Thursday, April 2, 2009
Forty-Seven Days Until My Release From Taft Federal Prison Camp
Although I’m not a deeply religious man, I have always felt a connection to my Jewish heritage. Both of my parents are Jewish, and I went through lessons to prepare for my bar mitzvah. I grew up in Encino, a neighborhood with a high concentration of people with Jewish backgrounds I had read about anti-semitism, though I never felt as if I were confronted with raw hatred. That changed in prison.
In prison, administrators group hundreds of men together in relatively tight quarters. We cannot escape or even avoid each other. We share the same bathrooms, recreation areas, chow hall, and everything else. The prisoners come from various backgrounds, and they tend to group together in accordance with mutual interests.
The weather has turned spring-like here in Taft, and as I was exercising yesterday, I saw a few prisoners on the track who shared such a mutual interest. They hate Jews. Since the weather is now warmer, and they were wearing short-sleeved shirts, I could easily see their tattoos which displayed symbols of hatred. The men had the lightening bolts and numbers eight, eight, which I understand represented the eighth letter of the alphabet, Heil Hitler.
I must admit that I felt shocked to see such representations of overt hatred. Although we did not interact, the fact that I had to share close spaces with them really made me feel like a prisoner. I found myself watching them closely. They wore black boots and kept their khaki pant legs tucked inside the boots. The three men stood out as they ran around the track and did calisthenics in a paramilitary fashion. It was an uncomfortable reminder of the hatred that seethed beneath the surface of what I deluded myself into believing was a calm atmosphere.
I don’t write such descriptions to frighten the people who soon will surrender to prison. I’ve progressed through nearly one year at Taft Camp without serious altercation, and anyone who is committed to serving their sentence without disruption may adjust in the same manner. Sometimes, however, reminders pop up. Prison is a community of felons. Some of the men are dangerous. By understanding that disturbing reality, prisoners may choose adjustment patterns that minimize their exposure to conflict. Focusing on the goals I wanted to achieve through confinement, and the preparations I had to make for release helped me serve my sentence with the least amount of turmoil.