Prisoners are persons whom most of us would rather not think about. Banished from everyday sight, they exist in a shadow world that only dimly enters our awareness. They are members of a "total institution" that controls their daily existence in a way that few of us can imagine. "[P]rison is a complex of physical arrangements and of measures, all wholly governmental, all wholly performed by agents of government, which determine the total existence of certain human beings (except perhaps in the realm of the spirit, and inevitably there as well) from sundown to sundown, sleeping, walking, speaking, silent, working, playing, viewing, eating, voiding, reading, alone, with others. . . ." It is thus easy to think of prisoners as members of a separate netherworld, driven by its own demands, ordered by its own customs, ruled by those whose claim to power rests on raw necessity. -- Justice William Brennan, dissenting in O’Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 354-55 (1987).

Thursday, May 17, 2007

(Re)Discovering Your Religious Heritage

Everyone knows there are "no atheists in foxholes." Prison has a way of helping one discover (or rediscover) God ... especially when faith is accompanied by a handful of extra holidays and privileges!

Last week was Passover. It was impressive how many previously non-observant Jews discovered the benefits of "observing." There are at least 3 official religious holidays associated with Passover. In addition, if you insist on special religious meals during the week, then you can get out of your work detail for the entire week because they can't accommodate special diet requests at the off-camp work details.

You would think that BOP would question the sincerity of this newly discovered faith, but they can't - that would be religious harrassment! I could declare tomorrow that I am Jewish and receive these benefits. I might have to attend Jewish classes or meet with a rabbi periodically before announcing my "conversion." But after that, you're set.

It gets even better if you convert to Islam, which is a more palatable option for black inmates. Friday is the "Sabbath" for Muslims, which means they get every Friday off. (Of course, Saturday is the Sabbath for Jews but that is already part of the weekend so there is no additional benefit.)

I have seen my share of con games already, but Ihave to admit that this cynical use of religion wins the prize.


Anonymous said...

Hi Bill,

As someone whose a part of the Jewish religion, I can say that we are welcoming you.

Its always good to have friends share the same religion.

Hope you are well!.

All the best and hope to hear from you soon!


Anonymous said...

I am starting a series on prison stories looking at those in the Bible who spent time in jail. I would love to hear some things that you could personally share about prison and your experience. How has it started to change your life? What do you see now that you are in jail that you did not see before? How is God a part of you life now and before?

I am teaching students and would love to continue in dialog during the series which is five weeks.