From left are Deuel Vocational Institution Muslim Chaplain Imam Mikhail Muslim, Native American Chaplain Mike Herman, Jewish Chaplain Rabbi Klein, previous Warden Jerome Price and Catholic Chaplain Deacon Santiago in 2014. Many faiths work together with custody and non-custody staff across CDCR to ensure religious beliefs are honored and recognized during holy days. CDCR file photo.

California prisons honor many beliefs through ceremonies, observances

By OPEC staff

For Kim Petersen, the veteran Community Resource Manager (CRM) at the California Health Care Facility (CHCF), the confluence of three holy periods for three of the world’s largest religions presented just another challenge.

Petersen, like thousands of CRMs, chaplains, imams, administrators and correctional officers across CDCR, worked hard months in advance to make sure inmates’ religious beliefs will be honored.

“You have to work with so many people – custody, chaplains, kitchen staff,” she said.

At CHCF, there is the complication of many inmates’ health also affecting the religious services. Many inmates are unable to attend services or go to meals because of health issues and so the services and meals are brought to them, she said.

“We provide cell-side services if needed,” she said.

The Muslims’ observance of daylight fasting can be a health risk to inmates by disrupting medicine-taking, for example. The prison’s imams work with CHCF to visit inmates to tell them they need not compromise their health for religious observance, she said.

The work at CHCF is repeated across the CDCR system as staff work hard to make sure inmates’ religious needs are met. This year the situation is complicated by Ramadan falling so close to Easter and Passover. Chaplains and imams willingly serve extra duty to meet inmates’ needs.

Easter is this weekend; Passover begins Friday evening, April 19, and ends the evening of the Friday after, April 27; Ramadan begins the evening of Sunday, May 5, and ends the evening of Tuesday, June 4.

Thousands of hours are spent planning the in-prison religious observances without compromising public, staff and inmate safety. Here are but a few examples of CDCR’s efforts to honor inmates’ religious belifes.

At the California Institution for Men Warden Dean Borders will host an Easter Hope event in collaboration with the Prison Fellowship, to include Christian recording artists, motivational speakers and a drama team. The events will be recorded for a documentary to be viewed on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.

Sierra Conservation Center reports they will provide inmates with religious services for Easter/Passover and Ramadan. Food services will be assisting with the meals. For Visiting, the visiting department is decorating and setting up card stock so families can make Easter cards.

At the California Medical Facility arrangements for about 160 inmates to participate in observing Ramadan. For the 30 days of required fasting, trained food handlers (cleared inmate support workers) make sure the evening meal is done properly. The end of the fast will be marked by a special meal of barbecue beef and chicken kabobs, Afghani rice, pita bread and biglawa (a dessert).

CSP-Solano embraces CDCR’s mission and code of conduct with this year’s spring and Easter festivities. The meaning of Easter symbolizes overcoming, new opportunities, and faith. However, CSP-Solano offers each religious group the opportunity to express that in their own way.

Ramadan is the most holy lunar month for all Muslims. The month begins when the new moon is sighted on May 6th or 7th and ends at the next new moon on June 4th or 5th. Muslim inmates at Solano will celebrate the Month of Ramadan with daily fasting. Food service will accommodate fasting by providing a hot dinner meal along with packaged lunch and breakfast for consumption overnight. Additional worship services will be held in the Chapel four days a week as Muslim inmates renew commitment to their faith.

The Jewish inmates will participate in the Seder which is a Jewish ritual service and ceremonial dinner for the first night or first two nights of Passover. All inmates on the kosher diet will begin receiving the Passover food on Friday afternoon.

The Catholic and Protestant inmates will be celebrating separately with a large banquet on each Level II Facility, and a joint celebration for Level III inmates. The celebration will include singling, Easter reflection, Prayer, and a banquet. The goal with each of these celebrations is to allow the inmates the opportunity to connect and strengthen their religious beliefs which if embraced will not only decrease recidivism, but make them positive members of society, which is true public safety.

Efforts are made throughout CDCR to make the observations special and meaningful.

At the California Institution for Women a non-profit group will conduct a fellowship event. There will be a casual day-time concert for the women.

At Mule Creek State Prison (MCSP), about 50 Jewish inmates will observe Passover on five yards next week. Each day, there will be a reading of the Haggadah (the Passover story) in the chapel, followed by donated Passover food.

Also, Catholic and Protestant chaplains will conduct Easter services.

“Religion and personal beliefs play a big part in rehabilitation,” said Lt. Francesa Jacobo, acting CRM. “MCSP and its staff play a big part in facilitating this aspect of rehabilitation.”

At Pleasant Valley State Prison, the observances on Palm Sunday, April 14, included giving palm branches to Catholic inmates to symbolize the palm branches the crowd scattered in the path of Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem. This Friday, inmates who are Jehovah Witnesses will be allowed to attend services to join millions of Jehovah Witnesses the world over.

Kern Valley State Prison Food Service is currently preparing Kosher meals specifically for Passover. With Ramadan beginning May 6, Chaplain M. Howard is preparing participation lists to determine eligibility and is working with the Food Service Department to prepare for the event. As for Easter weekend, the Food Service Department will be preparing barbecue chicken, mashed potatoes, vegetables and fruit crisp for the inmate population.

For the Jewish holiday of Pesach (Passover), High Desert State Prison will support the inmates observing the holiday by providing all participants with special unleavened Passover meals. Additionally, the Chaplains will hold extra Jewish services.

For Easter, Catholic inmates will be having an Easter banquet with food prepared by El Tepeyac Grille, a local community establishment in Susanville. The Chaplain will host an Easter ceremony.

For the observance of Ramadan, High Desert State Prison will support the inmates observing this worship period by providing all participants with a special pre-dawn Meal (Suhur) Ramadan Sack Lunch. Additionally, the participants will be released to the Dining Hall for the Breaking of the Fast (evening meal), prayer, and cleaning of the Dining Hall.

Avenal State Prison is hosting numerous events.

Catholic Chaplain will hold the following services:

Good Friday Services will be facilitated on all six facilities by Catholic volunteers and the Catholic Chaplain. Easter Services will be facilitated by the Catholic Chaplain on Saturday and Sunday.

Protestant Chaplain will hold the following services:

On Easter Sunday, April 21, the Protestant faith group on each yard will be celebrating with chapel services to include special music, testimony, and a Bible message on the real meaning of Easter. The services will be taking place at the regular Protestant chapel scheduled time slots.

Muslim Chaplain is conducting the following:

Here at Avenal State Prison the Islamic Community is looking forward to a wonderful Month of Ramadan also known as the Month of the Qur’an. This month the community has already started classes, educate those non-Muslims who are partaking in the fast and those who just want to be informed. Some of the topics include the meaning of the word Ramadan and a brief history of how the Holy Month started; how to fast since it’s not just the stomach fasting; and the three thirds of Ramadan, or the three Ashras – an Arabic word meaning 10, so every 10 days is another stage of Ramadan.

The Messianic Jewish Community has submitted their calendar for the High Holy Days and on April 11-12 the Community was elated to have one of Avenal’s favorite volunteers, John Shaver of The House of Yahweh, with inspiration and supplies for the Messianic Community with unleavened bread, grape juice and other goodies for the commencement of Passover, Friday, April 19.

The Native American Chaplain, on behalf of Jewish Chaplain, is conducting the following: Passover time and space will be available from Saturday, April 20, through Saturday, April 27, after sunset in the chapels for the Orthodox Jewish participants. Arrangements for Passover donations from The Aleph Institute were made and are ready for Passover distribution. Volunteer Rabbi Mendel Zirkind will conduct Passover services at Avenal State Prison.

Ironwood State Prison is also active with multiple events.

Ramadan – During this month long event, a special meal distribution for Ramadan participants will begin the evening of Saturday, May 4, and continue until the end of Ramadan, no later than Tuesday evening, June 4, depending on the sighting of the new moon. Muslim inmates will be provided with access to attend daily religious services within the Chapel, from 1500-2030 hours.

Easter – A special Easter Celebration Service and Banquet has been scheduled on all facilities during the month of April, for all interested Christian and Catholic inmate practitioners.

Passover – The beginning of the eight-day Jewish Holiday of Pesach (Passover) is on Friday, April 19, at 1954 hours, and runs through Saturday, April 27, at 2002 hours. During the entire eight-day holiday, inmates previously approved on the Kosher Diet Program shall only consume “kosher for Passover” meals. Matzo and unleavened products (cookies, cereal, etc.) are consumed during the eight day period, along with kosher meals from the vendor specifically designated “kosher for Passover.” A communal ceremonial meal called a Passover Seder will be performed the first and second night of the holiday. Observance of the Seders consists of a religious ceremony centered around ceremonial food items specific to Passover. These ceremonies will be conducted on Friday, April 19, and Saturday, April 20, from 2000-2100 hours. Jewish inmates will have regular access to the Chapel during this time frame and they have been scheduled to hold Passover Services on all facilities.

The Substance Abuse Treatment Facility are serving all faiths during their holy days.

The Jewish will have Passover (Pesach) service with Seder plates and Haggadah readings on all yards Friday from 1600 to 1645. SATF chaplains will cover.

The Protestants will have Easter service on Sunday with the exception of “C” Yard, which will have Easter services on Friday:

The Catholics will have Easter Mass on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday with the SATF Catholic Chaplain.

The Muslims will have Ramadan for an entire month beginning next month (May 6 to June 3). The inmates will get evening prayer time to observe the “breaking of the fast” prior to receiving their evening meal, which is done after sunset. The day following Ramadan, SATF is planning an EID celebration that will include poetry readings, and spiritual and motivational speeches from outside guests similar to last year. At the conclusion of the EID program, the inmates will get a banquet dinner.

Folsom State Prison‘s plans are as follows:

Easter – Catholic inmates will participate in Holy Week Services in the Grey Stone Chapel on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday. On Holy Thursday, Catholics will attend the Celebration of the Lord’s Last Supper where they will participate in the washing of the feet and the Eucharist. On Good Friday, Catholics will participate in a ceremony called the Lord’s Passion, the Scripture Reading and the Veneration of the Cross. On Holy Saturday, Catholics will celebrate the Easter Vigil Mass to begin the Easter Season, and at Easter Sunday Mass, Catholics will celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord. The Protestant Christian Community held their annual Resurrection Day Celebration Saturday, April 13, at Folsom State Prison. In attendance were the Bayside Church Band members who played spiritual and uplifting music for the attendees. Sunday April 14, the Protestant Christian Community celebrated Resurrection Day at Folsom Women’s Facility. Members of the Bayside Church Band played music while speakers provided powerful messages to the women of hope and rebirth in the spirit of the festivities.

Passover – The Jewish Community celebrated their biblical festival celebrating the freedom of their ancestors on Friday April 12, 2019. Inmates and participants were served a symbolic Kosher meal consisting of Beef Goulash with vegetables and Chicken with potatoes.

Ramadan – Folsom State Prison has 124 inmates that will be participating in the Fast for Ramadan. Inmates will break the fast with the consumption of dates at the time of Iftar, which is the evening meal that Muslims end their daily Ramadan fast at sunset.