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May 1, 2013 6:34 PM   Subscribe

David Arenberg on being the only Jewish inmate in a state prison.
posted by reenum (49 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
A very interesting article - with one howler in it:

> Similarly, when I moved to New York City after college, I lived in a heavily Jewish city in which I was part of the majority.

In fact, Manhattan, only 20% Jewish, has the highest proportion of Jews of any borough.

He arrived in New York City the same time I did. The demographics have changed somewhat since, but really not so much.

It is a weird statement - he really had to be moving in very specific circles for this to be true.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 6:46 PM on May 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


This seems like a somewhat dodgy . . . nay stupid . . . nay suicidal thing to have published.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:50 PM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's from 2009. So I'm guessing he got out? (It says about 4 years left to serve.)
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:56 PM on May 1, 2013


Oddly enough, this is also featured in the Australian Business Insider today.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:09 PM on May 1, 2013


Lenny Bruce once said that no matter what you were, if you lived in NY you were Jewish.
posted by Postroad at 7:13 PM on May 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


Yes, we have zoning laws about that sort of thing here.
posted by elizardbits at 7:14 PM on May 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


I had always wondered what it was like for Jews in prison, mostly because of the whole skinhead/nazi thing. Is it different in NY than Texas or Wyoming (etc.)?
posted by rosswald at 7:27 PM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


He is still in prison.
posted by liketitanic at 7:31 PM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


possibly because he may have tried to escape

Where are you getting that from? Your link says that his sentence on his third charge (vehicle theft) isn't up until August this year.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:35 PM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


No, I realized that was wrong! I misread something in the record.
posted by liketitanic at 7:35 PM on May 1, 2013


This seems like a somewhat dodgy . . . nay stupid . . . nay suicidal thing to have published.

I kind of agree, but I suspect skinheads don't really read the Southern Poverty Law Centre's publications in great detail.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:37 PM on May 1, 2013 [15 favorites]


I suspect he never so much sat down and did the math as looked around and thought: There's a lot of Jewish people here! I fit in!

I don't see why that's such a strange notion. Even 20% is a LOT of Jewish people living in the same place, compared to most of the country.
posted by Sequence at 7:54 PM on May 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


A family member of mine's time in prison was luckily carried out safely, for the most part, because he was allowed to do the laundry of one of the heads of the Mexican gangs. For the most part he appears white and the skinheads thought he belonged with them, but luckily under the protection of that one guy no one bothered him. It could have been a lot worse. And who knows what kinds of things he won't talk about? Horrifying.

The prison system is disgusting.
posted by Malice at 8:11 PM on May 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


This seems like a somewhat dodgy . . . nay stupid . . . nay suicidal thing to have published.

I'm not clear on why. The white supremacists (if we take this at face value) clearly know he is Jewish and treat him a certain way as a result already.

(I say "if" because this feels more like a cobbling-together of pop culture cliches about prison than truth. That's not based on anything, but if it is truth it's very unconvincing truth.)
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:14 PM on May 1, 2013


The prison yard is broken down into five distinct racial categories

Is there really not any other racial or ethnic group other than the ones he mentioned? No Arabs, Vietnamese, Koreans, etc.?

Not that he would be able to join any other group, but I was just wondering.
posted by Bokmakierie at 8:16 PM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


> I don't see why that's such a strange notion. Even 20% is a LOT of Jewish people living in the same place, compared to most of the country.

Oh, absolutely - and I do sort of agree that everyone in NYC is honorary Jewish... even WASP-y me is known to use words like feh, ferkakte, meshugganah (though recently I feel like I'm preserving a tradition...)

But for me, coming to New York City at about the same time from Canada, my impression was the huge variety of people here of all races, creeds, colors, genders, shapes and sizes.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:17 PM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, and regarding prison? I think this guy should be in a prison - but not that prison. I don't think anyone should be in that prison...

Only vaguely related: I testified today in a New York City court for a criminal trial, peculiarly enough, and to rave reviews: "refreshing testimony," (defense), "by far the most entertaining witness, and coherent!" (NYT reporter). It was interesting to see the wheels of justice in motion, though truth to tell my friend was representing himself pro se and wasn't doing himself any favors (though the court was quite patient.)

Lucky for him, he's in jail, not prison, and likely to stay there for a while - at least it'll be keeping him out of trouble... he seemed pretty cheerful!
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:27 PM on May 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Fuck the for-profit prison system in this country that allows this kind of treatment to flourish.
posted by item at 8:29 PM on May 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


This seems like a somewhat dodgy . . . nay stupid . . . nay suicidal thing to have published.
I'm not clear on why. The white supremacists (if we take this at face value) clearly know he is Jewish and treat him a certain way as a result already.


He says some very direct things about how "silly" the skinheads look and behave. That does not seem like a recipe for a long and happy life in his current situation.

I suspect skinheads don't really read the Southern Poverty Law Centre's publications in great detail.

It only takes one relative of a friend of a relative...
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:45 PM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm not clear on why. The white supremacists (if we take this at face value) clearly know he is Jewish and treat him a certain way as a result already.

Because he says things that would clearly annoy the skinheads:
...the AB, notwithstanding the swastikas, lightning bolts and KKK hoods tattooed on their arms and their vile racist rhetoric, are not fundamentally ideological.
...
The skinheads are so ridiculous, both in the way they present themselves and in their social views, that it is easy to caricature and dismiss them.
...
So every time the Nazis did publicly organize since then, I was there to oppose them, not with the force of my intellect but with the strength of my fists.

But despite my lifelong opposition to Nazis, this opposition stemmed from political, not religious, considerations.
...
The oppression I suffered, the alienation and loneliness I felt, and the spiritual thirst that is starting to be quenched, have caused me to finally come into my own. I am a Jew! And this has become my fundamental defeat of the Nazis. Because I have finally come to this bone-deep understanding, I will walk out of the prison gates as a changed man, a man who has returned to the mark after having strayed for so many years. I will have finally come home.
Yes, the various groups of Nazis know that he's Jewish. They tolerate him because they need and profit off his legal skills. But, in this article, he ridicules and disrespects them, states his opposition to them, then claims a victory over them. If he did that in the yard, out loud, I think they might beat him to death.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:45 PM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


His thoughts were red thoughts: "Yes, the various groups of Nazis know that he's Jewish. They tolerate him because they need and profit off his legal skills. But, in this article, he ridicules and disrespects them, states his opposition to them, then claims a victory over them. If he did that in the yard, out loud, I think they might beat him to death."

The author does not really criticize his patrons, the Aryan Brotherhood, and reserves the ridicule for the Skinheads; with the former protecting him, the latter presumably cannot touch him:

[T]he AB, notwithstanding the swastikas, lightning bolts and KKK hoods tattooed on their arms and their vile racist rhetoric, are not fundamentally ideological. Their racism derives primarily from economic considerations […] The skinheads, by contrast, claim to be fundamentally ideological. They exist as a political entity dedicated, they say, to organizing to fight the big war, the race war, which will reassert white political dominance in the world.
posted by Aiwen at 9:02 PM on May 1, 2013


Is there really not any other racial or ethnic group other than the ones he mentioned? No Arabs, Vietnamese, Koreans, etc.?

Probably not; the US prison population is dominated by 'White', 'Black' or 'Hispanic' inmates. All other races or ethnicities are a tiny minority - under 3% nationwide in 2003 according to Human Rights Watch.

I did the maths on the most recent stats I could find (2009), and it was still under 6% then.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:03 PM on May 1, 2013


The author does not really criticize his patrons, the Aryan Brotherhood

Well, he refers to the AB's 'vile racist rhetoric', and claims a moral victory over all Nazis. But whatever.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:05 PM on May 1, 2013


Thank you, His thoughts were red thoughts.

I also came across the ADC inmate ethnic distribution stats and sure enough, as you and Arenberg say, it's pretty much just those five groups at the 13 state prisons.
posted by Bokmakierie at 9:26 PM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


On a side note: could one be in prison and be a member here ? Has it ever happened ? As it sounds, we are at most one degree away otherwise. If so, what would be one's personal share in moral culpability in discussing the author in such detail here in a medium where every statement is carved in potential in something more permanent than stone and where the consequences could be as well ?
posted by y2karl at 9:39 PM on May 1, 2013


lupus_yonderboy, that sounds so interesting! Would you mind linking to the NYT article?
posted by tickingclock at 9:49 PM on May 1, 2013


could one be in prison and be a member here ?

It's certainly possible, perhaps probable, although I doubt one would volunteer that information.

As far as former inmates, it's no secret that I'm not the only ex-con here. I've spent the last twelve years behind prison walls- either as an inmate, or a volunteer prison counselor & prison reform advocate.
posted by Hiding From Goro at 9:54 PM on May 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


The author does not really criticize his patrons, the Aryan Brotherhood, and reserves the ridicule for the Skinheads; with the former protecting him, the latter presumably cannot touch him:

The AB's have read the article (or a synopsis) and know that he is the one who wrote it. He knew that would be the case before he submitted it.

There are no secrets in prison.
posted by Hiding From Goro at 9:58 PM on May 1, 2013


I kind of agree, but I suspect skinheads don't really read the Southern Poverty Law Centre's publications in great detail.

Sure, but it's only a matter of time before this FPP gets cited on AskMe.
posted by vidur at 10:14 PM on May 1, 2013


Is there really not any other racial or ethnic group other than the ones he mentioned? No Arabs, Vietnamese, Koreans, etc.?

Not that he would be able to join any other group, but I was just wondering.


In prison, it depends on the facility... which means it depends on the state.

Arizona for example will have more Chicano and OTM inmates ('Other Than Mexican' which means Native American mainly but also other things) but not very many Filipinos or other Asian/Pacific Islander inmates. Then look at Hawaii and the situation will be reversed. Caucasian in Nebraska, African American in Louisiana, etc. Prison is simply a microcosm of the community (albeit heavily weighted against minorities).
posted by Hiding From Goro at 10:14 PM on May 1, 2013


Prison is simply a microcosm of the community

Prison is the distilled essence of American society, and also capitalism taken to it's most extreme logical conclusion.

In prison, we can see the ultimate expression of the libertarian's dream: you can have the sweat of your brow all to yourself- unless someone stronger comes and takes it away. Property rights are sacrosanct, the power of the creditor absolute, and slavery or violence are frequent punishments for insolvency or broken contracts. The strong not only economically dominate and figuratively enslave the weak- they physically conquer and literally own the weak. Fight, fuck, or fold it up.

Throughout all of this, the state is a disinterested bystander- or in many cases a willing participant (if sufficiently bribed)- the government has actually and almost totally "gotten out of the way" of the entrepreneur.

That's why I often refer to what happens inside prison as "quantum capitalism."
posted by Hiding From Goro at 10:29 PM on May 1, 2013 [20 favorites]


What's the deal with mealtime being the one context where segregation is iron-clad? Is it purely symbolic (breaking bread, etc.) or is there some practical reason (from the POV of a gang leader) for the strictness there specifically?
posted by No-sword at 11:13 PM on May 1, 2013


Well if the drug supply control thing is true, then mealtimes would be an excellent time to exchange goods if you could sit where you liked.
posted by pharm at 11:30 PM on May 1, 2013


Oddly enough, this is also featured in the Australian Business Insider today.

The US version too; I just read this piece this morning. It's a fascinating story, but why now, I wonder.
posted by homunculus at 11:55 PM on May 1, 2013


He is still in prison.

Oh hell, I hope the renewed attention doesn't have an adverse effect on his life in prison.
posted by homunculus at 12:07 AM on May 2, 2013


Eating with another race, however, is a different story.

Very much like when I went to college. (Has this changed?)
posted by IndigoJones at 5:12 AM on May 2, 2013


I misread the title and thought for a bit that he was the only Jewish inmate in any state prison, anywhere. That's not true, but does anyone know what the stat is?
posted by miyabo at 6:09 AM on May 2, 2013


On a side note: could one be in prison and be a member here ? Has it ever happened ? As it sounds, we are at most one degree away otherwise.

No, not actively/directly, because accessing the Internet is usually against prison rules, AFAIK. When I've seen blogs by prisoners, they write letters that people on the outside transcribe for them.
posted by liketitanic at 6:20 AM on May 2, 2013


I misread the title and thought for a bit that he was the only Jewish inmate in any state prison, anywhere. That's not true, but does anyone know what the stat is?

This article suggests that there are 24,000 inmates that keep kosher in prison across the US, but that only 4,000 are actually Jewish. It appears to be under 2%.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:25 AM on May 2, 2013


I misread the title and thought for a bit that he was the only Jewish inmate in any state prison, anywhere. That's not true, but does anyone know what the stat is?

6% in New York State, apparently, and about 1.7% nationally.

Also: JewsInPrison.org; NPR story about a Jew in San Quentin.
posted by liketitanic at 6:27 AM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Can you transfer to another state's prison system for safety reasons? (I mean, I doubt it, but if I was Asian I would maybe want to be in California or Washington State. Jewish - NY. Etc.)
posted by rosswald at 8:10 AM on May 2, 2013


I'm probably being naive, because when I read this I kept wondering how the other inmates knew he was Jewish. I mean, his name sounds pretty Jewish, I guess, maybe? Would it have been too risky to keep that a secret?

My mother's family is Jewish, I suppose I come from a somewhat similar background, I was raised in a community with a large Jewish population but received no religious education, never really identified as Jewish, etc. I have never really assumed that other people are able to tell from interacting with me, unless I told them. Maybe I'm wrong about that!
posted by inertia at 11:46 AM on May 2, 2013


Part of why this subject has interested me is that I am someone who "looks Jewish." For me there would be no hiding
posted by rosswald at 11:52 AM on May 2, 2013


Can you transfer to another state's prison system for safety reasons? (I mean, I doubt it, but if I was Asian I would maybe want to be in California or Washington State. Jewish - NY. Etc.)

Yes, that's the good old "inter-state compact." Difficult to convince the system to do it when it's your idea, but done with some regularity when it's the system's idea.
posted by Hiding From Goro at 7:54 PM on May 2, 2013


Would it have been too risky to keep that a secret?

Someone reads your mail, records your calls, and screens your visitors; so other inmates can bribe the staff for info (or wait for someone to just offer it up) or just reach out to someone on the outside to ask around, check you out on social media, etc. But if this guy was on special meals (the catch-all term for vegetarian/kosher/etc) then everyone would have known the first day since inmates are the ones who prepare and serve the meals. There really aren't any secrets in prison.
posted by Hiding From Goro at 8:00 PM on May 2, 2013


No, not actively/directly, because accessing the Internet is usually against prison rules, AFAIK.

Some facilities allow (very limited/restricted) internet access, but most do not.

Then again, drugs, violence and gang membership (among other things) are also against the rules.

If you can join the site from a smartphone, then you can join from inside prison. Phones are actually a major contraband problem in prisons. I mean, I doubt someone would pay to get a phone into the facility just to join a message board, but there are enough phones and sets of CC billing info floating around that I wouldn't be surprised if someone is still using an account they had before they got locked up.
posted by Hiding From Goro at 8:20 PM on May 2, 2013


Hiding from Goro--I assumed he wasn't keeping kosher in prison because he mentions growing up without a religious education and not identifying as Jewish, so it seems unlikely he would be keeping kosher. Although this article says that there are a lot more people keeping kosher in prison who aren't Jewish.


Although, I suppose I am being a bit naive to assume that this is something that could be hidden, and shaped by my own experiences assuming that no one could ever tell I am Jewish.

Rereading this, however:
I suppose this paradoxical lack of a Jewish identity in people who live in an overwhelmingly Jewish environment is characteristic only of those for whom the environment is a privileged one. When Jews living together is a feature of their oppression rather than privilege, such as in the case of those who were forced to live in the shtetls of Russia or in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany, Jewish identity becomes something that is not shunned but clung to.

It's probably very easy for me to (incorrectly) assume that Jewish identity is something that can be hidden when I have never had the experience of being oppressed, ostracized, or been an outsider because I come from a Jewish family.
posted by inertia at 7:17 AM on May 3, 2013


Can you transfer to another state's prison system for safety reasons? (I mean, I doubt it, but if I was Asian I would maybe want to be in California or Washington State. Jewish - NY. Etc.)

Who in their fucking right mind would ask to be transferred into the abusive, unlawful disgrace that is the California state prison system? Except, maybe, to be near family. But not for safety.
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:51 AM on May 3, 2013


Am I the only one that senses something hoaxy about this writing?
posted by drpynchon at 11:09 AM on May 4, 2013


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