80 year old Naftuli Shlesinger, whose nickname was “Zaidy,” spent a good part of the last ten years walking around the grounds of the Otisville prison compound picking up trash with his little hand held grip and grap, and noshing on potatoes, onions and tomatoes in the prison mess hall. Naftuli carefully peeled each potato. He cut up the potatoes and placed them in a plastic container with finely chopped up onions and tomatoes. He triple wrapped the container with plastic and placed it in the microwave for 5 or 10 minutes. Sometimes he put meat in his concoction. I ate dinner with him many times in the mess hall. I will admit he was a pretty good cook. Naftuli is now halfway free. He was recently released to the Brooklyn halfway house.
Naftuli hails from a powerful Satmar family from Williamsburg. But that didn’t stop him from getting a 15 year jail sentence. On New Years Eve of 1998 a building Naftuli owned caught fire. The Feds charged Naftuli with insurance fraud when he made a claim for fire insurance. The trial was more like a family feud. Members of Naftuli’s own family testified against him. They were all suing each other in civil court in business disputes. Naftuli didn’t have a chance against the Feds long list of witnesses. The Feds could have indicted anyone on their witness list as co-conspirators, yet charges were only brought against Naftuli. Everyone else was immune from prosecution.
At sentencing Naftuli had the entire Satmar Williamsburg community fighting for him. He argued at sentencing that former Attorney General Michael Mukasey knew him well and would support him if the sentencing Judge requested. Judge Mukasey was prohibited from contacting the sentencing judge, unless the sentencing judge requested such input. Naftuli’s sentencing Judge didn’t want to hear from Mukasey. Federal Judge Fitzsimmons was unfamiliar with this Judicial Canon when she wrote a letter supporting her friend former US Prosecutor Harold James Pickerstein when he was sentenced for stealing $600K from a client. She has since apologized for her error, after Larry Noodles brought it to the Second Circuit’s attention. Pickerstein got a thirty day term of incarceration after he robbed his client of over $600,000.00 and then lied about it to try to cover his tracks.
I do not know how Naftuli become friends with Mukasey. Naftuli used to talk about Mukasey but he never mentioned how he got to know him personally. Mukasey was close with Rudy Guiliani. Guiliani was able to beat Dinkins in a very close mayoral race. The Satmar community supported Guiliani and may have been responsible for Guiliani’s slim victory. Mukasey was the second Jewish man to be appointed to the position of US Attorney General. But Mukasey was part of the modern Jewish crowd in Manhattan, while Naftuli was part of the old world Hasidic community.
Mukasey was one of over a hundred former Federal attorney generals, State attorney generals, law scholars and lock em up former U.S. attorneys, such as Rudoph Guiliani, John Ashcroft, Edwin Meese, Kenneth Starr, Joseph Leiberman, and others, who signed a letter criticizing the Federal government, breaking their Blue Code of silence, accusing the Feds of presenting false evidence, and serious acts of misconduct in the prosecution and sentencing of Sholom Rubashkin.
Rubashkin is doing 27 years after getting convicted of bank fraud. The unprecedented letter was signed by the same prosecutors who for years supported the draconian Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which resulted in a building boom of new prisons, mostly to warehouse low level drug dealers and non-violent law breakers. Mukasey even supported waterboarding. The Supreme Court, after almost 30 years, recently threw out the Guidelines. Were all these prosecutors closet liberals?
Naftuli had many visitors at the prison. He had a large family, with many attractive females as part of his mishpacha. Not just attractive. These Queen Esthers came to prison dressed up as if they were going to a wedding. Neighborhood Mitch, a former Jewish mobster who worked for the Gambinos, used to flirt with them. But it was against the rules for an inmate to speak with another inmate’s visitors. Mitch would sometimes get kicked out of the visitors room for talking to the visitors. I heard that Mitch was recently moved to the Danbury Correctional Institution, not too far from me. I would pay him a visit and try to smuggle him in a challie roll, but it is against the rules for former inmates to associate. Mitch used to like the challie rolls.
Naftuli is now living it up in a halfway house, although the employees who operate the halfway houses are worse than the Federal employees working in the prisons. Halfway houses are run by civilians. These civilians are low paid frustrated police officers.
Naftuli’s used to refer to most people he encountered in the prison as “a lowlife.” At times Naftuli got animated when he didn’t get his way. The mentality among prisoners is that the longer you are locked up, the more deserving you are of respect. But you can’t expect prisoners to always follow the unwritten rules. New guys tended to upset the apple cart. Change is always difficult, especially when you are in prison. The only way to survive is to get lost in a routine in order to take your mind off the armed guards and barbed wired fences that surround you 24/7.
I used to write this blog while I was locked up with Naftuli. This is what I wrote two years ago, among other blogs that were published by the New Haven Independent: An 80-year-old Hasidic inmate got permission to go to a wedding accompanied by the Blue Boy who is my boss as the warehouse. Talk about an odd couple. The Blue Boy is a self proclaimed “redneck” who weighs in at about 300 pounds. The Hasid is a 100-pound ornery old man who doesn’t think much of secular Jews, or the “goyim” for that matter. The Blue Boy had to drive him to the wedding and drive him back to the prison. I asked the Blue Boy if he could bring me back some whitefish and herring. I also reminded him to make sure the inmate brought his Depends with him, you don’t want to have any accidents in the prison van. He proceeded to flip me the bird and tell me to go bleep myself. I said, “Have a nice time.”
I didn’t tell any of my fellow inmates that I was writing these blogs from jail. Eventually someone found out about it and ratted me out to all the prisoners, including Naftuli. My life suddenly became a lot more difficult in the prison. Naftuli read my blog and yelled at me. I couldn’t understand Yiddish so I didn’t know what he was talking about. When he stopped yelling he looked at me and smiled and said, “I’m only 79, not 80 years old.”
Looking back, I feel bad about the Depends joke. I hope you can forgive me Naftuli!