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Sheriff suspends programs at jail

The tattooed arm of a man digging in the dirt as a small tri-colored dog sniffs the ground beside his hand.
Public records act request for county documents by Elijah Labby.
Public records act request for county documents by Elijah Labby.
An inmate working in the Mendocino County jail's 'prison monastery' program through Unconditional Freedom. This inmate's photo appeared in the "Rehuman" section of onetaste.us' website, just below the sections on the Institute of Om Foundation and Orgasmic Meditation. We were able to recognize him from the tattoos in this picture, which was sent to Marcus Ratnathicam, the Executive Director of Unconditional Freedom.

October 5, 2022

*Editor's note: This article has been edited to clarify that there is no indication that inmates communicating with outside participants through the Art of Soulmaking penpal program offered at the Mendocino County Jail by Unconditional Freedom were communicating with anyone other than program participants. It has also been edited to reflect Kate Feigin's correct title. She is the Restorative Justice Program Manager at the jail, not the Inmate Services Coordinator.

Mendocino County Sheriff Matt Kendall suspended a “prison monastery” program at the jail on Monday afternoon amid revelations that Unconditional Freedom, the organization running the program, was linked toOneTaste, a company intimately connected tothe Institute of OM, which touts the supposed neurological and spiritual benefits of an expensive clitoral stimulation technique called Orgasmic Meditation, or OM. The Institute of OM Foundation, which generates white papers and studies on the practice, claimed ina press release to have raised over $2 million “to support rigorous, peer-reviewed scientific research into partnered stimulation and the physiological and psychological effects of Orgasmic Meditation ("OM").”

Kendall was concerned that inmates would be vulnerable to exploitation through the so-called spiritual curriculum, which revolved around a self-published book called “The Art of Soulmaking,” by OneTaste founder Nicole Daedone. The program included a penpal component where inmates communicate with outside participants who go through the lessons in the workbook with them. One of the Unconditional Freedom volunteers also worked at Juvenile Hall, though as a matter of policy he was never alone with inmates, and the curriculum was not in use among the minors.

A Bloomberg piece from 2018 reported former OneTaste members’ allegations that the company pressured its sales team to work long hours selling seats at OneTaste events, often to pay off staggering debts they themselves had incurred to receive higher and higher levels of certification in “the practice,” which consists of one person stroking a woman’s clitoris for exactly 15 minutes, often in a group setting. And in 2020, the BBC released a ten-part podcast called the “Orgasm Cult,” which interviewed subject matter experts and chronicled the experiences of people who claimed that the organization engaged in abusive and controlling practices to make money from sex.

An attorney forUnconditional Freedom insisted that there is no legal connection between OneTaste and Unconditional Freedom, though they share key personnel, a website, and a mailing address.

According toOneTaste’s website, which went live this year, there does seem to be some kind of relationship between the service organization and a company that’s been dogged by reports of financially and sexually exploitive practices. Numerous professional profiles and advertisements for past OneTaste events identify eight current or former OneTaste personnel among the Unconditional Freedom volunteers who appear inmonths-long correspondence between Kate Feigin, the Restorative Justice Program Manager* for the Mendocino County jail, and the organization’s leadership. (The connection between Unconditional Freedom and OneTaste was initially reported last year byB.T. Linhden.)

Unconditional Freedom shares an EIN (Employer Identification Number, issued by the IRS to track business tax reporting), with another organization theOneTaste Foundation. The Foundation is legally distinct from OneTaste, though intimately connected with it. A2014 press release issued byOneTaste for an event called an “Orgasmic Meditation Xperience” in San Francisco states that, All proceeds from ticket sales will go to theOneTaste Foundation, which exists to convert trauma into triumph through the practices of narrative therapy and Orgasmic Meditation. It aims to advance an innovative method of holistic reconciliation which serves to liberate both victims and perpetrators from debilitating, negative narratives.”

Until a few days ago, the OneTaste website featured a photograph of a Mendocino County jail inmate whom we were able to identify by distinctive tattoos that were visible in photographs Feigin attached to an email she sent to Marcus Ratnathicam, the Executive Director of Unconditional Freedom and a former coach at OneTaste. The picture was replaced shortly after we started asking questions. Visitors to the OneTaste website, which features highly sexual content, can quickly follow a series of links to the Unconditional Freedom website, where they can still view images of inmates and video testimonies by a variety of participants identified as “Builders of the monastery.”

We spoke with Unconditional Freedom attorney Caren Callahan about how the program measures the success of the program with inmates. She did not know how much public money it saves. The eight-week curriculum includes brief before-and-after surveys, where inmates self-report a 24% reduction in depression, 23% less use of drugs and alcohol (which they are not supposed to have in the jail anyway), and 16% less anger. Objective measurements like recidivism and post-release employment, housing, and sobriety were not immediately available.

Kendall had some rough metrics. He said Unconditional Freedom’s garden program alone saved the jail $10,000 in food costs last year. “And it’s going to be more this year, because prices of things have gone up,” he predicted. The jail is also working to gather data on inmates who have gone through the Art of Soulmaking curriculum, versus those who have not. “We’re trying to put together some data on that, but you have to understand, that’s going to take probably another year before we get enough history in the rear view mirror before we can say if this is really working,” he said.

Feigin said the curriculum does include making connections with the outside world. “Part of the Art of Soulmaking is that you connect with a mentor on the outside of jail, and they write letters back and forth with the incarcerated person, and they go through the lessons in the workbook with them, to help them deepen the lessons that they’re learning,” she explained. Inmates receive a curriculum packet that includes one Art of Soulmaking workbook, a journal, two envelopes with mailing labels on them, and a set of instructions informing them that removing the mailing labels “will constitute immediate removal from the program.” The envelopes had two address labels, one on top of the other. When we removed the top label, we found another label underneath–this one to the address shared by OneTaste, Unconditional Freedom, and the Institute of OM, which offers intimacy training packages for upwards of $500, claiming that studies show that“OM has been shown to produce mystical experiences on par with the second highest dose of psilocybin.”

There is no indication that program participants misused the envelopes to communicate with anyone other than Unconditional Freedom program participants.* Still, the penpal program was a concern for Kendall, as he considered the jail’s relationship with Unconditional Freedom over the weekend. “Number one, is there any issue with this OneTaste program?” he asked. “And then secondly, are the inmates staying in contact with these folks after they get out?”

Both Kendall and Chief Probation Officer Izen Locateli, who runs Juvenile Hall, said they never had complaints about any of the Unconditional Freedom volunteers in their institutions. Locateli welcomed the help after he cut back on staff.

“A while back, our staffing was reduced, when the county had conversations about closing Juvenile Hall, and to keep it open, we had to have less staff,” he explained. “So we used more community-based organizations or non-governmental organizations, and volunteers, to do some of the work we used to do. Which includes the Unconditional Freedom Project working in our garden on a volunteer basis,” starting a little over a year ago.

The garden is closed until security protocols can be improved after two inmates escaped briefly over the weekend, but Locateli said the volunteer, a high-level trainer in OneTaste techniques, will not return when the garden re-opens. Locateli said Juvenile Hall only uses evidence-based curriculum, and that The Art of Soulmaking program was not in use at the facility. He emphasized that volunteers are never alone with the underage inmates. He hopes to continue the gardening project with a paid contractor.

“Growing up in this community, and not wanting to bring any type of perception issues and having a vulnerable population, I think it would be best to do some type of RFP (request for proposals from would-be government contractors) to bring in a variety of different people, and make a selection process that’s very transparent and open,” he concluded.

On Monday afternoon, Kendall spoke with Ratnathicam, the Executive Director of Unconditional Freedom. He said he wasn’t much more successful than we were at getting information. “Marcus said that he had previously worked for OneTaste, and that he was very proud of the work that they had done,” he reported. “I said, there are some things that went on there that simply shocked my conscience. And he said the reporting made it very shocking to people. And so I very bluntly asked him…if there was some type of group masturbation going on. And he simply went into the science behind things and did not answer.”

Kendall suspended Unconditional Freedom programming at the jail on Monday, though he plans to continue looking into the situation. The same night, he said, “If it doesn’t meet my morals and values for my family, it’s not good enough for the inmate population. And I’m sorry. From what I’ve seen so far, the work that the Unconditional Freedom Project did, I’m thrilled with it. I thought they were good, professional people. However, if the foundation of this is OneTaste, I am not okay with that. And it will not continue.”

Local News
Sarah Reith came to Mendocino County in 2008 and worked as a reporter and freelancer, joining KZYX as a community news reporter in 2017. She became the KZYX News Director in March, 2023.