Friday, February 05, 2021
When Cantor Ilana Plutzer was serving as a chaplain at Rikers Island a few years ago, she went to the kitchen to get grape juice for Jews in the jail who said they were not getting it with Shabbat meals as they were promised. Plutzer said a kitchen worker told her they did not have any. She went back another day, only to be told there was grape juice — but that she could not have it, though the jail does not use it for any other purpose.
Plutzer had wandered into one of many small battles for power and control that happen behind bars. She and several other people who have worked with Jewish detainees at Rikers said that, over the past five years, they have repeatedly heard that some corrections officers confiscate the grape-juice bottles to trade as a commodity in the jail's black market, or withhold it from detainees that they dislike or that they think are not actually Jewish.
While access to grape juice may seem trivial compared to drug sales, sexual abuse, violence and other prison tales from the screen and from real life, this dispute has broader implications for one of the few freedoms afforded to people who are incarcerated.
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