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People are connected. I am not talking about personal relationships with friends and family. Often times we are connected to people we do not even know.  This can be through any sort of medium such a race, religion, professional affiliation of political affiliation. Even though we do not know each other, we are "connected".  As a Jew, I feel connected and sympathize with the plight of another Jew in distress even if I do not know him. The African American community came together to protest what they viewed as widespread discrimination by law enforcement even though 99.9% of those protesting had never even met or heard of the perceived victim.

Life experiences also bond people. There is a bond that exists between those of us who have had the unfortunate experience of going to prison. It is a bond that transcends race and religion. When we can we help one another both inside and outside and always hope for our friends to be released and be successful upon their release from prison. It is not a connection that anyone can understand; you have to have been to prison to really understand.

Yesterday, Sholom Rubashkin was granted clemency by President Donald Trump. I have never met Rabbi Rubashkin, and yet, I feel intimately  connected to him; firstly as a Jew and in many ways even more so as a former inmate. The criminal justice system is at its best skewed against even a guilty defendant and at its worst a system where prosecutors can persecute even the most innocent to further a personal agenda or their own careers.  Rubashkin, in my opinion represented one of the greatest white collar  miscarriages of justice in US history both in terms of how he was convicted and in terms of the outrageously disproportionate sentence of 28 years that he received. I am not going to go into the prosecutorial misconduct that was so pervasive both in terms of his indictment, but there can me no argument made that even if he was guilty, a 28 year sentence was completely out of line. It showed the criminal justice system at its absolute worst.

 The joy I felt when I read the news yesterday afternoon, and when I watched the thousands who came out to celebrate with him through the night was unlike anything I have felt since my own release 15 months ago. While Jews across the world of all stripes celebrated his release, because of their religious connection to him, I had an additional sense of joy and happiness for someone who was the victim of a system that functioned at its worst when he was sentenced. Finally, his prayers were answered and he walked out of the prison where, as he said yesterday "they thought they would bury me." It took eight years but President Trump granted him a reprieve that was long delayed.

Rubashkin is an inspiration to us all. I cannot even fathom the idea of facing 28 years in prison. To say it is daunting is an understatement. It would leave me depressed and probably even contemplating suicide. I was apprehensive about my relatively short sentence! I think that had I even faced the possibility of 28 years I would have fallen into a deep depression even prior to heading to prison.   How someone can keep his sanity when facing the prospect of being away from his friends and family for 28 years is beyond me. And yet, I have spoken to many who visited him in prison and they have said that he was always happy and kept his faith in G-d. Not only that he served as a counselor to other inmates who felt hopeless while incarcerated.

Rubashkin received a hero's welcome. But is he a hero? A few articles written in the liberal Jewish press have taken the position that he is not a hero. The articles written were so scathing and harsh that had they been written in the New York Times, we would all be pointing out the obvious Anti Semitic tones. While I have an extreme dislike for those who have written them, I assure you Rabbi Rubashkin does not. He has a personality that from what I am told leads him to have a feeling of love toward every human being.  How Rubashkin kept his faith during this horrible struggle for him and his family while facing such a bleak future is mystifying. So yes, Rubashkin is a hero; if not because he was quite possibly wrongly convicted by a biased process then for the fact that he was able to withstand everything that was thrown at him and managed to come out smiling on the other side. Justice delayed is still justice achieved.

So my message to Rubashkin is simply Mazal Tov. Mazal Tov to you and to your family who had to suffer for way to long. I admire you for the strength you have shown and for the inspiration you have provided to others who unfortunately find themselves in a similar position. It is my most sincerest hope that because of this horrible experience you reach to greatest of heights befitting a man of your unique special character and of the hero you are. Mazal Tov Mazal Tov!


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