3 Shvat 5781 / Saturday, January 16, 2021 | Torah Reading: Va'era
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It’s Never Too Late    

It’s Never Too Late

How can we help someone who has no ambition to be anything but a drug addict and lead a life of violence and crime? What kind of rehabilitation is possible?


Who did you look up to when you were young? What personal qualities and abilities did that person have that you admired and wanted to emulate? Did you admire someone who was quiet and studious; sociable and humorous; sporty; artsy or what?
Whoever you picked as a role model was someone who was successful in your eyes. They were people who offered you a healthy ideal of what you could shoot for in life. Whatever you saw in that person was something you wanted for yourself.
Can you imagine wanting to be a thief and a drug dealer? There are plenty of children who are dreaming right now of being a killer or the most powerful, wealthy drug lord in the neighborhood – and why not? They lead lives of excitement; they never run out of money and drugs and everybody wants to be their friend.  If your parent beat you so badly that you couldn’t go to school for weeks at a time; if you were so depressed that you wanted to throw yourself out a window; if you were literally starving for just a smile or good word from anyone; do you really think that you could resist a charismatic new “parent” who feeds you, introduces you to bars, drugs, and an exciting life of crime – just like on T.V.?
Once you successfully rob your first store or sell your first gram of dope you might think: “Hey, I’m pretty good at this. I might as well become the best criminal I can be.” If you were never praised for anything in your life other than robbing a car or a Seven Eleven store, is it so hard to imagine that you would want to do it again and again?
But when you get to jail, the “party” is over. Now it’s every man for himself - unless you’re in a gang.  If you’re not, you’ll learn quickly about how things are done on the “inside.” If you don’t fight back they’ll label you a sissy, and take whatever they want from you; if you do fight back, now you’ll be facing not one but 70. You could get stabbed in the neck going up the stairwell or get your face burned off if someone thought you stepped in front of him on line.
For child molesters prison is virtually a death sentence.  Most guys in prison were molested themselves and will go to any length to obtain revenge. It doesn’t matter if the molester is a frail old man. His blood will be everywhere.
How can we help someone who has no ambition to be anything but a drug addict and lead a life of violence and crime? What kind of rehabilitation is possible with someone who is “bored” by obeying the law; who lives for the feeling of omnipotence that he gets from meth and crack cocaine? How can you help someone who thinks you’re an idiot for leaving your keys in your car and you deserve to have it stolen?  What kind of rehabilitation will work with those lost souls whose only life goal is to risk everything and not get caught? How can you save someone whose “ambition” is to pit themselves against anyone who gets in their way?
There are two types of people in prison.
There’s one type who is purely evil.  This type hides knives and needles in his body which he’ll use to threaten, stab and kill while the guards are too frightened to enter the cell. By the time backup arrives with protective gear, it’s too late. This type has a 30-year sentence hanging over him, and feels he has nothing to lose if he’s slapped with another 5 or 10 years.  His mission in life is to bring as many others down as he can. He cannot be helped and should not be shown any mercy. In a just society, based on Jewish law we would differentiate between people who have no intention to stop their violence and those who want to lead a decent life and don’t yet know how.
The second type turns to G-d because now he must survive amongst hard core murderers, rapists, sadists and thieves.  They want to hear stories of hope and inspiration such as how Joseph triumphed over being sold into slavery and imprisoned in Egypt; how Rebbe Shimon reached his spiritual heights by escaping from the Romans and being imprisoned in a cave for 13 years; how King David and Rabbi Akiva overcame complete family-rejection and dire poverty to become famous for all time. They want to hear about how Jacob survived when his brother Esav vowed to kill him.  They are fascinated with the incredible mercy that G-d showed to Cain, the world’s first murderer, by telling him that if he just changed his ways that G-d would forgive him and even protect him from being harmed by others.
In prison everything is taken from you. You can’t own anything because maybe you might make it into a weapon. All you can own are your eyeglasses and a Bible if you have one. The English versions of Rabbi Arush’s book that have been translated by Rabbi Brody are accepted in prison. For some prisoners, these English books are their most prized possessions. One prisoner who I speak with regularly literally can’t sleep in that environment unless the books are with him under the covers.
Just yesterday, I heard about another Jewish boy who fell into a life of crime. I knew him and his family when he was a young child. He was an adorable child with so many good qualities, but he was very angry about something and apparently that went unaddressed.  A few weeks ago my wife heard that he was selling drugs and predicted that he would end up in prison. Unfortunately that prediction has come true.
May this Chanukah season be a time of great miracles for anyone who is locked up and is fighting to discover who he really is. May the G-d of Israel help him to find his way back home. Amen.


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