century man from a drawing room.
I work at the Black Dog Institute, a not for profit organisation dedicated to the diagnosis, treatment and management of depression and bipolar disorder. Details of the Institute are available on
We held a writing competition, judged in April this year, with the topic being the history of the term Black Dog as a description for depression.
We are now, in conjunction with the University of NSW Press, putting out a publication composed of excerpts from various essays. I am editing it. We intend to give away the resulting publication to consumers, family and friends and to whatever libraries will take it, as part of an information pack about these disorders, and their treatment options. It will not be a royalty-generating work.
We would love to be able to include this illustration in the publication (about 45,000 words, a small book). I can email you the work-in-progress if you were interested/able to consider this request.
If it were able to be included, I would forward a copy of the publication Tracking the Black Dog to you on its completion (circa April next year).--- Kerrie Eyers
Black Dog Institute