Where Rabbi Barry Freundel spends the next 6 1/2 years now lies in the hands of Senior Judge Geoffrey Alprin and the Board of Prisons.
Joseph J., a Jewish former judicial official who served 181/2 months in federal prison for soliciting bribes from two attorneys, believes Freundel should push hard to be sent to a “satellite camp,” a stand-alone camp located next to a federal correction facility.
“A camp is very open. You are still in jail. The food is terrible. You have no privacy,” said Joseph J., who asked that his last name not be used. However, “your movement is free throughout the day” once an inmate finishes his mandatory job.
“It’s a real privilege to be in a camp,” he said. There is little fear of physical or sexual abuse, because inmates understand that any wrongdoing can send them to a more restrictive cellblock “with barbed wires.”
Freundel, the former rabbi of Washington, D.C.’s Kesher Israel congregation who was sentenced May 15 for multiple counts of surreptitiously recording women as they used the National Capital Mikvah next to his synagogue, is eligible to serve in a satellite camp as his sentence is less than 10 years and his crime was nonviolent, Joseph J. said.
Although it’s been 13 years since Joseph J. walked out of prison, he still recalls the “basically inedible food” and “the very, very poor mattress” that caused him to spend $5 over and over again to purchase wood from the woodshop that he used for slats under his bed. Those slats were illegal and often confiscated by guards.
Joseph J. worked from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the prison kitchen, preparing lunches and dinners. Other jobs
Freundel may be assigned to include office or machine shop work, he said.
While serving in a satellite camp is preferable, Joseph J. stressed that “it is not a country club.” He slept on a bunk bed in one of two large L-shaped rooms, each holding 200 prisoners. Of those 400 prisoners,
40 were Jewish.
Sleeping “can be tough if you are next to a snorer,” he said. The one pillow he was allocated was not a good one, he said. “People scrounge for pillows.”
Breakfast is the best meal, although Joseph J. said his favorite meal was the half chicken served for lunch one day a week. Meals included a cold bar, usually salad, and a hot bar, which usually consisted of vegetable soup, rice and beans. “Old army cheese” is frequently included in many meals.
“I lost 20, 22 pounds,” especially in the beginning. New inmates often were “in such a state at first, you can’t eat,” he said.
A normal day included being awakened at 6:10 a.m. for the first of several head counts. Then it was on to breakfast before heading to a job. At 11 a.m., inmates changed from their work clothes back to their prison khaki or green uniform for
another count and lunch.
Following the end of the workday, there was another count at 4 p.m. The rest of the day included free time until dinner and more free time until 10 p.m., when inmates had to return to their bunks for another count.
During free time, prisoners could watch television, exercise on the grounds, play softball, run on the track, work out in the gym or go to the library. Joseph J. spent much of his unsupervised time in the library, reading a total of 185 books during his stay.
In a minimum security facility, where Freundel also could be sent, there is freedom of movement “to an extent,” Joseph J. said. A prisoner can go somewhere “on the hour,” only after telling a prison official where he was headed, he said.
Prisoners do receive mail, but delivery is “sporadic at best.” Joseph J. subscribed to The Jewish Chronicle of Pittsburgh. “Sometimes I would go six weeks without and then there would be three” newspapers delivered in one day.
Joseph J. prayed with his fellow Jewish inmates. There was a Jewish chaplain attached to his camp.
Freundel will be able to remain observant. “We as an institution make sure,” said Rabbi Moishe Vogel, executive director of the Aleph Institute-N.E. Regional Headquarters, a not-for-profit Jewish organization aiding Jews in prison and their families.
Prisoners “are able to pray three times a day,” he said. They also can have tefillin and a prayer book, although those items first must first go through a security check, Vogel said.
The Aleph Institute strives to make sure every prison has a rabbi and that its volunteers visit prisoners. The organization also works with inmates once they are free and is available to assist family members of inmates, who Vogel called “the silent sufferers of all this, sitting at home.”
As long as Freundel registers for the certified food menu, he will be provided with kosher meals and kosher for Passover ones as well.
Vogel would not be surprised if Freundel is sent to a prison where there are other Orthodox Jews.
“Keeping the faith will help them when they get out,” Vogel said of Jewish inmates. His organization has between 8,000 and 9,000 Jewish prisoners in its national database, but “we know there are many more who don’t identify as Jewish.”
Once Freundel finishes his time in prison, he is likely to spend time in a halfway house, followed by months under supervision.
Said Vogel: “When he comes out, he will know who his friends were.”