A new Jewish inmate just arrived in Otisville prison. He is a cross between Larry “Bud” Melmen and Mr. Magoo. He is short, bald, has big glasses, and a pear shaped body. He has a very bad temper. He should not be confined with other human beings in close quarters. The Bureau of Prisons makes no assessment of one’s mental health before an inmate gets locked up. If you have never been locked up before and forced to live in cramped conditions with other men 24/7 you never know how you will “adjust.” Nobody completely adjusts, but some guys have a more difficult time than others.
The religious Jewish guys called this little stocky man “Ozer.” On the outside Ozer was artistic and a very talented hazzan, or chanter, of the traditional Jewish prayers that are sung in the synagogue. But Ozer came into Otisville a lapsed Satmar Hasidic Jew. He moved far away from the Satmar Williamsburg reservation many years ago. He moved as far West as he could. Now he was back East, in a jail packed with Satmars. He reconnected with guys he knew from the old days in the Satmar ‘Hood, whether he liked it or not. He thought he had left that world a long time ago. His fellow Satmars welcomed him with open arms. Inmate gabbai Aaron AKA “Ari” Glucksman welcomed Ozer. So did powerful Satmar flame thrower Herman Jacobowitz.
One Satmar did not give Ozer such a warm welcome. The ornery, skinny and frail 80 year old Satmar Flame Thrower Naftuli Schlesinger AKA “Zaide”, was not happy to see Ozer. Zaide is doing 15 years. Ozer was only sentenced to only a year. Zaide is a pious Hasidic Jew who lived in Williamsburg for most of his life. Ozer left the fold many years ago. Zaide saw Ozer as a drop out. He left the family. Zaidy tried to give Ozer fatherly advice. First he told Ozer to stay away from inmate Michael Weiss, who also left the fold many years ago. Zaidy was hoping that jail would force Ozer to see the errors of his ways, and return to the Chassidishe world in which he was raised. But Ozer wanted no part of Zaide and no part of the Chassidishe world. Ozer was most happy when he sang Jewish prayers in shul. That was enough Judaism for Ozer.
It wasn’t long before Zaidy and Ozer came to blows. Within a couple of weeks Zaide rebuked Ozer for being on the computer on Shabbos. This caused a big fight. The fighting between Ozer and Zaide continued for most of the time Ozer was locked up. At one point they made up and showed respect to each other. But that didn’t last very long. Zaide can rub a guy the wrong way.
Zaide is overly friendly with any new attorneys who arrive at Otisville. But Zaide has ulterior motives. He has been trying to get out of prison for the last ten years, without any success. If only some jailhouse attorney could help him file the right motion to get him out of Otisville. I was one of those attorneys who fell for his flattery. One day I sat with him in the computer room doing legal research on the computer with the database of criminal case law. While I was typing I asked Zaide about the details of his case. I asked him why so many things he was telling me about his case didn’t add up. He quickly got angry with me and started yelling at me, calling me a “SHMUCKO” and a “FOOL”. He said he couldn’t understand how I ever passed the bar exam. Here I was trying to do him a favor and he is yelling “SHMUCKO” at me in the computer room. But at this point my legal career was long over, so I wasn’t insulted. I told him I was firing him as a client. He said fine, there are much better jailhouse lawyers in Otisville than me.
Eventually Zaide hired an immigration lawyer by the name of Earl David. “Hired” would not be an accurate word. Zaide expected all his jailhouse attorneys to work pro bono, ie., for free. I tried to get a chocolate bar out of him every now and then. After a while Earl couldn’t handle Zaide’s legal work, as Earl got released from prison. A mortgage fraud attorney by the name of Ted Turner took over as Zaidy’s jailhouse lawyer. But eventually Ted Turner got thrown in the SHU (solitary confinement) because he tried to smuggle a DVD player into the prison. Zaide was without a lawyer.
Zaidy wasn’t the only guy who Ozer fought with in prison. Ozer got in a number of fights with a guy by the name of Dr. Goldberg. Dr. Goldberg felt Ozer was a racist because Ozer used to say many unkind things about President Obama. Dr. Goldberg was not happy that inmates used language that civilized society would consider vulger, racist, and sexist. But civilized society does not exist inside a jail cell. There is no such thing as “political correctness.” Prison is a place where guys can behave like animals and get away with it. After a few days of fighting between Ozer and Dr. Goldberg, a strange picture appeared in Dr. Goldberg’s tefillin bag. It was a picture of Obama wearing a striemel. Ozer denied that he had anything to do with putting a picture of Obama sporting a streimel in Dr. Goldberg’s tefillin bag. He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity…