As part of the ongoing battle to remove Keith Alan Raniere from the SHU at USP Tucson and back to his unit in general population, his power of attorney, Suneel Chakravorty, has taken both to federal court and to the court of public opinion.
Last week, he wrote about how the BOP misconstrued Raniere’s comments in prison conversations with Chakravorty about being “in a war.”
This week, he addresses another concern the BOP raised: the Raniere-inspired group of dancers known as the Forgotten Ones.
Those who follow the NXIVM story may recall that in the lead-up to Raniere’s sentencing, a handful of his friends and supporters, including Nicki Clyne, Danielle Roberts, Michele Hatchette, Eduardo Asunsolo, Marc Elliot, and Chakravorty, presented themselves in front of the MDC on the public streets of Brooklyn to dance in plain view of the prisoners. In so doing, the dancers endured ridicule, brought additional attention to Raniere from hostile media, and did not win them any points with the MDC management.
The BOP alleged the Forgotten Ones’ dancing and the additional offense of offering the guards coffee and donuts threatened the MDC’s security.
The BOP, justifying banning phone calls between Raniere and Chakravorty, stated that they were endangering the security of MDC and the public by organizing “a group of women to show up regularly and dance provocatively for inmates to view through their cell windows, and that Mr. Raniere directed Suneel [Chakravorty] to contact more women” to “danc[e] erotically” which led to a request for Plaintiff to be moved to another housing unit.”
The Brooklyn media outlet, BKReader, wrote about the dancing in an article entitled Brooklyn Prison Dancers Linked to ‘Sex Cult’ NXIVM Start Social Justice Organization.
Former Nxivm teacher Eduardo Asunsolo, Nxivm member Nicki Clyne, Michele Hatchette and Suneel Chakravorty have been dancing outside the prison from 8:00pm – 9:00pm every night since July 3.
The dance parties started out of an inside joke between Clyne and Raniere one night, when she was visiting him from outside the prison. “One of my party tricks is doing a moonwalk,” Clyne said. “So I did a moonwalk, and a bunch of guys started banging on their windows.”
That evolved into a nightly show where the team directs prisoners with a sign to tune into 97.1 FM, puts on their car stereo and dances to the windows above. Clyne would also take calls and email from inmates, learning about their isolation and conditions on the inside.
On July 7, the group also launched a The Forgotten Ones’ website, with a mission statement.
The MDC was not amused or entertained and moved Raniere from the front of the MDC, where he could see the dancers, to a cell in the back.
The BOP has terminated Raniere’s access to Chakrarvorty by phone or in person.
Now Chakravorty, for the first time, explains what the dancers did and why they did it.
By Suneel Chakravorty
In July 2020, my friends and I began what I would call “a dance movement” called The Forgotten Ones to attempt to uplift adults in custody at MDC.
Like Mr. Raniere, these adults in custody at MDC had not been permitted in-person visitation in several months due to COVID-19.
Because of COVID protocols, these adults in custody had to spend most of their days confined in their cells.
I was the Captain of the Harvard Ballroom dancing team, so I have a history and familiarity with dancing. I view dancing as a form of communication and peaceful expression, not as something intimidating.
Our small group publicized and live-streamed our nightly dances on Instagram. Sometimes, family members of adults in custody and other interested individuals joined us in dancing, but our numbers were small.
Sometimes when family members could not attend in person, they would join us on Instagram and ask us to wave at their loved one with a flashlight or create a sign for them to see an expression of their love.
On one occasion, a Correctional Officer finishing his shift briefly danced with us before driving home.
Here is an excerpt from a call Mr. Raniere and I had on July 5, 2020, in which we discussed the dancing movement:
Mr. Raniere: I really like that you guys come, and I hope it’s good for you. I think if we could make this into a good non-for-profit sort of a thing, a volunteer thing, I think you could get more depth, and I think it lifts up the spirits of people watching, you know?
Mr. Chakravorty: Yeah, definitely. For us, as well, it’s uplifting, too. It feels like we’re de-erasing a bunch of people and reconnecting. We see the erasism and things.
Mr. Raniere: Yeah. I think you should write up a little mission statement for it, maybe have a little website where people can find information, sign up, or whatever, and starting with MDC, eventually, I mean, if you did it right and passed it on to someone who could coordinate it well, they could do for all the different centers [prisons].
The BOP wrote about this in their efforts to block my contact with Mr. Raniere, and in a lawsuit as defendants when Mr. Raniere tried to halt this.
Plaintiff [Raniere] also informed Mr. Chakravorty about “the staff work schedules and indicated his protesters should wait outside for the staff and offer donuts and coffee as they exit the facility.
The purpose of the single event of a single, one-time offer of coffee and donuts to guards and staff was to be a gesture of friendship, not adversarial.
We wished to show that our presence to dance was not adversarial, but an acknowledgement that we share the same humanity, with all its joys and fears, and that commonality is the core basis of friendship, and, one hopes, the amelioration of much of man’s “inhumanity to man.”
As naive as it may seem, sometimes a simple gesture of goodwill, like the sharing of something as mundane and simple as coffee and donuts, can be the bridge to our understanding of each other, that we need not be adversarial, and that sympathy can be birthed, and grow, for the welfare of all. And that what’s good for the adult in custody is not necessarily bad for those who are the custodians.
I would venture that what is truly good for one is good for the other.
Below is an excerpt from the call on July 11, 2020 with Mr. Raniere. The context makes clear that our intention was to help and not fight, to bring harmony and not dissension.
Mr. Raniere: Now, an interesting thing you may want to consider: Everyone is locked in here between 3:30 and 5. They do count at 4. Count doesn’t take very long, and they just need to see people standing up or whatever. They’d be standing up with the lights on, looking out the window. If you guys are performing, it might be the time when you can get everyone in their cell. And there’s also a nice thing if the COs, when they get off duty, want to watch it, they get off duty at 4, you know what I mean? The shifts go 8 to 4, 4 to 12, 12 to 8 ––….
Now, I don’t know if everyone’s shifts are like that, but that’s what the COs shifts are. So at four o’clock you have all these COs coming out and going off duty, and you might get a few to watch.
Mr. Chakravorty: Yeah.
Mr. Raniere: And they might come to understand it better, and, you know, it’s for them too. We’re all in this together.
Mr. Chakravorty: Yeah, definitely. I mean, some of them have been pretty nice to us. Like they, one of the guys moved his car so that we would have more space to dance. And we tried to give some of them donuts and coffee yesterday. They were very grateful but they refused because they technically can’t accept anything like that.
Mr. Raniere: Right.
Mr. Chakravorty: But they seem very appreciative. So we feel that.
Mr. Raniere: Right,. Well, when they go off duty, it depends on, I don’t know their guidelines or ethics with respect to accepting. I could certainly understand not accepting anything when you’re on guard, because, one, you don’t know what’s in it. You know what I mean? And it could be something very bad like that. But once they’re off guard and off property, so to speak, maybe they could. And it is harmless stuff, you know?
Mr. Chakravorty: Yeah.
The BOP’s Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU) however did not conclude to to be harmless. In a report, officials wrote:
Raniere’s manipulative behavior continues to manifest from behind the prison through the help of Suneel Chakravorty. Rainere’s actions would place the safety and security of staff and the public at risk.
It may have been naive to dance for prisoners and offer donuts to guards and other staff members, to think this would be interpreted in the spirit it was meant. Yet even in our sincere gesture of goodwill and intent to make the world a trifle less harsh, we learned something.
Keith Raniere looks down on the dancers from his cell.
Danielle Roberts does a flip for the adults in custody at MDC. Meanwhile, prison officials flipped out over their dancing.
The adults in custody enjoyed the dancers and often banged on the walls to express appreciation.
And for the adults in custody there, most of whom were pretrial detainees, who faced an uncertain future, perhaps during the long months of COVID, we provided a bit of hope that when they did return to the world outside the bars of prison that there were those who would consider them as brothers and fellow sojourners in the coequal journey we must all travel, the saint and the sinner, the prisoner, and the guard, the judge and the prosecutor, and the jury and all of us, as Mr. Raniere said, “we’re all in it together.”