October 14, 2014 is a day my wife and I will never forget. On that day, my wife, Emma, discovered that she was a victim of voyeurism by the now-infamous Rabbi Barry Freundel. A respected rabbi whom we had relied on proved that he was not worthy of trust. The world felt less safe.
Then, on May 15, 2015, Freundel was sentenced to 6.5 years in jail. Emma and I were happy with the judge’s decision. We sat in the courtroom during the sentencing and witnessed this once-powerful man being shackled, then taken to jail.
Freundel is currently serving his prison sentence in solitary confinement, supposedly for his own protection. My wife and I learned about the rabbi’s deterioration through the media. Now, I am lobbying for Freundel not to serve his time in solitary confinement, because of the dangers and harmful consequences of such cruel, inhumane treatment.
You might ask: With all that happened, how can I be advocating for Freundel to be released from solitary confinement? Emma and I are members of the vegan community. We do not believe in cruelty to any being, human or animal. Freundel’s actions were monstrous, but he himself is not a monster; he is a living being. And humans are social creatures. Without the benefit of other people to interact with, the mind decays. Isolation and loss of control breed anger, anxiety and hopelessness. As someone who supports animal rights, I see Freundel as I would see a lone elephant in a zoo: all alone, suffering in a cage.
Freundel committed horrible crimes. I know, as he victimized my wife. But the reason we supported the judge’s decision for Freundel to serve time was because we wanted Freundel’s rehabilitation. Solitary confinement offers no benefits, not even the hope of rehabilitation.
So, whereas I once asked the country to justly sentence this man, I now ask that we unite to rid our country of this torture. Freundel deserves an opportunity to learn from his mistakes in an environment that supports his transformation.
According to the DSM, voyeurism is a psychological disorder. Peer-reviewed, scientific journals reveal that treatment options are available. Acceptable forms of therapy include “psychotherapy, marital therapy, group therapy, family therapy, cognitive therapy, psychoanalysis and pharmacotherapy…” Absent from this list? Solitary confinement.
What these journals do indicate is that solitary confinement can cause irreversible psychological effects in as little as 15 days. For 23 hours or more per day, in what’s euphemistically called “administrative segregation” or “special housing,” prisoners are kept in bathroom-sized cells under fluorescent lights that never shut off. Video surveillance is constant. Social contact is restricted to rare glimpses of other prisoners, encounters with guards, and brief video conferences with friends or family.
I have spoken to two individuals who were once in solitary. They said that in the beginning they slept 20 hours a day, but that after a while they could not even sleep anymore. They told me that the only thing to do there is go crazy. One former inmate, who had spent nearly 3 months in solitary confinement, said that he could not imagine being in solitary for 6.5 years. He assured me that he would prefer the death penalty.
Freundel has been in solitary for the past 3 months and has our sympathy. My wife and I are not jumping for joy, nor do we believe that the he is receiving a “a taste of his own medicine.” We must show compassion and widen that circle of compassion.
A few weeks ago Emma and I were at an animal rights conference. We met many groups that prior to the conference I thought were militant; they turned out to be the kindest souls I have ever met. They refrain from the pleasure of eating meat, not because it is a God-given law, but because they do not want to harm another living creature. When the Nazis murdered my grandparents and others, they would undress them and have them stand naked like animals. They thought of the victims as animals. This is how they were able to kill so many. If the German population in Nazi Germany thought like the animal rights people do, I strongly believe that Hitler would not have had a reserve of Nazis on hand to slaughter millions of people who were different.
That’s why Emma and I have united with other animal rights activist organizations in our struggle to end solitary confinement in prison systems for Freundel and others. Let the punishment fit the crime, but do not do more harm than good. We are advocating that Freundel be moved to a facility that will enable him to repent for his crimes without losing his mind.
In Judaism, the goal is repentance, not punishment. According to the Midrash, when God was asked, “What should be the punishment for the sinner?” the response was “Let the sinner repent and he will find atonement.”
With Rosh Hashanah fast approaching, I believe that if God seeks repentance, then we should honor His wish and not push people beyond reasonable limits. After all, we are all flesh and blood.