Book Review: The Prison Minyan

Otisville Correctional Facility in upstate New York isn’t technically a Jewish prison, but it has certainly earned that distinction. The minimum security penitentiary – which is very much real – has held the likes of Billy McFarland (Fyre Fest), Ken Starr, and Michael Cohen. Serving Kosher food, hosting services in a prison synagogue, and offering religious classes makes Otisville the ideal home for religious Jewish men convicted of white collar crimes.

The cast of characters seems silly – one who committed marriage fraud, another who evaded taxes through a funeral home scheme that only buried 10% of bodies according to custom, yet another who siphoned millions from his congregation – but they’re all inspired by real headlines. These men gather regularly to discuss Talmud and kibbitz, but their chit chat soon turns juicy when they learn of a high profile inmate soon joining their community. As a rat, the new inmate is viewed with contempt even before he arrives; but with their minyan discussions rooted in morality, will they protect this rat even as darker forces look to do him real harm? That’s when the book moves into the satire category, augmented by the new anti-Semitic warden who pushes the minyan to band together in funny and clever ways.

I love that the author took this unique, overlooked corner of society and blew it open. Layering in the setting of Trump’s America made it eerie, worrisome, and humorous. All of a sudden removing rugaluch from the cafeteria feels like the plot of Get Out. This book flew way way under the radar, but I think it should get a little more love.

4 out of 5 stars.

Pair with: Coney Island Hard Orange Cream Ale