BREAKING NEWS: Inmate Herman “Mshoolum” Jacobowitz was released from Otisville Federal prison this morning. Over the last ten years Mshoolum was a living legend in Otisville. Mshoolum controlled the kosher food supply. Mshoolum ran the shul. Mshoolum pulled the strings for the Jewish inmates. If you needed a furlough you would go to Mshoolum.
Mshoolum tried to keep the peace between the diverse group of Jewish inmates in Camp Otisville. You had Jews from all different backgrounds. You had secular Jews, religious Jews, newly religious Jews, previously religious Jews, Russian Jews, liberal Jews, conservative Jews, Jews for Jesus, rich Jews, poor Jews, fat Jews and skinny Jews. The Jews were always fighting. Mshoolum was sent to Otisville by the Rebbe in order to prevent the Jews from killing each other. For the most part Mshoolum succeeded, at least while I was there. Nobody ended up killing me. I still have a pulse.
The guards knew Mshoolum better than any other inmate. If you are locked up for a long time you get to know the guards. You have time to build up trust with the guards. Some inmates build up so much trust that they can bribe the guards. Federal prison guards are one of the lowest paid Federal employees. It’s not very difficult to bribe a guard to smuggle in a cell phone. Why pay twenty cents a minute with a limit of two minutes a phone call on the prison pay phone when you can talk to your family for as long as you want on a cell phone. I am not suggesting that Mshulem bribed guards, I am just pointing out that it is more common than people realize. Guards are always getting busted for taking bribes from inmates.
I never had a problem with Mshoolum. He yelled at me a number of times about my blog because the other inmates were yelling at him about it. I wouldn’t back down. Mshoolum personally could care less about my blog. Mshoolum wasn’t the type to surf the web. Mshoolum only cared about his family who regularly came to visit him. Mshoolum was locked up for close to ten years. A ten year jail sentence is a very long time to be locked up. When you meet guys with such long jail sentences you can immediately sense that they do not function like normal human beings. Prison becomes their life. The other inmates, who come and go, are like ghosts to them. The long term guys don’t want to know the short term guys. They have bigger things on their minds. Constantly being locked up is not easy. It takes a strong mind to keep from going insane.
Mshoolum is so legendary that the New York Times mentioned him in a recent article about Otisville Federal prison. Reporter Corey Kilgannon wrote in his recent article: “Inmates periodically hold an informal vote to elect a “gabbai” to run the shul, which is currently led by a Hasidic man from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, who is locked up for arson and corporate fraud.” Corey was referring to Mshoolum. Corey spoke with many inmates, including myself, about Mshoolum. Corey didn’t put anyone’s name in the article unless they gave him permission.
Mshoolum the gabbai was also called Mshoolum the “Dictator” by fellow inmate Moshe Butler. Moshe Butler was released from Otisville in 2016, but got in trouble while he was on probation. Moshe is heading back to Otisville in a few months. Right now Moshe is locked up at his house in Teaneck, NJ, on home confinement. Mshoolum and Moshe had a love-hate relationship. At times Mshoolum would yell and scream at Moshe. Other times Moshe would yell at Mshoolum. In the end they always made up. They were both long term inmates. Long timers usually develop some kind of bond over the years, even if they appear to hate each other.
At times Mshoolum couldn’t handle the pressure of being gabbai, so he stopped running for the gabbai position. Mshoolum would put another guy in the gabbai position while Mshoolum stood on the sidelines pulling the strings. It was a thankless job. The only benefit was getting better kosher food and a few extra furloughs. It wasn’t worth it.
I’m sure Mshoolum appointed a successor gabbai to take over the kosher kitchen. I have not determined who the new Mshoolum is in Otisville. I will keep readers posted.
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