We received the following letter from an old-time devotee:
My name is Arpana. I am a licensed attorney, and I have been a devotee of Amma’s since 1992. I lived in Hawaii at the time Gail Tredwell left Amma’s ashram. Although I knew her only slightly at the time, I found out shortly after she left that she had come to Hawaii. When I heard she was looking for a place to stay, we invited her to stay in our home. Gail moved in and lived in our home for the next year. For that entire year, she was provided free rent and food and a warm and supportive environment in which to live. We spent time together, cooked together, swam at the beach, played with the dog, and hung out with friends. She was learning to drive, and I gave her lessons in parallel parking. In sum, she became a member of the family. There was a close group of supportive women, all Amma’s devotees, who enfolded Gail into our circle. We all hung out together and told stories of the “old days” with Amma, and Gail willingly participated in these conversations, sharing stories with us with humor and wit. Never, at any time during that first year she spent away from the ashram, did Gail ever mention anything like the allegations of abuse and violence she has now included in her book. Even in that supportive group of female friends, there was never any hint of the kind of sexual abuse she has described in her new book, fourteen years later.
“Never, at any time during that first year she spent away from the ashram, did Gail ever mention anything like the allegations of abuse and violence she has now included in her book.”
Gail confided in me individually as well, and told me stories of her dissatisfaction with the ashram, how she believed Amma and the swamis were mean to her and did not give her the respect and recognition she felt she deserved for what she saw as her work running Amma’s organization. She told me that this had caused her to lose her faith in Amma. In all of our conversations over the course of the entire year she stayed with me and afterwards, there were no allegations of sexual abuse. Not a hint. Nothing. It just seemed to me that she was a woman who had lost her way on the spiritual path. Gail was never unkind to me, but I witnessed her cruelly mock several others. It was very disconcerting to me to witness this. I also during this time period had several conversations with Lakshmi, who told me the same incidents she has written about in this very blog. In spite of the cruelty Gail had shown to Lakshmi, Lakshmi grieved Gail’s departure and expressed hope that she would return. Amma’s ashram gave Gail a sum of money after she left, which she referred to as her “pension”. I know of this personally because I helped her to deposit this money with an investment advisor. I find it interesting that Gail omitted this fact from her story. It also puzzles me that she writes that she had to leave as a fugitive and go into hiding. In fact, no one from the ashram came looking for Gail, even though it was known where she was living.
“No one tried to force her to return to the ashram.”
No one tried to force her to return to the ashram. She did talk on the phone with Swami Amritaswarupananda on occasion, and she had personally given him our home phone number. Other than that, she was pretty much left to herself by Amma’s ashram residents while she was there. When Dayamrita Swami visited Hawaii and held his annual retreat for devotees, we rented a vacation rental for Gail for that week, since there were many devotees staying in our home. On one of the retreat days, Gail cooked dinner for the devotees, and we picked it up and served it to them. Gail started making and selling jewelry to sell to earn income. She also began to do in-home catering for people, as well as giving classes in Indian cooking. Generally she seemed fairly content with her new life. I cannot imagine, and I don’t care to speculate, why she would have come up with these stories now that just were not even hinted at right after she left the ashram, when I would think any major trauma would have been fresh in her mind.
“Why would she have waited so long to come forward, if these accusations had even a shred of truth to them?”
What she has said in her book just is not consistent with the person she was in that first year after leaving. Yes, she had some difficult times adjusting to life outside an ashram, and she expressed her anger and frustration about a lot of things at the ashram, but never did she mention sexual abuse, nor any kind of sexual indiscretion by Amma or the Swamis. Why would she have waited so long to come forward, if these accusations had even a shred of truth to them?
I can only believe, based on my year-long interactions with Gail, as well as visits with her in California after I moved back here, that her present accusations in fact do not contain even a shred of truth. Because of this, I felt compelled to come forward and write the truth and share my experience.