Religion in Jail

When I was in jail in 1996, I was studying to be Jewish. I’d wanted to be a Jew for many years, eventually studying and debating for 15 years before deciding an atheist has no business converting to Judaism.

But, in jail in Orlando, I was, as far as I was concerned, Jewish.


Christian Bibles were everywhere in jail. Laid on tables in the great room were many different types of Bibles, all Christian, however. When I asked to have a Jewish Bible (without the new testament), I was told my Rabbi would have to bring me one. I did not have a Rabbi to do this at the time, so went without.

All the reading material in the library were Christian “novels” (Historical Fiction). They were simple books, all with a Christian theme, usually a pioneer woman struggling to keep her family together and the husband always being the strong one who saved the day. It was revolting. Couldn’t we get mainstream books? Apparently, they only allowed certain organizations to bring in books and, of course, they were Christian outreach programs.

The absolute worst, though, were the Revivals. I don’t think they called them that, but I did.


Our cells were in a square around the great room, bulletproof glass from ceiling to knee. Sounds flowed freely under the door.

Theo Lacy Facility jail

When the Christian church was called, I am sure every inmate attended but me. First, it was a chance to get out of the cell when it wasn’t time to be in the main room as well as a great way to blow off steam.

And yes, finding Jesus was a common theme among those in jail.


But my preferred religion was really unhappy with these meetings. They quickly became raucously loud, “Praise Jesus” repeated over and over again. Singing hymns with intense passion.

I tried not to listen. I read (the Christian books!) or tried to write, but the singing and praising permeated my space.

It annoyed me no end.

I tried to cover my head with my blanket (no pillows in jail). I tried to sleep. None of it was successful in drowning out the Revival atmosphere.

Then I was extradited to San Diego and religion took on a whole different tone there. Sure, women were Christian. They had meetings and found Jesus, but they were subdued about it. When they went to pray together, they left the compound area and, from inner knowledge, they were quiet and prayerful, not raucous and praising Jesus with raised hands and stomping feet.

What a difference!

I can only think that jails in the south must do things differently than on the west coast. The food was certainly different, why not religion?

Muslim beads
Islamic Misbaha (Arabic: مسبحة mas’baha)