Written by Prem Shunyo
USA – Prison
October 28th, 1985.
The Lear jet was just coming in to land at Charlotte, North Carolina, and I looked out into the darkness and saw that the airport was deserted. A few thin tall bushes were blowing in the wind gusts created by the jet as we touched down, and as the engines were switched off Nirupa saw Hanya. Hanya, with whom we were going to stay in Charlotte, was Nirupa’s extremely young mother-in-law. She was standing on the tarmac with her friend Prasad.
Nirupa called out excitedly to Hanya, and almost simultaneously from many directions loud shouts of “Hands up” threw me into another reality. I was in that terrible gap for a moment, from where the mind surfaces to say, “No, this can’t be real.” Within a couple of seconds the plane was surrounded by about fifteen men pointing their guns at us.
It was real alright – darkness, flashing lights, screeching brakes, shouts, panic, fear, all spun around me, but I was too aware of the danger to be anything but calm. “Don’t even sneeze,” I said to myself, “because these men will shoot.” They were scared – and no wonder.
A freelance reporter interviewed the authorities three years after the event and was told, and shown evidence, that the message that these men had received was to arrest the occupants of these two planes – they were told we were escaped criminals fleeing from justice and that we were terrorists, armed with submachine guns.
The men were dressed in lumberjack shirts and jeans. I thought they were Oregonian rednecks and hillbillies come to kidnap Osho. We were not told that we were under arrest, or that they were FBI agents.
I was looking at professional killers. They looked perverted and inhuman; they did not have eyes with any expression in them, they had only glistening holes in their faces.
The men were shouting for us to get out of the plane with our hands up, but although the pilots opened the door we could not get out because Osho’s armchair was a third the size of the jet, and stood in the doorway. We tried to call to our captors that we couldn’t get out and they must have
thought it some kind of ploy while we were maybe loading our machine guns. They got very agitated and a light was shone into my face through the window. I turned and twelve inches from my face was the barrel of a gun, and at the end of the gun was a very tense and frightened face. I realized that he was more frightened than me, and that was dangerous.
After a scene that would befit Monty Python, with the gunmen shouting contradictory orders at us to “Freeze,” “Get down from the plane,” and “Don’t move,” Osho’s armchair was removed, and men jumped on board the plane and almost shot Mukti in the head for bending down to put her shoes on.
Outside on the tarmac it was arms up and legs spread as we were searched, with our bellies pressed up against the jet. As we were being roughly handcuffed, I turned to Hanya, who was looking frightened, and said, “It’ll be alright.” We then sat in the airport lounge, surrounded by gunmen behind desks, cupboards and potted plants, aiming sawn-off shotguns at the entrance, waiting for Osho’s plane to land.
There was the sound of heavy boots running, arms rubbing against plastic bullet-proof vests, hissed messages on walkie-talkies. And then the sound of a lone jet coming in to land. The next five minutes were terrifying. We did not know what they were going to do to Osho. Nirupa tried to walk over to the glass doors that looked out onto the landing strip, hoping to give a warning signal, but she was ordered back to her seat at the point of a gun. I felt the deathly stillness of waiting, the helplessness of being in the hands of violent men. The tension in the deserted waiting room was suffocating and then there were panicked shouts from the armed men. They couldn’t understand why the jet had landed and yet the engines were still running. This was only to keep the air conditioner running for Osho but they did not know this and they became more freaked out. Moments passed and I felt a sickly emptiness.
Then Osho walked through the glass doors, handcuffed and flanked on either side by men with their shotguns at the ready. Osho walked in as though he was walking into Buddha Hall to give a morning discourse to his disciples. He was calm, and a smile crossed his face as he saw us all sitting waiting for him, in our chains. He walked on stage in the drama – quite a different drama than we had ever experienced before – and yet he was the same. Whatever happened to Osho on the periphery never touched his center, such a deep and tranquil pool it must be.
Next followed a fiasco, as our captors read out a list of names of which I recognized none. The drama was becoming more confusing.
“You’ve got the wrong people,” said Vivek.
Wrong movie, wrong people – it was all bizarre to me. The man reading the list of names looked to me like an albino who dyed his hair red. He had a strong sexual vibe that made me think, “I bet he enjoys hurting people.” We asked repeatedly if we were under arrest but received no answer.
We were all pushed outside and at least twenty police cars were waiting with red and blue lights flashing. At this point Osho was separated from us and put in a car alone. My heart fell to my stomach; and as I was seated in one of the cars, I bent my head, put my hand over the empty place where my heart use to be, and it flooded into my shocked mind that something really terrible was happening.
At no point did the police take a good look at us. If they had, we would not have been put in chains or treated like mass murderers. They would have seen four extremely feminine women in their mid-thirties, about as dangerous as kittens, two mature, intelligent men, with an elegance and gentleness that they would not have come across before, and Osho …what to say of Osho?…just look at his picture. During the whole episode of the arrest I just couldn’t believe that Americans were watching the arrest of Osho, and were not able to see the contrast between him and his captors, between Osho and any other human being they have ever seen on their TV screen. I was watching TV in the jail and saw the film footage as we were carted from jail to courthouse and back again. The television programs were loud, vulgar and violent and then suddenly on the screen was an ancient sage, a holy man, smiling at the world with his hands and feet in chains. He would raise his manacled hands to namaste the world that was trying to destroy him. But nobody was able to see him.
We were driven at breakneck speed to the marshal’s jail, and I wondered whether these people were insane, or what. The streets were empty and quiet and yet they drove in such a way that we were thrown around in the back of the car and bounced off the walls and doors, hurting knees and shoulders in the process. Osho was in the car in front, being driven in the same way and I thought of him with his delicate body and disjointed spine. Later Osho was to say:
“I am myself a reckless driver. In my whole life I have committed only two crimes, and those were speeding. But this was not speeding, it was a totally new kind of sudden stop – for no reason at all, just to give me a jerk. My hands were cuffed, my legs were chained, and they had instructions where to put a chain on my waist, exactly where my back is giving me the trouble. And this would happen each five minutes: suddenly fast, suddenly stopping, just to give as much pain to my back as possible. And nobody said, “You are harming him.”
Arriving at the prison, Jayesh, surprised at the new turn his holiday had taken, exclaimed in mock anger: “Who booked these hotel accommodations?”
We spent the night on steel benches, and were given nothing to eat or drink. The toilet was in the middle of the room so that the electronic “eye” in the doorway could watch every move. Osho was in an identical cage-type cell on his own, and next to him, Devaraj, Jayesh, and the three male pilots.
Devaraj to Osho through the cell bars:
“Mm?” Osho replied.
“Are you alright, Bhagwan?”
“Mm mm,” came the reply. There was a pause, and then from Bhagwan’s side came his voice, “Devaraj?”
“What is happening?”
“I don’t know, Bhagwan.”
There was a long pause, then Bhagwan’s voice:
“When are we continuing?”
And Devaraj responded, “I don’t know.”
There was another pause, then Bhagwan’s voice again:
“There must be a mistake or something. It has to be cleared up.”
Third in the row of cages were we four girls, and a woman pilot who was crying and screaming. I looked at the contrast between our centeredness and the woman who was pacing up and down and shouting and I felt grateful that even in this situation I could feel the meditative quality in me that Osho had been teaching me for years. I had not had the opportunity to experience it before so clearly.
I had my moments of rage though. It was obvious that the prison system is designed to break a person, to humiliate, frighten, and then reduce a person into an obedient slave. During the first few hours we were told that it was against the rules to give a prisoner coffee. This is because it is often thrown into the face of the guard. I was shocked when I heard this and couldn’t understand how anyone would throw hot coffee over the very person who was giving it to him. A few hours later I understood perfectly, and I knew exactly who would be wearing my hot coffee, should I be given the opportunity.
All night and all day we remained in our cages and then we went to the courtroom for the decision to be made about our bail. It would take only about twenty minutes, we were told, just the usual procedure.
In order to move us to the courtroom we had to be put in leg irons, as well as handcuffs that were joined by a chain to our waists. Two men went into Osho’s cell and I watched them through the bars. They were very rough with him and one of them kicked Osho as they pushed him to face the wall. He kicked Osho’s legs apart and then pushed him around. To see this kind of brutality done to a new born child could not have been more repulsive. Osho does not have even the smallest fraction of resistance in him. To pluck a flower is violence as far as Osho is concerned. his frailty and gentleness is awesome.
I saw the man who did it. I can still see his face. I was so enraged and helpless to do anything that whenever I saw the man I used to stare at his head and will it to burst.
The question of bail was a lie from the very beginning. I took note that the judge, a homely looking woman called Barbara De Laney, never once looked at Osho throughout the whole court
proceedings. At one point during the “trial” our lawyer, Bill Diehl said:
“Well, your honor, it seems your mind is already made up. We might as well all go home.”
Osho was accused of unlawful flight. It was said that he had knowledge of a warrant for his arrest on immigration charges and he was trying to avoid it. We were charged with aiding and abetting unlawful flight and concealing a person from arrest.
We were sick with worry that if Osho had to spend another night in jail, he would become dangerously ill. For many years his diet had been specially controlled because of diabetes, and he took medicine at set times. His whole routine was strictly scheduled and never broken. If he didn’t eat the right food at certain times then he could become sick. He was asthmatic and allergic to smells of any kind. For years he had been watched over and even the smell of a new curtain, or someone’s perfume could bring on an asthma attack. His back condition of a prolapsed injured vertebral disc was still present, and in fact never did heal.
It was requested that Osho be looked after in a hospital facility.
“Your honor,” began Osho, “I ask you a simple question…”
He was interrupted by the judge and arrogantly told to speak through counsel.
Osho continued: “Your honor, I have been sick the whole night on these steel benches and I have been asking those people continuously – not even a pillow.”
“I don’t think they have a pillow,” said Judge De Laney.
“Sleeping on the steel benches – I cannot sleep on the benches,” Osho continued, “I cannot eat anything that they can give.”
It was asked that Osho at least keep his own clothing as he could be allergic to materials provided by the jail.
“No, for security reasons,” said the judge.
The hearing was to be continued the next day and we were to be transferred to Mecklenberg County Jail. At least we were out of the Marshal’s cell. In the last few days of Osho’s life he was to say to his doctor that:
“It all started in the Marshal’s cell.”
We were taken to Mecklenberg County Jail, and again our hands and feet were chained. The chains on my feet cut into my ankles very badly and it was difficult to walk. Osho never lost his graceful way of moving, even with the leg irons on, and the first time Osho saw that Vivek and I were chained together, he laughed!
When a prisoner is moved in or out of the prison he waits in a windowless cell about eight feet long, with room for a single steel cot, and there is about six inches of space before the knees touch the wall.
Vivek and I sat on the steel cot side by side choking on the smell of urine. There were shit and blood stains smeared on the walls and the heavy door was pitted with scars, obviously from past occupants going crazy and pitifully throwing themselves against it. We looked at each other wide eyed when we heard two men on the other side of the door, discussing us in their Southern drawl. They were talking about the four Rajneesh women and what they would like to do with them. How they looked, “and one is having her period,” they said (how did they know that?). We waited for two hours, with fears of rape attacks and abuse, not knowing whether this was to be our permanent place or not. But the most devastating thing was knowing that Osho was being treated the same as we were, and we couldn’t see him.
Throughout the jail experience the worst thing was knowing that Osho was not getting any better treatment than anyone else, and if he was treated like this…!
Our clothes were taken away, as were Osho’s, and we were given prison clothes. They were old and obviously washed many times, although the underarms were stiff with old sweat, and when they warmed up with my own body heat I had to endure the stink of the many people who had worn the clothes before me. It was so gross that when offered a change of clothes three days later I refused, because at least I hadn’t caught crabs or scabies, and who knows, next time?
I heard from Nurse Carter, who was helping to care for Osho, that when Osho was given his clothes he simply said in a joking voice, “But they don’t match!”
The bed linen was far worse than the clothes, so I went to bed fully dressed. The sheets were torn and stained yellow/grey; the blanket was full of holes and made of wool. Wool! Osho is allergic to wool. Niren, our lawyer, took new cotton blankets to the prison for Osho, but he never received them.
The prison is a Christian establishment. A priest visits the cells with a bible and talks of Christ’s teachings. I felt as though I had gone back in time five hundred years, it all seemed so barbaric.
Ninety-nine percent of the inmates were black. Can it be that only black people commit crimes, or is it that only black people are punished?
I entered my cell, that I was to share with about twelve junkies and prostitutes. “Help,” I said to myself: “What about AIDS?” The women stopped what they were doing and all heads turned as I crossed the floor to the empty bunk, carrying my flea-bitten mattress. For a moment I was in the gap. Then I walked over to the table and benches, where some of them were playing cards, and asked them if I could play. I also wanted to learn how to speak with a Southern accent before I left the jail.
I enjoyed the prisoners and found them more intelligent than people I met outside the prison. They said that they had seen me on television with my guru and they couldn’t understand why we had been arrested and put in jail with so much fuss, for an immigration charge. They couldn’t understand what was going on, why we were being treated like big criminals. I thought that if it was so obvious to these girls, then surely a lot of Americans were going to be outraged at Osho’s arrest and someone with intelligence, courage, and power, would step forward and say, “Hey…wait a minute…what’s happening here?” I was totally convinced that it would happen. This is called hope, and I was to live on hope for five days.
After a few hours my cell was changed, but I didn’t ask why, because I was relieved to see I was to join Vivek, Nirupa and Mukti. We had a cell with two other prisoners which consisted of three sets of two bunks in a row, a table and bench, a shower and a television set that was only switched off at sleeping time.
Sheriff Kidd was in charge of the prison, and I believe he did his best for Osho, under the circumstances. He said to Vivek and I while we were having our mug shots taken that, “He (Osho) is an innocent man.” Nurse Carter was sensitive to Osho also, and she brought us messages each day such as, “Your boy ate all his grits (a Southern version of porridge) today.” Looking through the bars of my cell one morning, I saw Osho greet Deputy Chief Samuels in a way that stopped time for me, and changed the prison into a temple. He took Samuels’ hands in his and they stood looking at each other for a few moments. Osho looked at him with such love and respect. The meeting was not taking place in a jail, although in reality it was.
Osho gave a press conference and was seen on television in prison clothes, answering questions from the press. The first time I saw Osho in prison clothes I was shocked by a beauty that I had never seen before. As I walked away with Vivek, we looked at each other and simultaneously exclaimed “Lao Tzu!” he looked like the ancient Chinese master, Lao Tzu.
The prison warders warmed to us and had respect for Osho, and I saw that there were good people there, but the system is inhuman and they don’t realize it. One of the guards, while taking us down in the lift on our way to court, turned to us and said, “God bless you people.” She quickly turned away, embarrassed or not wanting anyone to overhear.
We were allowed to visit the exercise yard each day for about fifteen minutes. Osho’s second floor cell had a long window overlooking the yard and an inmate arranged it so when we went to the yard, we would throw up a shoe and Osho would appear at the window and wave. It was difficult to see him clearly, but we could recognize him and his gently waving hand was clear. We danced and wept with joy, once in the pouring rain, and it was darshan for us. The misty figure in the window reminded me of saints on stained glass windows in cathedrals. On our way back to our cell the guards used to exclaim that we went down to the yard with long faces and came back laughing – what happened?
Over the next four days in the courtroom I watched as American “justice” revealed itself as a farce. Government agents lied on the stand, evidence was produced against Osho from sannyasins who had been blackmailed into telling lies. Crimes committed by Sheela were produced even though they had no relation whatsoever to Osho’s case. Day after day passed as I saw that there was no sense in this world, no understanding, no justice.
My hopes were in vain, that there would be someone in America who would come forward to say that what was happening was inhuman and insane. There was nobody out there. Osho was alone. He has said that a genius, a man of the calibre of Buddha, is always ahead of his time, that he will never be known by his contemporaries. In this country called America Osho was in a barren and barbaric land, and there was nobody with the guts to hear what he was saying or to try and understand.
The trial lasted five days and on the day they took our chains off, a reporter shouted to us as we left the courthouse “How does it feel without your chains?” I paused, put my hands in the air and said, “It feels the same.”
No bail was to be given to Osho. He was to travel to Portland, Oregon, as a prisoner and a decision would be made there. It was a six hour flight. I saw him on the television news being escorted up the steps of the prison plane. Even though his feet and hands were in chains he moved with such grace, as only a man of awareness can move. The way he moved broke my heart.
We were allowed to say goodbye to him through the cell bars. Mukti, Nirupa and I went and put our hands through the bars and wept. He got up from the steel cot, walked towards us, and holding our hands, said:
“You go. And no need to worry. I will be out soon.
Everything will be okay – you go happy.”
Waiting in the office of the jail to be released, while watching Osho on the television, I heard a policeman say:
“That man really has something. No matter what is happening to him, he remains relaxed and peaceful.”
I wanted to tell the whole world that here is the Master, arrested and accused of false crimes, abused by the American judicial system, physically suffering, and about to be dragged across the States at the point of a gun – and he says for us to “go happy.” Couldn’t they see from this small statement what kind of man he is?
My energy turned, I stopped crying and I looked at him. Happiness has a strength and happiness is his message. “I will go happy and I will be strong,” I vowed to myself. I found an inner strength, but my happiness was superficial. It was like a band-aid on open heart surgery.
We all returned to Rajneeshpuram and left Osho in the hands of the people who were to kill him.
The journey from North Carolina to Portland which should have taken six hours took seven days and Osho was put in four different prisons. During his incarceration he was exposed to radiation and given the poison, thallium.
We waited in Rajneeshpuram for ever. On November 6th nothing had been heard of Osho since the evening of November 4th, when it was said that he had landed in Oklahoma. The journey should only take six hours! and already it had been three days since he left Charlotte.
The prison authorities would not reveal his whereabouts and it took a lot of shouting by Vivek to start a search. Bill Diehl, who had taken such care with us in Charlotte as our lawyer, and who had worked so lovingly for Osho, flew to Oklahoma. Osho was found, after he had been moved twice to different prisons and had been forced to sign himself in under a false name – David Washington. This was obviously so that no trace could be found in the prison records of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh should anything “happen” to him.
Osho arrived back in Portland twelve days after the arrest and was granted bail.
Osho rested, sleeping twenty hours a day for the next few days. There was to be a court hearing on Thursday l2th November. The night before, I was told that after the court hearing Osho would be leaving America for India.
Laxmi, was now on the scene again, having been away from the commune for four years, and I was present at a meeting with her and Osho when she was telling him of a place she had found in the himalayas where a new commune could be started. She told him of the magnificent river, with an island in the middle of it. “That,” said Osho, “is where we will build the new Buddha Hall.” There were many small bungalows and a large house for Osho, she said, and added that she saw no difficulty in getting planning permission for extensive building.
Osho was ready to start all over again. Despite being betrayed by some of his sannyasins, and despite his ill health, his work had to continue. I was astounded at the total enthusiasm with which he discussed details for our new commune.
I packed at least twenty huge trunks, as I had the idea that if we were to be miles up in the himalayas, then how were we going to get supplies of warm clothes, toiletries, special foods, etc., and I wanted to take as many of Osho’s clothes as possible. The sewing room might not be in operation again for a long time.
The next day Vivek and Devaraj left before Osho, leaving me to accompany him to Portland. I was already feeling the pain of separation from the commune, even though, if Laxmi was to be believed, we would be together again soon. Still, the pain was there.
While packing the few things in Osho’s room, he picked up his Shiva statue that he had talked about many times in discourse and said, “Give this to the commune, they can sell it.” he then walked across the room to his Buddha statue that he loved so much and said the same. I stuttered, “Oh, no! Please not these, you love them so much,” but he insisted. Then he said that when his watches came back from the Federal Agents they were to be placed on the podium in the Meditation Hall so that everyone could see them. He then said to tell his people that, “These watches will be your air fares to India.”
We did not know, nor could have imagined, that the government would steal all his watches. When we were arrested in Charlotte all our belongings were confiscated. Some of them were returned after a legal battle, one year later, but they kept Osho’s watches. This is sheer piracy.
I said goodbye to my friends, and I went outside and bowed down to “my” mountain, that I had slept under, climbed over, and simply sat and looked at for the last four years. Then I called Avesh in the garage to bring the car up, just like I had done many times before.
Avesh drove and I sat in the back with Osho. From Basho’s Pond, past Rajneesh Mandir, winding through downtown Rajneeshpuram, and out to the airport were people. People dressed in red, playing musical instruments, singing, dancing, waving goodbye to their Master. The faces! the faces! Musicians followed the car all the way to the airport, some running all the way carrying their Brazilian drums. I saw faces of people who years before had been dull, and now were transformed, shiny and alive. Osho sat and namasted his people for the last time in Rajneeshpuram. I felt rigid with pain but wouldn’t allow myself to break down. It was not the time for emotional outbursts. I was there to take care of Osho, and I said to myself, “Later I will cry, but not now.”
We reached the small plane on the runway and Osho turned around on the steps to wave to everyone. The runway was filled with people, optimistic, beaming faces, playing music and giving their Master a good send off. I took one last look out of the small window as the plane took off, and looked at Osho as he sat silently, leaving behind his people, his dream.