MAD AFTER KRISHNA

Chapter 7: Exit from the Cult


The day after Christmas, 1978, a car struck me as I was crossing Venice Boulevard a few blocks from the LA temple. When I regained consciousness, I was lying on my back in the crosswalk. By then the light had changed and the drivers were squeezing into the right lane to avoid running over my motionless body in the left lane. I looked up into the faces of several curious karmi pedestrians, and later into the faces of several devotees who had run over from the temple. None of the motorists stopped to help me.

An ambulance arrived. A devotee named Bhakta Bob, who was a former medical student, accompanied me to the hospital. Besides the head trauma that had resulted in my temporary loss of consciousness, I had sustained abrasions on my back, elbows, and forehead. X-rays showed a hairline fracture of my nose but no other broken bones. Overall, I was lucky. It could have been much worse.

In the emergency room, a police officer asked me a few perfunctory questions about the accident. I answered them to the best of my ability, but I had no recollection of the impact itself. Bhakta Bob left soon thereafter, but another devotee arrived a few hours later and offered me a ride to the temple compound.

When we arrived, he carried my battered body up a flight of stairs to a dormitory space in an apartment building across the street from the temple building. The leader in charge had assigned me to a bunk bed — my first assigned space since joining the Movement more than five years before.

The first week after the accident, I hobbled on a painful left knee and nursed the cuts on my body. My many bandages made showering a challenge. The cuts healed in due course, but I soon suffered a recurrence of jaundice and was again unable to digest fats. Perhaps my already weakened liver had failed to handle the stress of the accident. I tried to arrange with the cooks to receive some butter-less prasadam. Some days I received it, and other days I did not.

In the days and weeks following the accident, I alternated between anger at the driver and anger at myself. At times, I was certain that the so-called accident had been no accident at all. It had occurred in the light of day; the weather was good; I was wearing the highly visible color orange from shoulder to ankle; I was crossing in the crosswalk with the green light; the driver had made no apparent effort to brake or swerve to avoid me; and most damningly of all, he had left the scene, abandoning me like a wounded animal. I thought that either he was intoxicated or he was trying to kill me. At other times, I thought that the accident must be a punishment from God for my deviating from His instructions.

On several occasions, devotees visited me at my bunk and read to me from Scripture. I appreciated the reading, but I needed food, too. Hungry, I tried to call Ramesvara, but failed to get past his secretaries. In frustration, I wrote him a strong letter in which I asked for food and complained about what I thought was poor treatment. I reminded him that I had been a loyal and faithful devotee for many years. Nevertheless, I feared that such a letter would condemn me to hell. After all, the spiritual master knew what was best for me and did not need me to tell him. Shortly thereafter, I wrote a letter to my mother in which I said that I had been in an accident, but that everything was okay. She offered to come to California to arrange for proper medical attention. Caring little about what happened to my body, I quickly refused. A part of me had long since resigned itself to dying in the temple and going back to Godhead, as a devotee was trained to do.

While I was recuperating in the ashram, a mild earthquake shook the building for several seconds. All the devotees immediately reached for their bead bags and began chanting Hare Krishna, as was their habit in moments of fear and desperation.

After a week in the ashram, some devotees drove me to Laguna Beach, where we believed it would be easier for me to obtain the prasadam I needed. I also needed to see a doctor about my painful knee, but the state insurance program that was in place at the time did not cover office visits. The temple treasurer, whose name I have forgotten but whom I will call Bhakta Bill, assured me that the temple's bank account could easily cover the cost of a visit to the doctor. At first, however, Agni refused to give his permission to spend the Lakshmi, perhaps under pressure from his superiors in Los Angeles. I eventually persuaded him to let me see an orthopedist in South Laguna Beach, who put my left leg in a cast from lower calf to upper thigh. At that point, it had been ten days since the accident. The doctor told me that, had I waited any longer, he might not have been able to help the knee. My injury was the kind a football player might suffer. The impact had bent my knee joint in a way it was not intended to bend, tearing the ligaments in the inside of the knee.

Some devotees who had investigated the circumstances of the accident said that the driver who had hit me was the son of a rich man. They added that I should do well with my claim against his insurance company. A devotee who was in law school spoke to me about the possibility of a lawsuit and advised me to run up as many medical bills as possible. To this end, he gave me the name of a physical therapist who specialized in the treatment of accident victims. On two or three occasions, I went to see the man whom the devotees called "Dr Whiplash." The lawyer devotee wanted to aim for a settlement of $10,000, which I would presumably sign over to the sect. When Ramesvara heard about the settlement possibilities, he remarked, "Now the whole Laguna sankirtan team can go to Mayapur next year."

I went to the police station to fill out an accident report. It felt strange to sit in a chair and to write, but a devotee learned to do almost anything in the service of the Lord. A few days later, Agni, Bhakta Bill, and I went to the plush, wood-paneled Beverly Hills office of the lawyer who was to represent me in the accident case. On our way back to the parking lot after the meeting, the other devotees crossed the street in the middle of the block, casually dodging the traffic, as urbanites are in the habit of doing. Still shy about cars because of my accident and slow afoot because of my cast, I hesitated at the curbside. Agni became impatient with me and ordered me to cross the street in mid-block. I refused his command — an unthinkable act just a few weeks before — and crossed carefully at the traffic signal a half-block away as the others waited.

It was well understood, however, that devotees often fared poorly in the karmi health care system. Several years before, a devotee's mother, alarmed about his involvement in the Movement, had had him transferred to a mental hospital from a medical hospital, where he was recovering from a serious digestive disorder. He would remain in the mental hospital for three months. Understanding the importance of Krishna consciousness in his life, the doctors had allowed him to chant, to read Prabhupada's books, and to offer his food to a picture of Krishna while in the hospital. Upon his release, the devotee immediately called his god-brothers, who came and took him back to the temple.

Nevertheless, I called my mother a few days later and asked her to send me to a doctor for my internal problems. She offered to fly me to Connecticut for rest and medical care. At first, Agni agreed to the plan, suggesting that I first recuperate at home before returning to the temple when I was better. I was acutely aware that, being unable to perform much service, I had become a burden to the sect. Feeling too weak to endure a cross-country flight, however, I feared that being separated from the sect for more than a day or two would almost certainly cause me to fall into Maya.

The following week my mother and brother George flew in from New York. It was George who found me in the ashram, as the building was off-limits to women. The three of us took a ride in their rental car. With my cast stretched across the length of the back seat, they again talked with me about the possibility of going east. Hoping that seeing a doctor would improve my poor health, I reluctantly agreed to go.

George and my mother took me to see a liver specialist, who suggested admitting me into a hospital for tests. I also saw a neurologist, who, to our relief, found that the concussion I had suffered had left my motor skills unaffected. Driving in a temple car, Agni and Bhakta Bill accompanied us as we made the rounds of the doctors' offices. Nevertheless, when we pulled up in front of one of the offices, it was George — not the devotees — who helped me out of the car.

That night, Agni, with the law student at his side, visited me at my bunk. He said, "You can't leave. We have a potentially lucrative settlement here, and if you leave we won't be able to collect the Lakshmi." He added that, in any event, a devotee should always remain in the company of other devotees, even if he were sick. One did not need to go out of state for competent, up-to-date medical services. Agni mentioned that the actor John Wayne was then receiving treatment for cancer in Southern California.

That long day was the first in nearly six years that I had failed to chant the required sixteen rounds. I had been around long enough to know that those who failed to chant every day did not remain long in the Movement.

Late at night, I tried in desperation to chant a few rounds and make some sense of the tumultuous events that were going on around me. I felt as if I were being pulled in two directions, and that I might split in half. Soon, however, I stopped chanting, feeling that doing so was futile. I tried to sleep, but my mind raced uncontrollably. How would I tell my mother and my brother that I was not going with them? That night was one of the longest of my life. I felt guilty for being useless to the sect, but I felt even worse for having thought of leaving the temple and turning my back on God.

At wake-up time, I found a devotee and explained to him that I needed help in convincing my family that it was a bad idea to travel today. The devotee found Bhakta Bob. When George arrived at about 7 a.m., I told him that I had had a tough night, was feeling poorly, and did not feel that my body could withstand the rigors of a long plane trip. I had decided to find medical help there in California. George returned to New York and my mother stayed another day. The next day I visited with her in her car, though I felt guilty about doing so.

My father phoned me and complained bitterly about how poorly the sect had treated me. He said accusingly, "They told you not to come home." Remembering that Prabhupada had said that it is better to die in the temple than to go to the hospital and live, I paid little attention to my father. Nevertheless, I told Agni about the call. He said it sounded to him as if my parents might be preparing to deprogram me. He warned me that if they did kidnap me, it would be my fault. I had, as the devotees would have said, "taken shelter" of my parents rather than Krishna.

Excerpts from Prabhupada's letters to various devotees had recently appeared in the BTG, and I was in the habit of reading them before taking rest at night. I found one such letter particularly moving. In it, he wrote that the relationship between the spiritual master and the disciple is real and eternal whereas the relationship between father and son on the material platform is temporary and ephemeral. I remembered that in one of the books, Krishna killed a father who had harassed his devotee son.

Meanwhile, my mother offered to pay for my visits to a chiropractor in West Los Angeles. Agni arranged to have Bhakta Bill drive me there three times a week. In typical karmi fashion, the chiropractor criticized my diet as nutritionally insufficient, and gave me some dietary supplement pills.

On my way home from the chiropractor's office one afternoon, I saw a billboard advertisement for a movie called The China Syndrome. I remember thinking, "That's a funny name for a movie."

An insurance adjuster who was trying to learn my whereabouts repeatedly called the Laguna Beach temple. Whenever he did so, I was in the kitchen or on the altar, unable to come to the phone. After a week of trying unsuccessfully to reach me, he happened on one occasion to call when I was in the ashram. I took the call. He said, "You are a very hard man to get ahold of." I took this as a compliment. He wanted to confirm that I lived at that address. I refused to give any other information. Agni told us that if anyone called the temple, we should always say, "I don't know anything — I'm only the janitor." This kind of statement fit in well with our conception of ourselves as humble servants of the Lord.

The cast on my leg made it hard to sleep comfortably. Before showering, I needed to put a plastic garbage bag around my leg. As a result, I never felt fully clean, a hardship for a strict Brahmin. To my surprise, the doctor had prescribed walking as a way to strengthen the knee. Following his advice, I often went for short walks on the beach or along the Pacific Coast Highway. When in the mood for less stressful activity, I sometimes climbed onto the roof of the temple for reading or chanting.

In mid-February, I arranged to have Bhakta Bill drive me to the clinic to have the cast removed. Beginning at the upper thigh, the doctor cut along the length of the cast with a small, hand-held circular saw. He promised that if I held my leg still, the saw would not cut my skin. By that time, the muscles had atrophied to the point where the knee joint was the widest part of my leg. When the saw arrived at the knee area, it made a painful, though superficial, two-inch-long cut. (I still have the scar.) I winced and complained. The doctor replied, "You flinched."

I was unable at first to bend my left leg at the knee. This was not the result of the saw cut; rather, it was a normal result of having worn a cast for several weeks. For the first day or two, my knee joint was stiff, almost as if the cast were still there. As I mentioned, my thigh and calf muscles had lost their definition. Every night I did some leg exercises prescribed by the orthopedist. Within a week or ten days, the muscle tone in my leg had returned, I was able to bend the knee, and my mobility had been restored.

On a Friday in late February, I drove with Bhakta Bill in the temple's light pickup truck from Laguna Beach to Los Angeles. We were dressed as usual in our karmi clothes. He had errands to run at the LA temple, and I drove the truck by myself, for the first time, to the chiropractor's office.

After my appointment, I walked out the back door of the office building and into the parking lot. Looking up I saw that the late-afternoon sun was casting long shadows across the nearly empty lot. As I reached down to take the keys out of my pants pocket, I thought of how enjoyable it was going to be to take the snack of dried fruit prasadam I had left on the front seat. As I was about to place the key into the door lock, two beefy arms grabbed me around the chest from behind, pinning my arms against my body. Another pair of arms swept my feet from under me. They placed me, kicking and shouting, into the empty back seat of a nearby car. One man took the seat to my left as another squeezed into the seat to my right. My mother was in the front passenger seat. A third man, the driver, pulled the car out of the driveway, onto Wilshire Boulevard, and then onto a freeway.

My mother pleaded with me to stay calm, but her words failed to quiet or reassure me. For a moment, I wanted to kill her for trying to take me away from God. Not knowing what to say, I demanded, "Why all the violence?" After a hard silence, my mother asked, "Does anyone ever leave that place?" Remembering the many god-brothers who had tragically succumbed to Maya, I said, "Sure, they leave all the time." A demon answered, "No, people can't leave — there's too much fear." I had no idea what he was talking about. In any case, this was no time for ideological discussions — I needed to escape, and if that were impossible, then I needed to somehow remain Krishna-conscious in spite of whatever it was they intended to do to me. Frightened, I fell silent.

After thinking for a moment, I realized I was unhurt — thus far, anyway. I tried to negotiate: "Okay, I'll go back to Connecticut with you, Mom." I figured that I could go there awhile, and then sneak back to one of the temples on the East Coast. They did not fall for my ploy. Someone said, "No, not until we've had the chance to talk to you about the Krishna cult."

We drove in near silence in their late-model but otherwise nondescript rental car. I stared ahead at the freeway, occasionally catching in the rearview mirror the eye of the driver, who looked as frightened as I felt. I chanted silently and prayed for all I was worth to Krishna and the spiritual master.

Prabhupada expected a kidnapped devotee to chant constantly. Chanting drove away demons and Krishna never ignored the prayers of His devotees. The books asserted that a devotee should first try to defeat the blasphemers with his arguments. Failing this, however, he should cut out their tongues or flee. In another place, the shastras asserted that it was better to commit suicide by entering into a fire, than to associate with nondevotees. A third reference asserted that it was better to enter into a cage full of tigers, snakes, and alligators than to keep the company of nondevotees.

As we drove east, my abductors said something about getting out of LA County and into Riverside County to the east. The traffic thinned a bit as the Friday rush hour began to subside. Over my shoulder, a reddish sun was setting over the flat LA sprawl. I had not seen this part of the region in months. I thought for a moment about how an urban landscape could simultaneously offer both beauty and ugliness. Then I caught myself, realizing that I was not thinking of Krishna. Though all energy came from Krishna, the mundane energy visible outside the car window was Maya.

Before my kidnapping, I had had no warning that anything untoward was about to happen. Deprogrammings happened to others, I had thought. I had heard the stories — how they tortured you, how they tore up pictures of Prabhupada or the Deities in front of you, how they starved you and then fed you meat, how, if you were a brahmachari, they paraded naked women in front of you to make you break your vows. The only way the deprogrammers could make a devotee leave the sect was to tempt or bribe him with material gifts, or failing that, to coerce, browbeat, or hypnotize him. After all, leaving God was an irrational act. In desperation, I prayed to Krishna to come and save me, and I had every expectation that He would do just that.

Apparently lost, the driver pulled into a gas station to ask for directions. I gathered from the whispered conversations that a car following behind us was a part of the conspiracy. Trying to run away was out of the question, as I was flanked on both sides by large men.

On top of everything else, I was becoming claustrophobic. The five of us had been cooped up together in close quarters for more than an hour. We finally pulled off the freeway and onto a side street with several motels — Best Western, Motel 6, and others. A conspirator said, "Let's try that one over there." I imagined that he had had much experience picking out motels under such circumstances. We pulled into the motel parking lot, and the other car pulled up behind us. The man to my left got out of the car, leaving his door ajar, and went to the motel office.

A few seconds later, a man with dark hair and a droopy mustache sat down next to me and said, "Hi, Paul." I had never before laid eyes on this demon, and he had the nerve to call me by my first name. It seemed that Joe, as they called him, was the ringleader. I instantly hated his cocky attitude and his smirk, and denied him the dignity of a response.

After a long wait, the man who had gone to the motel office returned, and we drove to our rooms. It was already getting dark. After I got out of the car, the men fell into formation around me — one in front, one in back, one to my left, and one to my right. We walked slowly and quietly across the lot and up the staircase that led to the second floor.

They led me into a room that was furnished in typical motel fashion with a couple of double beds, a picture window covered by curtains, and a TV. I sat in the armchair. My fingers fidgeted automatically for my bead bag, which, I remembered, was in my book bag, which in turn was in the truck we had abandoned in the parking lot in West LA. Someone moved a bed in front of the exterior door, leaving an interior door to an adjacent room as the only exit from the room. Joe sat facing me at the foot of one of the beds. He said something about how Prabhupada had died of liver cancer — a vicious, demonic lie. All the devotees knew that he had made the decision to leave his body by himself and that he did not die of ordinary, mortal causes. In addition, Joe mispronounced Prabhupada's name as an ignorant karmi might.

Though I was long in the habit of confronting demons and atheists daily on sankirtan, these attacks on a man as loving, giving, and unselfish as the spiritual master still shocked and disturbed me. I decided to give the deprogrammers the silent treatment. In any case, the rules prohibited arguing with them, because to do so would be to grant a kind of equality to their point of view, which I was unprepared to do. In addition, I was outnumbered. After a few long moments of silence, Joe said, "Okay, you don't want to talk. Well, I don't want to talk about that shit, either."

Someone suggested that I go to bed. A good idea, I thought. When I went to the bathroom, they insisted that I leave the door ajar. I looked out the window to see if it might offer an escape route. Jumping was a stupid idea, I concluded. We were on the second floor. I decided not to try anything too dramatic or too drastic right away. Seeing no escape, I decided that the best alternative would be to fast until death.

I hadn't lain on a karmi mattress for years, and the one on my bed felt like a pile of pillows three feet high. I did more chanting than sleeping that night. Meanwhile, my security guard watched the TV with the sound turned low. He must have been watching a Western movie, because all I could hear was the continuous shooting of guns without any dialogue. Welcome to the violent, destructive, and completely degenerated karmi culture that the Scriptures had warned us about, I thought.

I quietly chanted several rounds of Hare Krishna, awkwardly counting the repetitions on my fingers. I had never before chanted japa without beads. I eventually drifted into a fitful sleep. Awaking just before dawn, I chanted another tortured round or two before again falling into an uneasy sleep. When the others entered the room after daybreak, I hid under the covers, pretending to sleep. I overheard a young woman talking to someone about the tapes she had brought along. I thought, "Tapes? Tapes of what? What would a deprogrammer do with tapes?"

It seemed that everyone was standing around waiting for something to happen. I was happy to postpone — forever, if possible — whatever it was that they had in store for me. My mother entered the room and asked me what I wanted for breakfast. I said, "Fruit." So much for fasting until death. After all, I was hungry and had a long, hard day of forcible deprogramming ahead of me.

Everyone was addressing me as "Paul," which was disconcerting to me because after five years in the sect I had forgotten who he was. My mother returned with some apples and bananas and a cup of orange juice, and then left the room. I mentally offered the food to Krishna, and took some of it. I thought of tossing an apple through the picture window to attract attention and annoy the deprogrammers. I feared, however, that if I did so, they would beat me.

A deprogrammer smacked the bottoms of my feet through the bed covers with a rolled-up newspaper. This is it, I thought. Now the physical abuse begins. He accused me of chanting, which was true, but how did he know? The ease with which they were able to anticipate my thoughts and actions unnerved me. He took out a pair of scissors and cut off my neck beads and sika, my last outward reminders of the sect.

A young man who had not been present the night before sat in a chair and began to speak to me, or, rather, to a lump of flesh and bones lying in my bed. For the next several minutes, I tried to ignore him as I faded in and out of consciousness. After a few minutes, he stopped abruptly and asked, "Well — do you agree with me or not? Are you there?" I remained silent and continued to keep my eyes closed. Unfazed, he continued.

After several minutes of trying not to listen to the deprogrammer, I somehow sensed in the tone of his voice that he cared about me. This was most disconcerting, to say the least, as I had not permitted myself while in the sect to think that anyone outside of it was capable of caring or love. Prabhupada had said that love did not exist in the outside world. I thought, "If Krishna consciousness is the Absolute Truth, then I should be able to walk away from it and examine it, and be sure it will not go away. If I have the Truth, then no one will be able to take it away from me. These deprogrammers won't be able to follow me around forever. If I choose to, I can always rejoin the sect."

I sat up, stared ahead absently, and looked up into a roomful of unfamiliar but sympathetic faces. I rushed to the bathroom and looked into the mirror. I wanted to find out who or what I would see. The person I saw was no longer exactly a devotee of Krishna; nor was he the person who had joined the sect five years before. Staring at the funny-looking peach fuzz on top of my head, I felt what I can only describe as deep relief and deep confusion. It seemed that the Krishna doctrine had been a glass palace, and that a few simple, yet penetrating thoughts had managed to shatter its entire crystalline structure, leaving behind little more than a pile of useless shards. I realized that, for the sake of my survival, if nothing else, I needed to take a chance and listen to what these people had to say about my cult involvement.

It felt as if a long ordeal were now over. Yet I was devastated. After all, the cult had been my whole world. I was now out of the cult, but being out meant that no one would be there to always tell me what to do, what to think, and what to say. I was now free to speak and act on my own behalf. More than free, I was now obliged to take back control of my life. This seemed an awesome, almost unimaginable, responsibility and task. Thinking of my months and years on sankirtan, I thought, "Whatever the future may bring, at least I won't have to lie and steal anymore!"

For the rest of the day, the deprogrammers spoke to me. I learned that Joe was a former member of the Children of God cult (later called the Family of Love). Chuck, who had spoken to me earlier that morning, had been in a Bible-based cult. Virginia was a former member of the Unification Church (Moonies). They encouraged me to think objectively about my involvement in the sect and to look at the information they had on destructive cults. Each seemed well informed. They played me taped testimonials of other young people who had been in other cults. The great number of similarities between their stories and mine — especially the underlying methods of control — surprised me. The tense mood that had pervaded the room in the morning had by evening become much more relaxed.

The security people smoked too many cigarettes and watched too much TV, I thought. I remembered how much I had disliked these activities even before the sect. During a break in my talks with the deprogrammers, Doug, a security person, said that the words "Hare Krishna" were not special. He said, "You can get just as high while chanting 'Coca Cola.'" Still, I was unsure. After talking with him awhile, however, I realized that he was a human being, not a demon.

For the first time in years, I was able to talk about subjects other than Krishna. Questions flooded my mind: What will I do now? What will I wear? What would happen if I ate fish or eggs? If Krishna consciousness were not the Absolute Truth, then what was the Absolute Truth? When I asked Doug the last question, he paused for a minute. His lack of an immediate response surprised me. He spoke in a general way about what truth meant to him. I was again surprised that he was able to do so without referring to leaders, groups, or doctrines.

I was still wide awake at midnight when most of the others had gone to bed. Virginia brought her guitar into the room and serenaded me with a few folk songs. I was happy to take a break from the serious business of deprogramming. On Sunday morning, two of the men chatted about racquetball, a then-popular sport I had never heard of. Later that day, Joe suggested that I go to Doug's ranch in Arizona for a few weeks of rest, rehabilitation, and healthy food. This sounded good to me and I agreed. That night, we watched a TV program featuring silly puppets, which the others seemed to enjoy. On Monday morning we prepared to leave a deprogramming that was over almost when it began.

§   §   §

I later learned more about the events that culminated in my rescue and deprogramming. In the fall of 1978, my mother's increasing awareness of and concern about my poor health led her to think seriously about helping me to leave the Krishna cult. She got in touch with other parents of cult members, including a woman who had already arranged for the successful deprogramming of her Moonie daughter. The woman encouraged my mother to have me deprogrammed, too. She learned that former cult members, as part of their therapy and rehabilitation, needed to talk with other former members. Some other parents, however, warned my mother that arranging a deprogramming in California, the headquarters of so many cults, would be a challenge. Still others argued that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to deprogram a person who had been involved for as long as I was.

Over the subsequent weeks and months, my mother discussed with my brother George her desire to rescue me. George, who was then in graduate school in New York, listened patiently and offered his encouragement. On their first trip to California, they tried unsuccessfully to talk me into coming east. Their idea was that, while recuperating there from my medical problems, I would be able to talk to some former cult members they had met. They considered and rejected the possibility of obtaining a legal conservatorship, wherein a judge places an incompetent or mentally ill adult into the care of his family. The last resort was the deprogrammers.

After much informal networking with the families of former cult members, my mother obtained the names of Joe Alexander, Jr, a deprogrammer from Pennsylvania, and Tim and Donna Lushch, a husband-and-wife team from Ohio who handled security and logistics for Joe. Joe had been an Army helicopter pilot in Vietnam before spending several years in the Children of God cult. Tim ran a trash-hauling business when he was not involved in anti-cult work.

During their discussions, my mother informed Donna that my health was failing. When she heard the desperation in my mother's voice, Donna put my case ahead of several others they were then working on. In mid-February, 1979, Tim, Donna, and Joe went to work full-time on my case, in spite of their reservations about my long-term prognosis. As a rule, the longer one has been in a cult, the more problematic the deprogramming, the longer the rehabilitation process, the more difficult the reentry into society, and the less overall chance of success. Furthermore, no one wanted to work at the ISKCON temple in Los Angeles, because of its large, well-trained, and well-armed security force. The positive side of this situation was that those who did come and talk with me, did so for the right reasons.

My mother booked a flight that was scheduled to leave on a Wednesday. The day before, she had walked into the local branch of her bank and withdrawn $4,000 in cash to cover the team's initial expenses. Late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning, she received a final phone call from Tim, who asked her what she would be wearing the next day. As she waited for her bags at a carousel at the LA International Airport, two men she had never seen before walked up to her. One asked, "Mrs Patton?" That was how she first met Joe and Tim.

The deprogramming team initially wanted to try for a pickup the next day, Thursday. After surveying the situation at the Culver City and Laguna Beach temples, however, they decided to call for an additional security person. Doug flew in from Arizona, and Joe and Tim rescheduled the pickup for Friday.

On Thursday, my mother called me at the Laguna Beach temple from a local phone, pretending she was in Connecticut. During our conversation, I told her about my appointment with the chiropractor the next day, Friday. On Friday afternoon, the deprogramming team, unknown to Bhakta Bill and me, followed us from Laguna Beach to Los Angeles. Fearing that there were guns everywhere in the Culver City compound, they decided to do the pickup at the chiropractor's office. The plan was for Doug and Tim to perform the snatch with my mother and a driver in their car, and with Joe waiting in a backup car.

On Friday night, after the team had secured me in the motel, Virginia flew in from San Francisco and Chuck from Georgia. Among them, Joe, Virginia, and Chuck had performed several hundred deprogrammings. Nevertheless, they prepared themselves for a long, tough, verbal battle with a hardened cultist. They even had a backup plan to send in a new team after a week were I not yet deprogrammed by then.