I spent Martin Luther King’s Day last year locked up with many Jews and African American men. Former slaves of Egypt living with former slaves of the Deep South. There is no sign of Moses or Rev Martin Luther King offering us redemption. Next year in Jerusalem? Free at last?
The good part, or bad part, of a Federal holiday is that none of the prisoners have to work. Work can take your mind off the endless hours behind bars. A Federal holiday means your friends and family have the day off from work and have time to visit you, which can be good and bad. Its always good to see visitors, but you can get very depressed after they leave. The mental mind games prison plays on you are endless.
On a holiday the guys in the kitchen do not get the day off from work. Someone has to cook for all the hungry inmates. Prison and nursing homes have one thing in common: everyone is focused on food. When’s the next meal? What are they serving? Can you score me an extra piece of chicken?
Today the kitchen served fried chicken. Some guys couldn’t resist making racist jokes. The kitchen is run by a Black man who changed his birth name to a Muslim name, like Cassius Clay became Mohammed Ali. Not sure what his real name is, but everyone calls him “Abdul.” Abdul is a decent guy. He transferred from the medium to the camp. He is one of the few Muslims in the mostly Jewish camp.
There was another Black inmate who changed his birth name to a Muslim name, ie., “Hakeem.” Hakeem got escorted out of the camp by five blueboyz after he was caught hiding in the woods behind the visitors parking lot with his girlfriend. Give the poor guy a break. Conjugal visits are not allowed in the Federal prison system, unlike some State prisons. But Hakeem was lucky the blueboyz didn’t lock up his girlfriend.
I had a couple of visitors come to see me on this special day. I had an African American man named Menachem Yosef come to see me sporting his big Yemenite yarmukle. He is a Black man who converted to Orthodox Judaism. Much to my surprise he created a big stir among the Black and Hasidic Jewish inmates. I guess it is not every day that you get to meet a Black Jew. The Blacks thought he must have been some kind of celebrity, like Sammy Davis Jr. I said he was just a run-of-the mill Black Jew.
The Black inmates couldn’t believe that Jews allow Blacks to convert. I said anyone can convert, but the conversion process requires circumcision, which could be very painful. One Dominican guy, Jeff, said my friend converted so he could “get all ‘dem White beyotches.” I said that could be true, but that was not information I was privy to.
The Hasidic Jews were lining up to meet this Black Jew. How many Black men see the light and become an Orthodox Jew? The Hasidim figured he must be the Messiah. They wanted to kiss his pinkey ring. But he didn’t have a pinky ring. Instead, they tried to eat Menachem Yosef’s food, his leftover slice of pizza, or “shirayim”, as it is called. It was touched by holy hands. Yosef looked over at the framed pictures of Obama and Eric Holder hanging on the wall. He told us that if we messed with him he was going to call the Black men on the wall who locked up our tucheses.
I also got a visit from my official prison “chaplain” or rabbi from back home. When you get a visit from your “chaplain” you don’t get charged points against your monthly visitor “point” quota. Weekend visits get charged two points, weekday visits get charged one point. My official chaplain was Rabbi Dov Greer from New Haven. He runs a “mohel” business on the side. A mohel is someone who performs circumcisions on newborn Jewish babies. According to Dov’s website, his great grandfather from the Catskills was also a mohel. I always thought his great grandfather was a “shochet” or a ritual slaughterer of kosher meat. I guess you could be a mohel and a shochet at the same time, as long as you are careful.
My rabbi made the headlines some years ago when he was attacked in New Haven and his family, who run a synagogue and school, formed armed street patrols. It was controversial at the time. My rabbi is a “name dropper” type of rabbi. When he comes to visit he works the visitors room, passing out his card to “prominent” rabbis and not so prominent Jews, from Teaneck and various other Jewish communities, in the visitors room.
My rabbi was particularly impressed with a Jewish inmate named Alex Schleider, shaking his hand and claiming to know Schleider’s brother in England. I couldn’t get a straight answer as to how he knew Schleider’s brother. Did he meet him in England? Did he meet him in the States? Everything was always a big mystery with my prison rabbi. I thus gave my rabbi a nickname, like everyone else in prison: “Rabbi 007.” Inmate Schleider had many nicknames: “Sir Schleider” “Prince Schleider” “Lord Bentley” “King Schleider.” King Schleider expected everyone to cater to his every need. He made some friends, but also a few enemies. He was only locked up for about six months. He walked around with a sense of entitlement. He was locked up for fraud but he “assisted” the Feds in their case against a big ponzi schemer from Lakewood a guy named Weinstein.
According to Jewish law, a Jew is not supposed to “inform” on another Jew to the authorities. Ratting out another Jew is called “mesirah.” When asked in prison by fellow Jewish inmates why he ratted out Weinstein, Schleider responded that he got a “heter,” or permission, from a rabbi that allowed him to cooperate with the Feds. Being a prison rat can give you a sense of entitlement around other inmates.
Schleider had a sense of entitlement. Even though he had a short sentence, his wife and daughters, all very attractive and dressed to the nines, came to visit him and offer him emotional support at least three times a week, lavishing him with praise. I even witnessed a member of his harem feed him in the visitors room. When he finally left prison, a day most inmates looked forward to, he took his family on a tour of the prison grounds in his car. Such an unauthorized tour falls under the crime of “trespassing on Federal property.” But Schleider didn’t get busted. The blueboyz wanted him off the property just as much as the inmates.
According to one news report, after sentencing, Schleider’s daughters made a big scene in Federal court, screaming at his victims and expressing outrage that King Schleider had to go to jail. After Schleider left the camp I posted a sign on his bunk, “Federally Protected Landmark, King Schleider Slept Here AD 2015.”