The last five years of my life have been a life changing journey, filled with some of the most challenging moments I’ve ever faced. Amidst a life that has seen its share of ups and downs, losing my dad and best friend while still in my teens, taking risks in business that looking back seem like an out of body experience, the events that occurred on May 3rd 2018 marked a turning point that would alter my future.
It all began with my unexpected arrest, a stark reminder of my life’s journey and the risks I had taken along the way. The sound of my doorbell ringing and banging on my door at 6:00 am startled me as I jumped out of bed and ran down the stairs of my home to see my wife open the door to eight FBI agents.
Handcuffed before my wife and sons, the unexpectedness of the moment seemed surreal. The weight of the words from the lead agent that I was under arrest for a list of charges that at the time I could barely comprehend was overwhelming, casting a shadow over everything I had known until that point. As the arrest process unfolded, with a ride to Manhattan to be arraigned, I found myself grappling with a rollercoaster of emotions. Fear and anxiety gripped me, while regret and introspection took hold. I couldn’t shake the worries of what lay ahead, and the prospect of an unknown period of imprisonment kept me up at night, fueling my insomnia and deepening my sense of depression. The utter lack of control over my own destiny seemed like a heavy burden I couldn’t escape.
After a long day in central booking, being shackled and held in a cell for a period of time, I was finally arraigned. The subsequent charges and indictment only added to the gravity of the situation. The consequences of spending my life living on the edge became all too real, and I knew I had to face the choices I had made and accept responsibility for my mistakes. The road ahead looked overwhelming, but I was determined to find a way to move forward and find redemption. Taking responsibility was the first step in breaking the habits of a lifetime of poor decisions that wreaked havoc on myself and family.
After nearly a year of enduring daily stress, anxiety, and an overwhelming amount of uncertainty, I found myself desperately in need of assistance. A simple Google search for a white-collar support group led me to Progressive Prison Ministries, a safe haven for people like myself, founded by Jeff Grant. Jeff’s counsel proved invaluable as he guided me through the complex decision-making process surrounding whether to accept a plea deal. His wisdom prompted me to broaden my perspective, and he encouraged me to explore other law firms before reaching a conclusion.
Taking his advice to heart, I began the journey of researching other firms, ultimately choosing to switch to a new legal team. Their fresh perspective illuminated the optimal course of action: accepting a plea. This decision was far from easy, requiring a path of self-reflection and acceptance, examining the circumstances that had led me to this point. Nevertheless, it opened the door to potential closure and healing.
As I stood in the courtroom, facing the judge who held the power to determine my fate, a profound sense of anxiety came over me. Listening to the prosecutor lay out the reasons of why the judge should provide a max sentence was hard to listen to but nevertheless it was part of my journey. The courtroom was filled with my friends and family and members of my support group including Jeff Grant. Thankfully after having my character assassinated in a one-sided self-serving winner take all sermon, it was finally my attorney’s chance to paint a more reasoned picture as to why I should be spared from a max sentence. He was brilliant and his experience in handling much larger cases was evident in his approach. As he completed his turn the anticipation grew as I awaited my sentence, acutely aware that this moment was poised to become the catalyst for a transformative pivot in my life’s trajectory.
Facing the possibility of up to 63 months, I felt a wave of relief as the judge sentenced me to 32 months. While the outcome was not what I had hoped for—honestly, I had hoped for probation—I realized, in hindsight, that I should be thankful as the situation could have been much worse.
Being sentenced to time in prison was life-altering, to say the least. The prospect of being separated from the outside world and my family, and being confined to a correctional facility, albeit a camp, was still scary. It forced me to confront the consequences of my actions head-on, to confront the person I had become, and to grapple with my past in a way I had never imagined.
Prior to my sentence being imposed in February of 2020, I had heard from some members of our white-collar support group, that Otisville camp was considered one of the more accommodating facilities for inmates, especially those that were Jewish, which piqued my interest. I spent many hours researching and making sure that where I would serve my time would provide as much comfort as possible given the circumstance. Once I made up my mind that this is where I preferred to be located during my incarceration, I requested that my lawyers ask the judge at sentencing that I be assigned to this facility.
With a 32-month stay awaiting, I knew I had to do everything in my power to make this forced hiatus from society as tolerable and meaningful as possible. As my report date approached in April, the world took an unexpected turn as the pandemic hit, causing multiple delays in my reporting date. Month after month, I requested further delays, partially fearing getting sick but also avoiding the inevitable loss of my freedom.
It wasn’t until November of 2020 that I finally decided I would not request any more delays and received a report date of January 21, 2021. The mostly self-imposed wait had given me time to ponder my situation and strategize how to make the best of my time inside. I still had not been assigned to a facility adding additional anxiety to my daily life. When I finally received a designation, it was not to where I had requested. Fortunately, after consultation with members of our support group, I was introduced to a nonprofit that helps mostly Jewish inmates in getting assigned to Otisville.
I reported at a time where the pandemic was still in full bloom and protocols required a 21-day period of quarantine in Otisville medium, (a real prison) before I could “safely” be transferred to the camp. Once I arrived at the camp, I settled into the reality of my day-to-day life, knowing I needed to find ways to make the most of this challenging period. Otisville’s Jewish community offered the opportunity to learn, practice my faith and find a sense of belonging amidst the difficulties of incarceration.
Growing up in a Jewish household that I humorously referred to as “Jew light,” we didn’t strictly observe Jewish traditions. Synagogue visits were limited to only the most religious holidays, and the Sabbath was not a regular part of our lives. However, as I delved deeper into my Jewish heritage and faith while preparing for prison, I felt a newfound intrigue about my religion. I saw this time of incarceration as an opportunity to reconnect with my roots and explore my beliefs or lack thereof more deeply.
Attending religious services daily and following Jewish traditions like praying three times a day and observing the Sabbath became an anchor during my time in the camp. The structured nature of daily practice provided me with a routine and a sense of discipline that I came to enjoy. It helped me navigate the stress and uncertainty of incarceration and gave me hope in my desire for redemption.
As I began to integrate myself in the camp’s Jewish community, I found camaraderie with fellow Jewish inmates who shared a similar upbringing, life experiences and challenges. Together, I became part of a support network that reminded me that I was not alone in my pursuit of growth and personal transformation.
Embracing my Jewish identity also allowed me to participate in special traditions and observances that brought a sense of familiarity to an otherwise unfamiliar environment. Celebrating the Sabbath and holidays with fellow inmates who shared the same faith created a sense of unity and helped foster a spirit of resilience and hope within the camp.
Beyond the religious practices, being part of the Jewish community at Otisville provided practical benefits as well. Special kosher foods which was available such as challah and chocolate babka during the Sabbath and special meals for the holidays offered a sense of familiarity and comfort, reminding each of us of our cultural heritage and providing a sense of connection to our roots.
At the beginning of my first Sabbath, the Rabbi asked if anyone of the new participants were a “Kohen”, which refers to the Aaronic priesthood, traditionally believed to be of direct descent from the biblical Aaron, brother of Moses, belonging to the Tribe of Levi.
This topic jarred a memory from my childhood, recalling an incident at my aunt’s funeral when my mother prevented my brother and I from entering the burial site, explaining that our father was a Kohen, making us ones as well. At the time, I didn’t care to inquire further, but as I shared this story with the Rabbi, he explained the importance of this distinction and the three ways one could confirm their Kohen heritage. The first was through the ketubah (Jewish marriage certificate), second a blood test, and the third was examining my father’s headstone to see if the Hebrew inscription was engraved.
Unable to find evidence in the marriage certificates, and since a blood test was not going to happen, I turned to my brother to check our father’s headstone. A snowstorm delayed his visit to the cemetery, leaving me uncertain about what he would find. Finally, after a week of anticipation, he shared the news that the inscription in Hebrew indeed confirmed our Kohen status.
Armed with this proof, I approached the Rabbi, eager to fully embrace the rituals bestowed upon Kohanim. A picture of the inscription arrived a week later, solidifying my connection to this ancient lineage and providing an even deeper sense of purpose in my faith.” I found being a direct descendent to Aaron and Moses fascinating.
I found solace and strength in my faith as a Kohen within the camp at Otisville which gave me additional impetus to learn more. The support of the Jewish community and the camaraderie with fellow inmates played a crucial role in helping me endure the difficulties and find hope in the most unexpected places.
In the midst of the darkness and uncertainty, however, I also found glimmers of hope. I realized that the next chapters of my life would be an opportunity for growth, self-discovery, and redemption. As I began this chapter of my life, I knew I had to do everything in my power to make this time meaningful, to learn from my mistakes, and to emerge a better, more resilient person.
The journey ahead was filled with challenges, but it was also a journey of self-reckoning and personal growth. As I navigated the complexities of incarceration, I discovered a spiritual strength that I never knew existed. The support of my loved ones and the camaraderie with fellow inmates played a crucial role in helping me endure the difficulties and find hope in the most unexpected places. Thankfully, with a little help from my higher power and the Cares Act I was released to home confinement on November 2nd, 2021, after 9 months and 12 days. As I write I am currently on supervised release.
As I look back on the last five years, I can’t deny the profound impact it has had on my life. The challenges I faced and the lessons I learned have shaped me into a person who values responsibility, growth, and the pursuit of redemption. My journey as a Jewish inmate became about much more than seeking advantages; it was about finding true meaning and embracing my faith in the most unexpected of circumstances.