"Guru's National Director Prison Bound," read the headline in Denver's Rocky Mountain News. Mike Donner, after a six year battle with the courts, has finally been sentenced to a four year stretch in federal prison stemming from a 1968 conviction for destroying draft files. Before receiving Knowledge, Mike worked with an anti-war group which called itself the Beaver 55. In 1968, he and five other members were arrested and charged with destroying draft records. The litigation ended on December ninth when the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the group's petition for an appeal. As it now stands, Mike will begin serving a four-year prison sentence on January 15.
Your going to prison isn't a complete surprise is it? Weren't you aware that it might happen?
I've been ready for it to happen since 1968. The cases first started in 1968, and I was tried in '69. We first appealed it in 1970, after the sentencing. The thing is it took over three years for the appeal to be processed - so long that we were beginning to feel like they lost the case under a pile of paperwork. But, someone reminded them three years later that they hadn't done anything yet, and they hastily drew up a decision. That was in May.
Where has the case been since then?
From there we tried to take the case before the Supreme Court, but we knew we had already lost our best chance. The nature of the Supreme Court is such that they only pick those cases that are in some way controversial or topical. And they didn't feel that there was enough of a controversy involved in our case to hear it. So, on December ninth they denied our petition. And that's all she wrote - you can't go no further. There ain't no more appeals.
What was your first reaction?
Oh, sort of a sigh. It's interesting. Although I didn't think I was waiting, I must have been, because my first reaction was to be relieved that the decision was finally made. And then my next immediate reaction was, "Oh, shoot," - because it was over. Then it hit me that it's whatever Maharaj Ji wants, and now it just kind of feels like a transfer; doing service in another place.
Did you tell Maharaj Ji as soon as you found out?
Well actually Maharaj Ji has known of the possibility of my imprisonment since May. We kept him posted every two months or so on how things were going, and about three weeks ago we told him that it was due to come out of the Supreme Court. It didn't mean much to him, I don't think - on the mundane level anyway - because he didn't know what it meant, and at that time he just put it off.
It's funny, because Maharaj Ji has shown an increasing amount of interest since then. One day I was in Bob's office, and coincidentally Maharaj Ji called. That's all he talked about for a good fifteen minutes, all of the this and chats about it, well what is he gonna do now, and how long is he gonna be able to stay out, and what does it mean that we petitioned the judge to stay the execution until January 15th, and what does it mean to appeal for a reduction of sentence, and what if the judge doesn't give it, and can you appeal it any further, you know, he wanted to know all the particulars about it. And he has asked the same questions maybe three or four times. He even said he is gonna write a letter to the judge about me and how I'm needed in the organization and he told Bob to do everything that he could do - just showing me a lot of support on every level.
But the thing that I've appreciated most about it is just the fact that he is showing so much interest. To have Maharaj Ji know and speak your name, and show some interest in your life is a very - almost humbling experience. Something he said when he came here takes it even beyond that. We were talking about my situation and suddenly Maharaj Ji said, "You know, it's like," - speaking of Himself and Durga Ji, "We don't even feel like you're goin' anywhere. Sorta like you're going to L.A. or someplace like that."
And he wasn't prophesying that I'm not going anywhere, and he wasn't prophesying that I'm going to L.A. He was saying that we're together and there's no place I can go that we'll be apart. Which was exactly what I was experiencing. And that's what I said, I said, "Maharaj Ji, you know, to me it's just like a transfer - because there's service to do everywhere. And I really appreciate the opportunity. I really do know that You're in control of my life, and if I didn't know that, I'd probably be feaking out. But because I know that, it's pretty easy for me." And he said, "Yeah, it makes it easy for everybody." So Maharaj Ji's taken me to a place where its really easy and as long as I stay in that place it'll stay easy, because I don't have to deal with it.
What does your family feel, or do they even know yet?
They know. I called them because I was afraid it was going to hit their newspaper, and it did that day I called. So I was glad I called. They're reaction was just, "Oh, no." It's funny, because my mother said, "God, every time you call I'm afraid it's going to be bad news." That's because I've been promising to come home for two years, and I haven't made it yet. Every time I make plans I call them and say I can't come. And so that's what she thought - I had plans to go home for a family reunion on the 19th of December, and she thought I was calling to tell her that I couldn't come.
And I said, "No mom. It's worse than that." That's when she started crying. She said, "Oh, no," you know. 'Cause they've been waiting too. And I said, "Look, mom, come on, it's not so bad." She said, "I know, and I know you really feel that, but still -", you know, and off she'd go again.
Since then though, they have gotten the idea that it's not so bad. They've been through it once already when I went to prison before, and they couldn't believe it was happening again. They are better now.
Do you think about what you are going to do when you go to prison, or are you just going to let the doors shut behind you?
Yeah. I have to. I flash on, "Well, it's going to be good to be able to meditate more," and I think that's what Maharaj Ji wants me to do. That's what he said to me yesterday: "Just try to meditate as much as you can." And we were rappin' about prisons and the ones that he has visited in India - he's visited and given satsang in some prisons in India before - and it's often not as easy to meditate as it some-times seems - especially if they don't send me to a maximum security prison, which they probably won't. I suppose there'll be satsang, exercise, a chance to lose a little weight. I'm hoping that I don't have to do a year and a third, which is what I'll have to do now before I come up for parole. I'm hoping that the judge will see it fit to reduce that a little bit, and be lenient, given the change in times and so forth. If he reduces the sentence from four years to a year, I'll be up for parole in 4 months. I can do four months standing on my head. But a year and a third gets to be a little long.
From your perspective - leaving at this point, and knowing what you know from the satsang that Maharaj Ji's given you and the lessons you've learned from being Director, what do you see as the most important things the premies and the Mission will be having to get together - say in the next year.
Well, on a kind of a mundane level, we're looking at the next six months as being a time to primarily continue working towards developing a stronger financial base, and a stronger financial system. But on a more important level, it's a time when Maharaj Ji wants us to focus on developing understanding in the premies. An understanding that they have to realize Knowledge for themselves, and that they're not going to realize Knowledge unless they meditate a lot. And that they're not going to be valuable to Maharaj Ji, not even in the long run, until they really get strong in meditation.
We've come to a certain point in our growth, almost by the virtue of our own abilities - it's like you and me and Bob and people, you know, we have a certain organizational capability, and we can bring an organization like Divine Light Mission to this point almost by ourselves. Because that's what some of us used to do before Knowledge. But to go where Maharaj Ji wants us to go, it's going to take cooperation on a level that we have never experienced before. It's going to take coming from meditation more than we ever imagined possible before. He is not going to allow Divine Light Mission to grow or to manifest anything in this world until it's really pure. Because the problem, he says, is that, throughout history, people always get an idea and a little bit of knowledge, and they go out into the world and they create problems based on not seeing the whole picture, and not being detached enough from it, removed enough from it, to know what needs to be done. They're too subjectively involved or they're too humanitarian and haven't spent enough time working on themselves. He said we really have to break that pattern. We have to go inside and really appreciate Knowledge ourselves. We really have to come from a place of Knowledge and really understand the whole of it before we can manifest anything.
All By Guru Maharaj Ji's Grace … Just after it was confirmed that Mike Donner would be going to prison to serve out a pre-Knowledge conviction, Guru Maharaj Ji gave his agya that Lou Schwartz would take over Michael's responsibilities as the new National Director of the Mission. For more details, see next issue …