May 9, 2016

How Kosher Prisoners Fared on Passover

New York - Keeping a kosher diet while being incarcerated has become much easier in recent years, especially in the Federal prison system. Accommodations are also made to observe the Shabbos, eat in a Sukkah, and participate in a Seder. The separation from family takes its toll although the prison officials in many cases allow homemade meals to be delivered by family members, a treat, prisoners say, which brings them a bit closer to home. This Passover was no exception as many kosher vendors successfully won bids for the Passover fare. Aryeh, a family member of Lenny who is incarcerated told Kosher Today that despite being allowed to deliver some food, the separation from family on the holidays was the most difficult. Sources say that as the population of kosher prisoners grows, there is an inequity between prison systems. For example, incarcerated individuals in some states rarely have access to hot kosher meals since the prisons have neither the facilities for freezing or heating. In some federal prisons, incarcerated kosher adherents can buy food in the commissary with their $270 a month allowance. Some who are incarcerated in facilities near large Jewish population centers fare better as chaplains and others help bring kosher food in. One example is the Federal Correctional Institution in Otisville in Upstate New York where rabbis from nearby communities often visit (and even lecture) and Shabbat fare is brought in. Supplying the kosher food is big business despite the bid process and what one vendor described as “a business of pennies.”   Aryeh added: “In one year my brother missed two family weddings and a Bar Mitzvah but somehow missing the family Seder was the hardest.”