September 21, 2006
Rabbi Carron brightens prisoners’ darkest days
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"The work really suited me," Carron says. "Two days a week became three with a donation from a member of the community, then the Board of Rabbis came up with funding for a fourth day. I could see it was turning into something real." Now Carron leads weekly Torah study groups and ministers to individual inmates at each of the half-dozen jails in his chaplaincy.
"It's important for these guys to develop trust in a rabbi," Carron says, "and to find meaning in scripture. In my one-on-one sessions I try to open Torah for them in whatever language or at whatever level works best for them." On the first Friday of every month he holds a service and caters a Shabbat dinner at the Men's Central Jail.
"It's my favorite Friday of the month," Carron says.
A few days after his meeting with Daniel, Carron has a counseling appointment with Yigal, a 35-year-old former inmate who was in the suicide ward at Twin Towers when Carron met him in October 2004.
Yigal -- not his real name -- was coming off a binge that included methamphetimine, GHB, ecstasy and cocaine. A drug-related fraud conviction had earned him six months behind bars.
"I just got carried away with drugs," Yigal says between bites of pizza at Carron's apartment in Encino.
He had a lot to lose. At the time, Yigal owned an online company with 25 employees, and he had been the cantor at an Orthodox shul since he was very young.
"Even when I was using, I would still stumble in and sing," Yigal says. "All that stuff disappeared when I would sing."
Like many addicts, Yigal describes the feeling he tried to suppress with drugs as a "God-sized hole."
"I connected with God, but I didn't trust God," he says.
During their daily meetings at Twin Towers, Carron and Yigal began to study the tales of Reb Nachman of Bratslav, a spiritual leader who lived during the late-18th and early-19th centuries and wrote of "finding light in dark places."
"He suffered from what we'd probably now call manic depression," Carron says. "And he died at a very young age. So there's a lot in his writing that speaks to someone who has bottomed out in an addiction."
Yigal soon learned to trust the rabbi with painful feelings he had never shared with anyone before, and their intense study of Nachman as well as Torah helped to rekindle Yigal's faith.
"Jews don't get on their knees to pray," Yigal says. "But I do. I need to." Carron was just as deeply affected by the work he and Yigal were doing together. "He was the reason I pushed for more days," Carron says. "He was the catalyst for all of it. I saw how little rehabilitation goes on behind those prison walls. I decided I had to do something about that."
Yigal and Carron agreed to continue their studies and counseling sessions after Yigal's release in early January 2005. When Yigal returned to his shul on Jan. 7, Carron was on hand for the homecoming.
"That was one of the great Shabboses of my life," Carron says. "There are Orthodox rabbis who wouldn't call me rabbi -- me in my rainbow yarmulke. But here was this beautiful man's Orthodox family welcoming me into their shul with open arms."
Wiping the pizza crumbs from his hands and allowing a sly smile to steal across his face, Yigal says, "It could have something to do with your saving my life."
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