In an out of the way cul-de-sac near Taos, New Mexico, lies the Eaglefeather Detention Center, an institution that could change the way Americans view guilt and innocence. Although none of the detainees in the facility committed a crime against man or property, the government has deemed it necessary to detain each of them, for an indefinite time, until their wicked behavior can be altered, and their inner moral compasses reset. As a group, the detainees fall under the jurisdiction of the recently passed God and Country That I Love Act, and are considered a new class of criminal: spiritual offenders.
To the untrained eye, the Eaglefeather facility may look like the spiritual retreat center that it once was, before being forced into bankruptcy due to the karmic failure of its former owner, who lost his Feng Shui at the roulette wheel of a Native American casino. Nestled in the snow-capped Sangre de Christo Mountains, far from the cares and worries of the day-to-day world, Eaglefeather Center daytime activities include gentle horseback riding on sure-footed horses, exploring ancient Native American ruins, biking and skiing (in season). Evenings may include massages, yoga class, cowboy singers, or sacred sound healing sessions. But the profligate detainees know it for what it really is: a dungeon for those who have sinned against their God, their attorney general, or their corporate benefactors.
The domestic war against evil begins here, where the detainees will remain isolated until they are rehabilitated, no matter how long that may take. During their detainment they are not permitted to speak with lawyers, family members, or even telemarketers. They are here to wrestle with their consciences, and overcome the sinful abominations that made them pariahs in their communities.
The wicked behavior that has brought the detainees to Eaglefeather Center runs the full spectrum of immorality, from impiety and impenitence to improbity and imprecation. A typical inmate, Paul, a disheveled looking New Jersey plumber, is a lapsed Catholic. “I’m here because I forget to recite thanksgiving prayers after meals. Listen, I try. It’s just that I’m never exactly sure when the meal is over. First, I have a beer and a bowl of peanuts while IÕm watching the news. Then my daughter brings me over a plate of vegetables to munch. During Seinfeld I go make myself a sandwich. Then after Jeopardy I have another beer … and before I know it I wake up with a bowl of popcorn on my lap and Leno doing his monologue. The meal is never over, when am I supposed to say my prayers?”
In a garden apartment, overlooking the lotus pool is Baba Dave, a Buddhist who’s been detained for reincarnating without a license. Baba Dave looks completely peaceful as he sits cross-legged, chanting, but Warden Chris Kraft, who’s showing me around the facility, has no sympathy for him. “Do you realize there’s a Lama out chewing his cud somewhere because this guy cut in front of him in line and jumped into a waiting womb?”
Next door is Seymour, a Hasidic Jew who felt so guilty for violating one of his religion’s 613 commandments, that he turned himself in to the police. Having nothing to charge him with, they eventually sent him to Eaglefeather Center. “If I had smitten my mother or father, or violated any of the other top ten commandments, they would have had a cell for me,” says Seymour. “But the mitzvot that I broke was number 332, which says that it’s against God’s law to bear a grudge. When it comes to my brother-in-law, I can’t help bearing a grudge. Because he knows I’m a nice guy, he thinks I’m an easy mark. I sanctify when I’m supposed to sanctify, I rejoice when I’m supposed to rejoice, but when this meshuggenah tries to get me to do his work for him, I’ve got to draw the line. I’d rather spend eternity in detention than help him unload his goddamn truck! Oh, look. Now I’ve broken another commandment because of that good-for-nothing. I’d better go and pray for forgiveness. But for me, not for him!”
Even though Bob, an insurance salesman from Shreveport, is agnostic, he is still considered a spiritual offender. “One of the commandments in the Bible is to know that God exists. But I’m an agnostic. I don’t know if God exists or not. It’s a real problem for me, a Catch-22, because if I knew God existed I wouldn’t be an agnostic, and I wouldn’t be here, but if I wasn’t here, then where would I be? I must be here, which means that God doesn’t exist, which means that I am here. Right? Does any of this make sense to you?”
Some of the evildoers are vehemently unrepentant, and must be confined to the maximum self-improvement area. I can hear one man wailing as we pass by, “Hey, I’m innocent! I’m a prisoner of fashion! All I did was wear a polyester leisure suit to a wedding! I don’t belong in a spiritual detention center. Maybe I should be forced to go shopping in the men’s department with my wife, but my conscience is clear, I’m telling you. Get me out of here! Please don’t send me to another workshop about Listening With Your Heart and Discovering Enchanted Love!”
At the lunch buffet I overhear detainees grumbling about their conditions. “If I have to eat another beansprout or drink one more bottle of wheatgrass elixir, I’m gonna puke.” “They put me in the room full of amethyst crystals again this morning. It’s making me crazy, I haven’t had an impure thought in days, and I’m beginning to have visions every time I blink my eyes.”
Spiritual offenders be warned: The sweat lodge and icy cold pool are waiting for you. Repent or suffer the consequences.