My Jail Experience

Friday, 21 March, 2014 - 9:55 am

This week I was in prison. I was not forced to go in, but rather went in out of my own will. As part of my profession, I visit Jewish inmates in local prisons. It is not easy, but I do it. Each prisoner and his story.

There are some tough cases, in which it doesn’t seem like the prison sentence will help much. Meaning, the person is in jail in order to keep the outside society safe and not in order to help himself get better.
There are, however, those prisoners, where you can see that they are taking their imprisonment seriously and are trying to plan their new lives for when they will be released.

Such an example is Isaac (not his real name), whom I have been visiting quite often in the last year. He is obviously not sitting in jail for helping unfortunate people, but for deeds that should not be done. However, Isaac accepted his fate with love. He feels deeply pained for what he has done. He pays his dues to society every day, and the damage which he did to someone else, he has already paid back until the last penny.
At the same time he has also gotten closer to Judaism. No, he doesn’t wear a Kippa and also didn’t let his beard grow. But he found his G-d. He prays, studies Torah and is growing in spirituality.

When I visited him this week, I was astonished. He told me that he has come to the conclusion that he thanks G-d for bringing him to prison. “The freedom of spirit which I have been able to attain here, I never had in my whole life. When I was in the never ending race after money, honor and in the competition with all that was around me, my soul was screaming and I couldn’t listen to it.” And he ends with a wide smile and tells me: “Today I can be who I really am! I might be imprisoned, but I am spiritually free. I can be who I am for real!”
It took me a few minutes to think about what he said and to understand his words.

Unfortunately, there are people who might be “free”, not confined to a prison, though they are very much imprisoned within their hearts, within the society in which they live or within the conditions that are set up for them by other human beings.

In a month and a half, Isaac will be released from prison and will return to the country he came from. I think it will be the first time for me, that I will miss a prisoner.

I got a strong reminder and lesson from this prisoner about the true meaning of “freedom”.

As our sages have said in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Fathers): “Who is Wise? One who learns from every person”.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Chaim


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