Since 2003 I have been the Senior Jewish Chaplain for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department in their entire jail system. I am also the Jewish Chaplain at Corcoran State Prison, and serve as the Rabbi, part time, for K'hilat HaAloneem in Ojia, California. While in the jails and institutions I am primarily there for the Jewish inmates, I also have a considerable amount of interaction with non-Jewish inmates, most of whom are addicts. No matter what the crime, I found that the common beginning point was addiction.

I devote a considerable amount of time with my men post-incarceration. Helping them, encouraging them, to try and build a sober and healthy new life. It is gratifying that while there is a 78% recidivism rate for normal inmates. I have been blessed to see a high percentage of men with whom I work most intensively who have changed that statistic. With my men, there is a non scientific rate of 80% who do not return to jail.

Even though the system is troubled. I continue to be amazed at the courage and strength of so many of my men. The majority of who have come to me after being incarcerated numerous times before. These men have given and continue to give my life blessings that I never could have imagined. I hope that their stories can do he same for you.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Phone Call

The phone rang in my chapel office at the prison. "Yaffa" was so relieved to get a chaplain. She wanted me to see her son "Noam" to let him know his grandfather had just died. It's very hard to get these kinds of messages to inmates in any timely manner. I took his location/information and talked to her a little more. Then I walked to to the yard her son is housed in. It's one of the tougher (higher security) yards. I was able to to get the Lt. To help and soon two officers were escorting him to the door of the chapel. This tough looking 25 yr old looked at me and said, "who are you? This can't be good news." we walked into the chapel, just the two if us, and sat side by side. Typically, he showed no emotion. I told himi had spoken to his mom and that his grandfather had just died. Noam. Stiffened up and said "it's cool man. No problem. I'm fine." I said "of course u r." and put my arm around his shoulder and gently pulled him toward my shoulder. He immediately crumbled and just sobbed and sobbed. He started apologizing. I told him to be quiet and stay put. He stayed on my shoulder for twenty minutes. We talked. I said that even though we hadn't met that this was the safest place in the whole prison. "there aren't too many chances to let go and just be held around here." Noam looked at me and said , "man, I've been here for six years and I never saw u before but this is the only time I've let anyone hold me or see me like this". I knew I couldn't use the word "need" so I wrote my name and hours and my office extension down. "listen, if u ever want to see me privately just have an officer call and I'll be here." he can't reach his mother easily because they can't call collect to a cell phone and moms only landline is at her friend down the street.. He asked if I'd call her.  He wanted me to call his mom to tell her to be at the landline the next morning when he would b allowed to call. We hugged goodbye and after waiting a few minutes while his eyes returned to "not red and puffy" I called the officers to pick him up. I went back to my yard and called his VERY surprised mother. I gave her the info. Told her he was ok but was worried about HER. I told her he was a very sweet young man. Now, SHE was sobbing. "how did I get so lucky to connect with u? This is the kindest anyone has been to either of us since he went in 6 yrs ago. " I told her I was the lucky one. And that I'll be checking in with him whenever I have a chance.  The officer in the room asked me if I knew her. I said no and she said "but u sounded like the family pastor." I told her that at this moment I am.  Then she said "u said he was a sweet kid? I know him. He ain't what I'd call sweet."  You know, officer, he never did anything to
Me. He was sweet. And I AM grateful that my phone was the one she reached.   I haven't been able to get Noam off my mind yet. Thanks to any of u who read this long note. I just wanted to share.

Friday, August 5, 2011

How an Inmate Changed My Life - Part 2

 It’s a long piece but it’s an important one because of the ways our lives can be changed in profound but unusual and unexpected ways.


I had only been working at the jails for a few months when I was awakened at 5 am by a call from the captain. “One of your men is in the suicide ward, rabbi. Could you come down and see him now?” Just so you know, I had hardly gotten to meet the captain yet, let alone get a wake up call from him. I don’t generally wake up quickly but I did that Friday morning.

Twin Towers is two round buildings connected by a mental ward. The top (7th) floor is the suicide ward. I had never been there. Single cells. The men wear thick hospital gowns and paper slippers. No books or phone calls or clothing: precautions to prevent suicides. Two deputies sitting watch. I asked them to bring out Yigal.

A young (early 30s) man came out. He had been ‘in’ for two days and was still coming down from his meth high. He was shaky and it was obviously hard for him to focus but I knew that the mere fact that someone was there to see him was a big incentive for him to try to pay as much attention as was possible given the situation.

All I knew about Yigal at that moment was that he was Jewish , clearly still high and looking very scared. I (to complete the picture) was wearing a colorful kippah, khaki slacks and a shirt, tie and a sweater. The reason I’m sharing that information is that, despite his haze, his face did register some surprise when I introduced myself as Rabbi Carron. It turns out that Yigal comes from an orthodox Sephardic family. I was not the picture of any rabbi he had met before.

We (mostly I) talked for a while. I was doing my best to find a way  ‘in’ to help and find out something about him. I took out a little book of Reb Nachman’s teachings. All of a sudden, his eyes got clearer. He knew the quotes I was sharing with him. I often use Reb Nachman to bring home the sense of loneliness and despair and, then, hope that the men need to even begin to trust me and to give them a sense that this horrible situation is not hopeless. He knew the quotes. He told me he did. He also said “I never learned about them this way. The way you’re telling it,  it’s like he’s talking to me.”

The deputy had never met me before. I knew he was listening to our conversation, although trying not to be obvious about it. I already knew that rabbis were a new experience to some of the younger deputies.  Yigal had not spoken to his family since being arrested. He very much wanted to be allowed to use a phone. He also wanted to take a shower. I was told by the deputy that he couldn’t do any of those things and I couldn’t give him any books until his psych appointment cleared him from the suicide watch list.

When I asked him when his appointment was, he said “Tuesday”. It was Friday morning. Not only was that night Shabbat but it was 5 days until that appointment. I didn’t have much experience with all this but I didn’t want to leave until Yigal had been seen. I’m not a shrink but it seemed clear to me that he was petrified but not suicidal. I, of course, couldn’t make that call. The deputy pointed to a set of stairs leading to the psych offices. But he looked at me as if I weren’t grasping something and said “he won’t come down now. I told you, his appointment is Tuesday.”

I asked him not to put Yigal back in his cell while I went up to try and see the doctor. When I came down a few minutes later, the doctor was with me. I will never forget the look on the deputy’s face. He really was beyond surprised.

The doctor interviewed Yigal and agreed that he was not in danger of suicide (in my silent opinion, I thought that staying on that horrible floor for 5 more days would make anyone suicidal anyway). I asked the doctor to please write the forms AND tell the deputy that I could give him some religious books to read (as much as was able to focus), a kippah and permission to call his parents and take a shower. I then told the deputy that I’d be much more comfortable if I could stay there until I saw Yigal on the phone. And then I left.

I don’t go downtown on Sundays, but that Sunday I did. There something that had touched me during our first meeting. I wanted to make sure he was holding up. He had been moved to another cell block, so I drove down. We spent 45 minutes talking and praying together (although I now had to stand outside his cell to talk with him. There was no place to meet and sit in this new area). For the next few months, whether I was scheduled to work or not, I went downtown five times a week to spend 30-40 minutes with Yigal. Aside from his drug addiction, he had also been arrested for credit card theft and other assorted crimes. (almost all the men I see, no matter the crime, are there as a result of their drug addiction which fueled the crimes).

As the weeks went by, I was privileged to find a caring, very bright and very spiritual man who honored me with his trust and sharing. There is a misconception many of us have that those who commit criminal acts and are addicted to drugs are losers who must come from horrible families. Yigal is a perfect example of an educated man with a very loving and close family whose addictions turned him into someone he couldn’t have fathomed. Recovery is about accepting your addiction but also accepting responsibility for the wrongs you have done.

We spent a good portion of our time on Torah and the teachings of Judaism. He grew up observant. He knew the parshiot and the words of out people. He, however, did not always find the 21st century ‘message’ inside them.  We (he) started to talk about the shame he felt, to his family, God, himself…all around shame.

One of the issues I had to learn to deal with was how much it seemed to annoy the sergeant in charge of that cell block that I came every day and needed him to pull Yigal out of his cell. Most chaplains, in his defense, ‘walk the rows’ to see their inmates. But, they aren’t Jewish. There aren’t many Jewish inmates in that particular part of the jail. I tried to explain that it was very hard to have any personal and possibly emotional conversation standing in a row of cells where everyone can hear what’s going on. I wasn’t going there only to give him a blessing and a hello, I was going there to try and get him on the road to recovery so that he was prepared to go for help when he was released. I said I was doing spiritual recovery work with him. That meant they had to go and escort him out and lock him in a holding cell which was directly across from where all the deputies sat. One day, Yigal touched on something that made him cry. I reached inside the bars to wipe his tears. The sergeant was not happy.  He bellowed, “No physical contact with the inmates!”   I wasn’t  comfortable with the tone of voice and, although it is generally the rule, he was in handcuffs and crying. So, I walked over and asked him not to talk to me that way, since I wouldn’t talk that way to him, especially in front of his deputies and the man I was counseling. 

I said I thought it was not human for me (chaplain or ‘civilian’) not to dry someone’s tears and I believed the captain would agree, so if he wanted to go to the captain’s office with me, I’d be fine with that.

Needless to say, for the remainder of my visits with Yigal, there was not much verbal communication with the officers. They just go him out and that was that. Of course, during any of these 45 minute sessions, there were no chairs I could borrow to sit and talk. Just to give a picture of some of the issues with SOME (definitely not all) of the deputies.

At any rate, I came back from family in Florida right after new years and found a fax (I can’t give my phone number, of course, but his family had a fax number for me) that Yigal was released on bail and would I honor them by coming  to the synagogue and Shabbat dinner at their home.

I had never done that before but at the last minute I decided to go. Yigal also serves as shaliach tzibbur (cantor) at his little shtibl. I walked in as the service was beginning. I walked into an orthodox, mostly Israeli orthodox shul and saw Yigal on the bimah, in a suit and, of course, a tallit. I had never met his family. Yigal looked at the door and our eyes met. I immediately started crying. He did, as well. Then, his family figured out who I was and THEY got emotional. Soon,  I was brought over to sit with his family.

I went to their home for a very delicious dinner. Mostly, however, I remember the kindness and the warmth and the realization that having a reform rabbi there was a pretty unusual experience for them.

I have been both to their shui and to dinners on many shabbatot since then. Yigal is now 7 years out of jail, has made restitution to everyone and is living a ‘real’ life, drug free and healthy.

I bumped into that sergeant awhile back and said “by the way, do you remember the man I came to see every day a few years ago? He is sober, he is off of probation and he got a license to be a surgeon’s assistant. Just so you know.” Definitely surprised,  he said he wished they got more updates like that because they only see men in lockup and it does make it difficult to see what I just described to him.

I am proud of Yigal. But more than that, I am so grateful for him. It was during my time with him and the continued work we did after his release that made me see how much this work was calling to me and how many men were getting lost along the way because they lost hope and couldn’t find a way back.

He continues to be a blessing in my life and continues to infuse my work and my life with hope and commitment.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Recent Event In Prison

I’m going to Jerusalem on July 1st through July 18th. I’m going to study at the Hartman institute along with 200 other rabbis from around the world. I received a scholarship (one of only two awarded) to be able to attend, for which I am thrilled and humbled.

It’s always incredible to spend time in Israel and this is especially so…for at least two reasons. First of all I will have the opportunity to study and learn from some of the great teachers of our time. Secondly, it will he helpful in dealing with the shocking anti-Semitism I have recently experienced at the prison in which I work two days each week.

For the many people who wonder how I could be so comfortable amongst the very difficult inmate populations I so regularly spend time with: it wasn’t one of them. In eight years of working with every level of incarcerated men, I have not been afraid nor have I really ever felt as if I were in any danger. No, it was a sergeant, an officer of the California correction system, who called me a ‘dirty Jew.’

Now, obviously, I am not a child nor am I naïve. I know there is anti-Semitism in this world. I just have never heard it directed towards me and with my own ears. I always thought I could deal with just about anything. This really shook me up much more than I can even explain.

To consolidate this story to it’s very essence: I asked an inmate clerk who works in the ‘program office’ next door to the chapel (that’s where the officers- sergeants., lieutenants, captain on this particular yard work) to make copies of paperwork that is necessary to need to be passed out and signed so that the programming I have for the following week can be approved by the time I get up there again. A sergeant I don’t remember ever meeting before was not happy about that. He ‘assumed’ I was up to something apparently off the charts. I asked an inmate/clerk to come and pick up things for copying, just as I do every week. But this sergeant came marching into my office. Remember, to the best of my knowledge I had never met him before. He was not one of the regular office/yard staff on the yard. He was nasty and accusatory. I ignored him as well as I was able and just said I wanted to get the copies done so I could pack up and drive 3 hours home after a very long two days. All I needed was the paperwork so I could sponsor (as I do every week) the Jewish, Protestant, Catholic,, Spanish Protestant services I try to provide each week. There are no Catholic, Protestant or Muslim chaplains up there right now. Two transferred and one is on leave. These men couldn’t get services at all if I can’t sponsor them. The sergeant took the papers to the clerk who brought the copies back. The sergeant followed him back very closely with an attitude you couldn’t mistake. But I am used to attitude from some officers, so I continued to ignore it.

As I was taking my cart out of the chapel and locking up, I heard the sergeant tell the inmate/clerk , “Listen. You work for the program office. NOT the chaplains. Especially a dirty Jew.”

Needless to say, I was shocked and appalled. I also realized that it would not be advisable for me to react at that moment. I knew I needed to leave and think this through. I did not realize how very badly it was going to affect me.

I reported it to my supervisor the following week and sent a letter about it to my supervisor and to Internal Affairs. I also saw my Dr. due to what I was told were physical reactions to this episode. He proceeded to tell me I needed to take three weeks off and sent a letter to that effect to the prison.

I have had to use all of my own learning and teaching to get myself back on track. Even as I type this, it’s hard for me to admit that I got so affected. But indeed I did.

I’m going to Israel at just the right time. I will not only be learning more each day but I will be able , I hope, to find more within my own spiritual self to recognize that what I try to teach in my rabbinate, that there is good in everything and that everything that happens, happens for the good.

Yes, it would be easy to just chalk this off to a general malaise of hatred in the world. But I know that exists and I resist giving into it everyday. That is why and how I am able to work with such difficult populations (in the jails and prisons). I try, and generally succeed, in treating all of the men with dignity as long as they are doing the same to me. More often than most people can fathom, they do. This will not deter me from continuing my work,

I think it is unforgiveable for this behavior to come from anyone, but especially unforgiveable from an officer of the State Prison system.
I am following through closely on this with the institution. I may not be able to change the world but I am hopefully going to show that no one can talk this way to anyone in my presence, let alone to or about me.

I also realize that this is where my own faith and beliefs come into play.
It is so easy to talk and teach and preach about things to people from the pulpit or just from my position as a rabbi. It is quite another to make sure I believe what I teach and use it when things are not quite as I would like them to be.

I do believe I am fortunate in being given this scholarship to study in Israel. And I think the timing couldn’t be better. I also believe that the hundreds of men …Jewish and not…need a place to let down their own tightly constructed guards and let whatever is underneath it, show.
Some may be helped, saved if you will, some may not. My only mission is to give them all a chance. I’m very unhappy that I had to walk through this horrendous (and illegal) behavior. I’m sorry that an inmate had to hear it, as well. We work together and I know he is as devastated as I (even though my admitting any human concern for an inmate can be construed as ‘inappropriate’ and ‘too personal’ behavior by the staff rules. I hope those rules (most others of which I totally adhere to) never interfere in my ability to have concern for an inmate.

I’m going to Israel. I’m going to study and learn in a country surrounded by anti-Semitism. Hopefully I will come back wiser and with new tools of my own to use in situations like this one.

As it is taught: “Everything that happens, happens for the good.”

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

How an Inmate Changed My Life (part 1 of 2)

I never intended to be focusing my rabbinate behind bars.  I happily serve as the part-time rabbi at Kehillatt Ha’Alonim in Ojai two Shabbats a month and have been there for the last three years. But, I’ve been behind bars for seven. Two men who I met within weeks of each other 6 plus years ago changed my life and my rabbinate. 
Because of the blessing of working with them, I realized that this was the work I needed and wanted to be doing.

When Guy walked into my office at MCJ (Men’s Central Jail) he was a 28 year old empty soul. It didn’t happen immediately, but over the next several weeks he began sharing more and more about his life. He had been in and out of jail since he was first in Juvenile Hall at 15: Three prisons in two states and too many visits to LA jails to even attempt to count. His parents (both addicts) died within months of each other when he was four. His siblings were much older than Guy and he was brought up by his grand parents , who were immigrants and not very educated.  He dropped out of high school and began his life on the streets of Hollywood.

Guy came in to see me, at first, really just to get out of his cell. He didn’t say that but it was clear he wasn’t looking to make a shift in his life.  “Remember, Rabbi, I’m not religious,” he reminded me. He wasn’t ready for the questions I asked.  However, he found out quickly that if our time wasn’t going to be constructive and forward moving, it would be a very brief visit. The visits got consistently longer and more frequent.

I saw something in his eyes one day when he was caught off guard.  It didn’t take him long to cut off again but, too late! I saw something. This man had so much hidden and was so unaware of any hope of a different life that I had to move slowly and build trust.  We talked about building a relationship that was just between us with the stipulation that he didn’t ‘have’ to say anything but when he did, it had to be honest. I agreed to never lie to him either.  Hard as it may be for you readers to fully grasp, that was like asking him to do and be something (at least for the time he was with me) that was totally alien to the drug addict, conman, no-real-idea-of-friendship man he had been for most of his life. But, after cutting our session short two or three times because I knew he was telling me what he thought I wanted to hear…and definitely not the truth, he started to work harder at that.

I began working with him on values and honor and finding a way to see a tiny spark of hope that he had the tools to become something special and have a real life.

“Find yourself a teacher and find yourself a friend” became a constant part of our time together. Peeling the layers off of a non-trusting and basically hopeless young man became my goal and then, slowly, HIS goal, as well.

The next few months were much more of a validation of my ‘change/big change is possible even in people who have spent over half of their lives
in the system’ philosophy.  Regularly, there were officers who said to me (of course, they knew him from his frequent visits) that I was wasting my time and he’d be back.

But he began to shift. I saw possibility showing in his demeanor. For himself, in his own heart, not just mine.

I remember the day I told him he was going to go to college. He laughed. Hard. He had gotten his GED in prison. The idea of college was so off the charts to him.
He had tried rehab three times before and either left or was thrown out each time.
Part of my condition of continuing to see him after release was that he be in a 6-month residential program.  Finally he agreed to write an admission request and I followed up hoping to make certain he had a bed waiting the day he was released.
I had a friend agree to pick him up outside the jail when he was released. Not as easy as it sounds, since the jail cant/doesn’t give a specific time of release and very often it is 3am before the exit process is handled.  My friend waited for 4 hours with updates to me every ½ hour. It was my first time in this situation and I knew there was the possibility that Guy would decide last minute to ditch the idea.

He didn’t and was admitted that night.

He made it through the 6 month program and cried when I took him out after the ‘graduation.’  “I never thought I could do it.” I helped arrange a job interview with  someone willing to hire a felon. He got a temporary job (his first in 10 years) at a store in Beverly Hills. It turned into a 2 year “temporary job”. The next door to walk through was moving him into a sober living house. I took him sober-living shopping and he was ready to move into the less expensive of the two we finally narrowed it down to. He was afraid of being able to afford the $200 per month difference between them. I wanted him to start looking up the ladder instead of down. He needed to begin thinking of himself as deserving something better. I had helped him interview with someone willing to hire a felon. I had a generous supporter who offered to cover the first 6 months of the $200.00 rent difference to take the anxiety away from this very big next step.

After 4 months Guy said, “I don’t need the $200.00 now. I can do it on my own. He wrote a thank you note to his anonymous benefactor and I delivered it. But first, there was the short lesson on why and how one writes a thank you note.

We had discussions about how,  now, he was following in the path of our ancestor, Abraham, on a road to places he did not know. That’s an understatement.

I could write much more but I’ll end by telling you that he got a job at the rehabilitation center he had lived in. He got a promotion. Then another.
And on May 5th I will be attending his graduation as he is given an Associate Arts college degree in drug and alcohol counseling (he got all A’s, made Dean’s list and came over after each completion to show me his certificates).

6 years after we first met, he is helping others rise up from the ashes of their pasts. And 6 years after we first met I tell him how much he has blessed my life. I had no idea my own rabbinate would take this road when I first me Guy (and the man who will be ‘Part two’ of this episode). Seeing how he responded to kindness, God, hope and trust made an unimaginable change in MY life. I will always be grateful for having the honor of being a part of this miracle.

Monday, February 7, 2011

A Blessing I Never Expected

Each summer, through the generous support of Edna Weiss and her late husband Mickey Weiss, the Board of Rabbis and the Jewish Federation are able to send two rabbis and their spouses to participate in the Shalom Hartman Institute's Rabbinic Torah Study Seminar in Jerusalem.

At the Seminar, rabbis of all denominations from North America, Europe and Israel engage in intensive Jewish learning. The program combines intensive hevruta study, lectures, discussions and a tiyyul designed to enhance the effectiveness of rabbis as educators and spiritual leaders. 

I am excited to announce that this year I was one of the two Rabbis who received this scholarship.  I was very proud and honored when I was told that I had been chosen to go to Jerusalem to study with such wonderful people.  I look forward to bringing back some new and exciting tools, which I can use to teach the men I work with, to help them with their connection to Judaism and God. 

Friday, February 4, 2011

Debbie Friedman

Debbie Friedman gave the Jewish people their voices back. That was a resounding conclusion in almost every memorial written. Her death reminded all of us what a blessing she has been to all of us and how much she wanted us to share our voices with each other and with God.

In synagogues, camps, concert halls

I work in the state prison where it is incredibly difficult to ‘share’ your voice. Emotions are kept tightly under wraps. For my men, the idea of singing and feeling and sharing has been a challenge for me. In one-on-one sessions I often get a glimpse behind their masks. But only a little. And only in private.

The songs we sing at our weekly Ma’ariv service are 95% Debbie Friedman songs. I have tried to teach them how to reach prayer by singing. They have learned the beginnings of Hebrew from singing “The Alef Bet Song.” It took months to get them to raise their voices, to sing at all,  to find their own spark of God.

Now, I’m proud to share that the 35-40 men on this yard in Corcoran know several songs. And, what’s more incredible, in a place where it is dangerous to show feelings, they come into the chapel ready and hoping to sing and to pray. 

We end every service with “Tefilat Ha’derecb” in a circle with everyone’s arms around each other’s shoulders.  This may seem like very little to all of you, but it an amazing sight inside the prison walls where emotions are as tightly locked up as the men are and where too much closeness (hugging/arms linked) are very suspicious to the officers.

I recently decided to experiment with a healing service for the 40 or so men who attend weekly services on C yard. I had no idea how it would be received. I explained that I wanted them to just ‘listen’ to what I was going to play and sing. I asked them to sit on the floor. I lowered the chapel lights. I reminded them that a lot of the spiritual work we have been doing has been to re-connect them to their neshama.;That, just as Jacob had realized, achein yeish Adonai, bamakom hazeh v’anochi lo yadati,  God is in this place too and they cannot allow themselves to forget that.

I also suggested they close their eyes and let the music take them wherever it would take them. Even if some might fall asleep, I knew it was important for them to close themselves off from feeling embarrassed or nervous about how the other men would be reacting and if they closed their eyes they wouldn’t be looking around nervously checking to see what the other men were doing. I told them Id tell them when I was done so they wouldn’t worry about when to open up again.

Then I played and sang for half an hour. All music from Debbie’s healing album. I sang “Light These Lights” and “Asher yatzar” and worked  my way through the book.

To my great surprise, there was absolutely no movement in the room. Not a sound. No shuffling. Just silence.

When I finished and stood up to walk over to the light switch, my clerk, Felix (an inmate) quickly came over and quietly suggested I leave the lights off for a couple of minutes.

There were so many reddened eyes and such a quiet introspective feeling in the room when I finally did turn the lights back on. Instead of the usual high energy, there was peace.

We ended, as always, by gathering into a circle, arms around each other, to sing “Tefilat HaDerech.”  It was vastly more touching than usual.

I offered a blessing and sent them back to their buildings. The next morning several of the men, long term inmates, tough guys, came in and shyly asked when I would do that service again.

Debbie Friedman  did indeed change the way a generation prayed and found their voices. I share this to show you another place,  possibly unimagined by most of you, where her brilliance and blessings  bring light and comfort and Godliness into Corcoran State Prison and the jails of Los Angeles. They are all singing louder and more confidently each week.   They wait for Mi Shabeirach and their chance to ask God for healing with their voices  and their hearts joined in song.

My men are struggling with their demons and their pasts. But with our services and the music of Debbie Friedman, they are slowly moving into their future by building their relationship with God and with Judaism on their journey to a place they do not know.

Intro To Blog

I do the majority of my rabbinic work inside the jails of LA County and the state prison, Corcoran, as well.  The basic difference between the two are that jail is generally shorter term incarceration: either the inmate is waiting for a trial which will decide where, when and how long he will be in jail or prison. Prison is almost always a longer sentence and for more serious offenses. There is a very high recidivism (repeat offender) rate, generally accepted to be around 78%. That is an incredibly large number of men who have been and continue to be in and out of the system.  There are so many stories of success and recovery that seem to be invisible to most of us, since the headlines constantly bombard us with the evil, the failures and the dangers. But there is tenderness, kindness, hope and courage inside the jails, as well. This site will attempt to show you the very diverse colors of the incarcerated.

I hope to introduce you an ever-growing list of multiple offenders who have, one day at a time, stopped their cycle and re-entered society as positive and strong participants in a life many of us take for granted for its ordinariness. There is nothing ordinary about the challenges and the strength these men face and show. There is nothing ordinary about the amazing blessings they each have brought to my life as they honor me by allowing me to walk through doorways they thought held no hope for them.  I will try to do justice to the many incredible men with whom I began relationships in a small office in a dark jail. Addiction plays an overwhelmingly high part in whatever crimes they committed and, no, I do not live in a fantasy land where all is good and wonderful.  There are very difficult and dangerous citizens inside my work world. But it would be totally wrong to look at these men, in their prison uniforms, as a sea of ‘inmates’ who are hopeless and destined to fail.

They each have powerful stories to tell. I hope to give you all a different picture than the one, perhaps, you have right now.  Many can succeed. ALL need help in finding that door and learning what to do when and if they walk through it into the sunshine.

There was a television series a few years ago called “The Naked City.”  My life with these men is like the theme from that show: “There are 8 million stories in the Naked City. This is just one of them.”