In the 2017, Mendel Jacobson spent a month providing chaplaincy services at a series of prisons, along with a fellow rabbinical student. He describes the first of 30 such visits:
Watching inmates pray was a sight to behold. Knowing their crimes—some of them were serial killers and rapists—it was hard to reconcile the ostensible purity of their prayers with their past. We then moved to group study. Because our visit coincided with the date of the destruction of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem and the subsequent exile, we discussed the nature of exile and redemption. Just as the Jews had survived the exile for 2,000 years with their traditions intact, these Jews could survive their own exile in prison and remain connected to their faith. They seemed to accept the message. We then ended the visit talking individually to the inmates, hearing about their pre-incarceration lives, before we were escorted back to our car.
Over the course of these visits, Jacobson came to a realization about family, community, and crime:
The contrast between our own childhoods and that of the inmates we met was striking. Brought up in a devoutly religious community that bred strong, healthy families, we had been formed to be upstanding citizens. For us to have become criminals would have entailed rebelling against everything our parents and community had taught us. These inmates, [by contrast], had been primed for criminality during their childhoods. For them not to have become criminals would have constituted an act of rebellion.
Our conversations with the inmates revealed just how much their families had negatively impacted them. Many never had a parent or positive role model to lovingly discipline them when they needed it. With no family or community support, a life of crime, drugs, and gangs beckoned.