The Nevada Department of Corrections, responding to an inmate's lawsuit, agreed to provide Orthodox Jewish inmates with kosher-certified meals.
Two women, identified as Carol and Pamela — not their real names — became b’not mitzvah on Saturday, Sept. 5. Both are inmates at the California Institution for Women (CIW) in Corona, located about 50 miles southeast of Los Angeles. The event is believed to be the first bat mitzvah to take place inside prison walls in the United States.
Most Jewish people I know have never set foot in L.A. County jails or a California state prison. Were they to do so, they would discover dangerous overcrowding in most penal institutions.
They would see tens of thousands of inmates struggling to survive the daily routines of prison life. And they would discover their fellow Jews behind bars -- men and women who face enormous additional challenges. Too often, these inmates encounter virulent anti-Semitism at the hands of prisoners and guards. Strident missionaries from inside and outside the prison walls harass them. Jails and prisons test the resolve of those who choose to identify as Jews. They are too few in number to stand up to gangs and other hostile forces.
The high concrete walls of the little-used cafeteria at the Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles hardly spoke to Passover’s concept of freedom found and bondage ended. But this is where a dozen inmates gathered for their seder, in a setting that cried out Egypt rather than the promised land.
Rabbi Yossi Carron, the jail’s Jewish chaplain, held up a sprig of parsley to redefine the bleak surroundings.
“This is a real great symbol for you,” the Reform rabbi said. “I really want you to believe in the green parts of yourself. This symbol is you.”
Rabbi Mark Borovitz's memoir of how prison Torah study turned an alcoholic grifter and check-kiter into a successful rehabilitator of Jewish cokeheads, gamblers and other addicts is a blustering and grandiose book, marred by clichés and solecisms. And yet, I liked "The Holy Thief: A Con Man's Journey From Darkness to Light," very much.
As she enters her 23rd year in prison, Doris Roldan realizes that she has two choices: she can wallow in self-pity or she can continue to have hope.
On Tuesday evening, Sept. 30, while standing in front of her fellow inmates at the California Institution for Women (CIW), Roldan made her choice: "My body is incarcerated but I will not allow my mind, heart or soul to be in prison," Roldan said.
Roldan is one of 26 members of the Shalom Sisterhood, a group of inmates that meets twice a month for Jewish study at the Chino maximum-security prison, who participated in a joint Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur service.
These are the Ten Plagues of Prison Life, and we take a drop of grape juice out of our cups for each: Damage left in the wake of destructive addiction. Abusive relationships. Low self-esteem. The embittered spirit. Wrong attitude. Weakening mind and body. Daily degradation. Deprivation. Captivity. Separation from loved ones.