Incarceration a Time for Reflection and Personal Growth
Paltiel noted that theRebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson of righteous memory, believed that people who were convicted of a crime should spend time in reflection and improving themselves.

There is no concept of prison in the Torah, the Rebbe taught, “because the idea of just taking away someone’s time has no moral, ethical or productive value, and that’s how many inmates view prison,” said Paltiel.

In that case, he asked, what is the value of incarceration?

By devoting time to learning and trying to better oneself, Paltiel said, “prison becomes a time of reflection and growth. It’s about being a better person and learning from your mistakes, and that changes the whole time a person spends in prison.”

According to Rabbi Yossi Cohen of the Aleph Institute, in order for Torah classes to count toward a prisoner’s time credit, the courses had to reflect and address issues relating toward combating recidivism and being a productive member of society. That meant developing classes that could, for instance, include lessons on anger management or parenting.

Currently, 194 Jewish inmates in federal prisons nationwide are taking the Sparks of Light correspondence classes as part of the First Step Act program.

Overall, there are more than 1,200 men and women enrolled in Aleph’s 32 courses, and approximately 8,000 people have participated over the years, and many more have already taken them.

One of those participants had been considering suicide when he began the classes. As he told the Aleph Institute in a letter:

“I was in a very dark place when I requested the courses. Hashem had it delivered exactly on time… . The toll of the past seven years, on my wife, children and grandchildren, had reached the point where I felt I could no longer bear another day. I read … through [the course material] several times that night, by the light in my doorway. By morning I realized the great wrong I had been about to do and flushed the pills down the toilet.

“My life,” he wrote, “is not mine to throw away.”