By Ben Spielberg
After two and a half years of being a member of Beit T'Shuvah, not much can faze me. My rabbi is a convicted felon. My boss is vocal about her struggle to get out of the bed every morning. Most of my friends are crackheads and heroin addicts. A staff member without tattoos would probably be considered an outlier.
If one were to listen to a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, they would probably be surprised to find the rooms filled with laughter. We laugh when we talk about our dark pasts; we chuckle at the idea of robbing a Toys 'R Us, we smirk at the excuses we used to use to disguise our drug use: “I'm not high, I'm just tired.”
CGA is one of the programs at Beit T'Shuvah that makes this treatment center so different from the rest. Criminality is viewed as a behavioral addiction, a lifestyle as addictive as heroin. Our alternative sentencing department has helped in the rehabilitation of these compulsive criminals, enlightening them with teachings of Judaism, kindness, and 12-step work.
Even though the taboos of robbery and drug use are broken down relatively easily here, there is still one taboo that is difficult to face: murder. There are people who have lived at Beit T'Shuvah who have served 20+ years in prison for [the assistance of] murder. One of the key ideals in Beit T’Shuvah is that everyone deserves redemption, the right to transform and administer goodness to the world.
And while some of us have not murdered people, others have murdered trust. We have murdered respect for our fellow human beings. We have murdered relationships, killed friendships, and scarred our families forever.
Even if I had started my recovery with doubts, all of them have since been squashed. Some people from beyond our community believe that there are some who can’t be helped, that they have gone too far and must never be given a second chance. I believe that if they could see the people that I work with everyday—people whom society had labeled as evil, broken, and worthless—they might think twice about writing these people off.
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