Personal Stories

Thrown Into Jail to Save a Soul

A Hasidic couple accused of fraud finds themselves in jail. A half a year later the African American warden who was very impressed with their conduct in their difficult time started to investigate Judaism in depth.

Carol Sarah Harris is now living in Austria, and is a convert to Judaism. She told the Yated women’s magazine “Ketifah” the story of her path to Judaism.

“I grew up in a poor family”, Carol recalls her troubled childhood. “I was born into an Afro-American family that was on the lowest rung in American society. My parents were always in and out of jail and I was raised for the first two years of my life in jail with my mother. Actually I lived my whole life in the shadow of jail. My parents went out and in and my brothers joined them.

It was a sad childhood, 30 years ago when the U.S. adapted stringent imprisonment policies which were an attempt at minimizing crime and assisting people in poor neighborhoods. It didn’t work.

“When I was 10 they sent me to a government dormitory. I didn’t cry as I was used to a nomadic life up to then. To my good fortune, I had a special counselor who with all her soul tried to save as many girls as possible.”

Carol speaks of many discussions she had which lead her to decide she must change her life, which she did. She was very emotional when she was approached to join a training program to become a jail warden.

“For the first time in my life I felt here’s an opportunity to fix the wretchedness of my previous life. I whose parents were in prison and whose brothers were in and out, will go work in prison from the other side.”  

Being a prison warden is not easy and the job threw her back into memories of her difficult childhood. Carol said; “at one point I wanted to leave. But the idea I can fix something in this world made me stay. I created classrooms in prison. Because of me young women got an education in prison and left prison never to return. Every young woman who I managed to save was like a medal!”
Carol who was single and really lived the prison would have spent the rest of her life working in prison if at age 30 she wouldn’t have met this Hasidic couple who was thrown into jail falsely accused of theft.

Hasidic couple thrown in prison by accident

Eta, the young Hasidic woman thrown in prison joins the interview. “I’m a young woman from a Hasidic home. We got married. My husband got a call from his cousin in America to buy certain stocks for investment. We had no idea we’d fall into such a story.” They were convinced and took out a large loan for what the cousin promised would be an investment that would enable them to buy their own apartment in the end.
“We got on a plane and flew to America for a few days to sign some documents at a lawyer’s office for the stock investment deal. My husband’s cousin waited for us and we completed what we thought was a good sound deal. We were stopped one moment before boarding our return flight,” Eta says in a chocking voice, shaking as she remembers that moment.

“It was some stock fraud, one of the biggest in Stock Market history. The detectives were in the middle of their investigation when we came on the scene. We immediately became suspects and were thrown in jail.”

Eta, a good young woman from a Hasidic home finds herself in an American prison. She is surrounded by people from the underground; the room is old and has a strong stench and she’s terrified. Her husband is imprisoned in the neighboring cell.

In the awful darkness of her situation, Eta took out her Tehillim (Psalms) and started to pray crying to G-d to free her. She cried for her baby twins she left at home by her parents.

She then met Carol the warden who treated her very sensitively. Carol continues: “Eta was a different woman. We started talking and she burst into tears when she talked about her ordeal. She spoke of her twins at home and the unfortunate circumstances that brought them to prison. What astounded me was the way she dealt with it all, the faith that flowed out of her.”

Carol arranged for the couple to share a separate cell alone and she assisted them in the difficult period they had to endure. Carol observing the Jewish community that extended support to them was totally broken from jealousy. She always lived with loneliness and drank up their explanation about unity, loving your fellow Jew and the mitzvah of redeeming captives.

After a difficult week the couple was released due to the efforts of Jewish community activists. “After they left” Carol said, “I felt this great emptiness. I started to investigate. I wanted to know what community means and what Jews are. I started a very emotional chapter in my life.”
Carol started learning about Judaism and was drawn in and enchanted. She called Eta who left her contact details. “I want to get out of prison” she told Eta and they both started crying over the phone.

The Hasidic couple invited Carol who took off from her work to come visit them. She learned from them for a half a year more and more with great thirst. “The conversion process is difficult; not everyone can do it” Carol says.

After her conversion Carol fulfilled another dream. She found her soulmate a convert like her. “G-d showered upon me an abundance of light! I left prison life and built a truly Jewish home with my husband who is a convert like me. We now live in Austria and (like Eta) we have our own twins.”

Eta concludes the story saying: “We now understand how divine providence arranged we should end up in American prison for that week. Thank G-d we merited that through us Carol, a precious soul came to know Judaism and her pure soul has joined the chosen nation.”


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