The United States has desecrated what most Muslims consider God’s presence on earth (the Qur’an), drowned out the call to prayer with the American anthem and rock songs, used grotesque sexual assaults to undermine piety, mocked religious holidays, and engaged in freelance proselytism.
How long can we expect the memory of such abuse to endure? Does it qualify as torture according to the definition offered in John Yoo’s famous Justice Department memo—“significant psychological harm of significant duration, e.g., lasting for months or even years”? History suggests that the collective memory of this abuse will last far longer than that. Millennia ago, another religious group with strict codes of ritual purity and devotion to God underwent physical and religious torture at the hands of occupying forces, prompting insurrection. More than two thousand years later, the events accompanying that revolt are still commemorated annually. The people are the Jews, and the holiday is Hanukkah.
When Larry Levine helped prepare divorce papers for a client a few years ago, he got paid in mackerel. Once the case ended, he says, “I had a stack of macks.”
Mr. Levine and his client were prisoners in California’s Lompoc Federal Correctional Complex. Like other federal inmates around the country, they found a can of mackerel—the “mack” in prison lingo—was the standard currency.
“It’s the coin of the realm,” says Mark Bailey, who paid Mr. Levine in fish. Mr. Bailey was serving a two-year tax-fraud sentence in connection with a chain of strip clubs he owned. Mr. Levine was serving a nine-year term for drug dealing. Mr. Levine says he used his macks to get his beard trimmed, his clothes pressed and his shoes shined by other prisoners. “A haircut is two macks,” he says, as an expected tip for inmates who work in the prison barber shop.
There’s been a mackerel economy in federal prisons since about 2004, former inmates and some prison consultants say. That’s when federal prisons prohibited smoking and, by default, the cigarette pack, which was the earlier gold standard.
Lake County Sheriff Mark C. Curran Jr. sentenced himself today to a week in his own jail, saying he believes spending time behind bars will make him a better cop and a better person. “I believe that I can be a better sheriff by having a better understanding of jail operations from the perspective of an inmate in the Lake County Jail,” Curran said before being locked up. “I believe that I will receive significant introspection from staying in the jail with inmates for a week.”
Curran plans to live in a cell, eat jail food, mingle and talk with other inmates in common areas, while also attending numerous programs offered in the facility, including substance abuse counseling, parenting and educational classes, along with religious services. That immersion, he said, should give him more insight into everything from safety issues to what programs may be needed help inmates straighten out their lives and avoid future crimes.
“My experience in the jail will help me to better understand our existing programming, as well as any possible unmet needs that exist in our programming,’’ said Curran, a 45-year-old former prosecutor elected sheriff in 2006.
But Curran, a Roman Catholic, also frequently cited a spiritual desire to understand what inmates are going through and how their lives may be turned around. “In Lake County, we have embraced the scriptural mandate to love our neighbor. Your neighbor must be everyone if we are truly going to see peace on Earth,” he said. “In the eyes of society, I may be sheriff, but in God’s eyes, I am no better than anyone else.”