My time in jail.

Remember the nationwide drill I wrote about? The emergency sirens went off today at 10 am all over the country, wherever you happened to be standing.

And me? I was standing in Ma’asiyahu prison in Ramle. And let me tell you, it’s a little surreal to hear a siren go off in a prison.

I attended a class field trip today (class: Psychological approaches to family mediation) which took place in the Ramle complex of prisons. The professor’s goal was surely to get a different view of people who are likely involved in family conflict, although we didn’t get much of that. It was very interesting nonetheless, and as always, jives with my general philosophy that contact theory works.

Ma’asiyahu prison is a “light” prison for people at the end of long sentences or smaller crimes. The prisoners are encouraged to work and/or study to be prepared for their release (although some of them never get released). For the most part, they are free to work and walk around within the prison gates and interact with the guards.

A few noteworthy items about the experience:

#1

I got to the jail a half an hour early. For thirty minutes – I exaggerate not – I wandered aimlessly around the grounds trying to find the meeting place for my class. I asked a couple guards for directions (they had no idea) but get this: not one prison guard or army soldier (or prisoner for that matter) asked me what I was doing or why I was there. No one stopped me. Me, looking like a little girl with my backpack on; I could have been Dora the Explorer ready to help her convicted lover escape for god knows what.

#2

It turns out that this is the same prison where Omri Sharon is filling his sentence. I was actually standing in his block. I have to assume he is losing some weight, those beds are not very big. But kol hakavod to the Israeli prison system; he isn’t getting any better treatment than any one else based in the four-prisoners-a-room spacing.

#3

There is a religious section of the prison, where datiim live together and attended classes in a midrasha, keep shabbat and kashrut and so on. At first it hit me weirdly to see this men in tzizit walking around the prison yard; I come from a religious upbringing for the most part and back in New York, except for very few charedi-business theft cases, I never gave religious prisoners much of a thought.

It also hit me weirdly that there were a lot of kippah-wearing guards. Religious Jews are the prison guards for religious Jews… It’s like I live in a Jewish state or something.

I also thought it was nice that the whole prison will be doing a Pessach Seder together.

#4

Here’s something that pissed me off: The tour was given to my graduate class but also some other class/acquaintances of my professor. The latter were older and more… obnoxious. When one of the prisoners volunteered to chat with us about his experience, quite a few of my older companions went down a rude road, asking him directly why he doesn’t regret what he did (which was computerized theft) and why he doesn’t donate money to charity now to repent. In addition, they laughed in his face when he mentioned that the work he does for the jail is not in computers (as part of his punishment).

Do not the courts judge right and wrong, reward and punishment? Isn’t that the kind of democratic society we choose to live in? Who are we to judge our peers outside the court room, when they are paying back society for their crimes? I don’t think we have any right to come face to face with this man, who volunteered to be a bridge for us to view a different world, and laugh at him while he pays his debt.

Then again, I might feel differently if he were a rapist or murderer. What do I know, anyway.

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