I am sure that at least a few of you out there are saying “it’s about time.”
Well, seriously, I did get to spend some time at the Dade Correctional Institution after being invited by local Rabbi Yossi Wolf. Apparently he visits the prison on a regular basis to meet with the dozen or so Jewish inmates there. I was even surprised that they had any Jewish inmates there at all — something I hadn’t thought about.
We visited them during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. We sat in a room with all of them said a few prayers, sang a few songs and had a bit of conversation as well. One of the things that I had planned to do on my visit was to bring a box or boxes of donuts for them to partake in as this is part of the Jewish tradition for that holiday. Entering the prison is quite an ordeal, so difficult in fact that I can’t imagine anyone trying to get out. One thing I was told is that it is absolutely forbidden to bring any food into the prison. The prisoners literally begged for me to try and change this rule using all my political capabilities. I was advised not to waste my time and that it was not about to happen.
Okay, so big deal you say, but actually being with these soulful people who would be made so happy by a box of donuts really tugged at my heartstrings.
We were not allowed to discuss the reason that any of these men were in prison but in talking to them they were just regular guys from different parts of the country who were brought up basically the same as young Jewish men and apparently somehow got off the track and ended up in prison.
Ending up in prison is a difficult thing to do — almost as hard as trying to get in to visit. The little I know of our legal system as a result of spending many hours in various courtrooms tells me that before a judge actually gives someone a jail sentence they must have done something extremely injurious to someone and had little doubt about their guilt.
Still, you can’t help but feel sorry for them knowing that after this little gathering they would return to their cells, all by themselves, and be prepared to spend whatever years they have remaining on this sentence this same way.
As you may know, I always have this compulsion to want to fix things — whether I can or not is another matter. These were a nice bunch of guys who I wish I could take back to the time that they committed their initial crimes and convince them not to do it. I doubt that I would have been successful but I certainly would like to have tried.
I think it is wonderful that Rabbi Wolf devotes the time he does to these people and, at least, gives them some hope for what may lie ahead. I learned of a Jewish organization called the Aleph Institute, whose whole purpose is to provide support for loved ones in prison and mental institutions. Look it up in Google to learn more about it. Fascinating! At least it offers some hope to these people who otherwise face a totally dismal future.
As most of you know I am not particularly religious and think that we are all responsible for our actions and must pay a price to society if we have offended any of the rules by which we live. Going to a prison with a rabbi might make you think otherwise however. I was dealing with fellow human beings who should be living a better life and perhaps will with the help of some of these people.
The rabbi has asked me to join him once again in visiting the women’s equivalent of this prison and I am sure I will come away again with these deep feelings of “how can I fix this.” I guess I would not have made a very good rabbi because I would want to get back to the original cause of their crimes and how they might have taken a different direction at the time.