SMOKINCHOICES (and other musings)

March 9, 2013

Amish – life in Prison

Religious issues

Ohio Amish face unfamiliar life in federal prisons

By Thomas J. Sheeran ASSOCIATED PRESS

CLEVELAND — Sixteen Amish men and women who have lived rural, self-sufficient lives surrounded by extended family and with little outside contact are facing regimented routines in a federal prison system where almost half of inmates are behind bars for drug offenses. Modern conveniences, such as television, will be a constant temptation.

MARK LAW STEUBENVILLE HERALD STAR    In October 2011, Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla looked on as Lester Mullet, center, and his brother Johnny Mullet reviewed papers during an extradition hearing in Steubenville.

Prison rules will allow the 10 men convicted in beard- and hair-cutting attacks on fellow Amish in eastern Ohio to keep their religiously important beards, but they must wear standard prison khaki or green work uniforms instead of the dark outfits they favor. Jumper dresses will be an option for the six Amish women, who will be barred from wearing their typical long, dark dresses and bonnets.

It’s unclear where the Amish will serve their sentences. Some of the nearest options include men’s prisons in Elkton, southeast of Cleveland in Columbiana County, and in Loretto, Pa., and women’s prisons in Lexington, Ky., and Alderson, W.Va. Some of the initial prison assignments include locations in Texas and Louisiana, according to a letter circulating among defense attorneys, and other assignments could come any day.

Visits from family members might be difficult because they don’t drive modern vehicles. During the trial, relatives hired van drivers to take them more than 100 miles to the trial in Cleveland, where they often filled most courtroom seats.

“Amish people grow up with very strong communal connections and large extended families and participating in community activities, so being suddenly severed from that and isolated would certainly be a major change,” said Donald Kraybill, a longtime Amish researcher and professor at Elizabethtown College in the heart of Pennsylvania’s Amish country.

The defendants, all members of the same Amish sect, were convicted in September of hate crimes in 2011 attacks meant to shame fellow Amish they believed were straying from the strict religious interpretations espoused by the sect’s leader. Fifteen of them received sentences ranging from one to seven years; the ringleader, Samuel Mullet Sr., got 15 years.

They all rejected plea agreements that offered leniency, with some young mothers turning down possible chances for probation.

Most of the men were locked up, often in less-strict local jails, after their arrests and will have some idea of what to expect in prison. The women remained free during the trial, and several have asked to stay out of prison during their appeals. The judge rejected three such requests on Wednesday.

The timing for moving those locked up to federal prisons and for those still at home to report to begin serving terms will be up to the prison system. When they report, they will be in the custody of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.

The beard-cutting defendants aren’t likely to see many fellow Amish in prison. In the Amish region east of Cleveland where one of the attacks took place, Trumbull County Sheriff Thomas Altiere has seen only one Amish inmate in his 20 years as sheriff, and Kraybill, the researcher, knows of just one current Amish inmate.

Andy Hyde, a defense attorney for two decades in the Amish area around Holmes County south of Cleveland, has represented about 40 Amish defendants over the years and said how they handle lockup varies, much like non-Amish prisoners.

“They don’t all think alike,” he said. “There are bold, there are aggressive Amish. They are quiet; they are shy.”

Some low-key Amish won’t stand up when threatened in prison, Hyde said, but Mullet Sr. has encouraged a tough outlook.

“Grow up,” he said in a recorded phone call to a jailed son who was among the first arrested in the case. “You can take more than that. I know it’s rough.”

There’s also the danger of Amish being offended, or even damaged, by access to technology, though some Amish don’t eschew modern conveniences altogether, Kraybill noted. He wrote in his book

The Riddle of Amish Culture that some Amish have selectively adopted technology, including generators to power farm equipment and refrigerated milk-holding tanks.

Amish may have seen television at a neighbor’s home or in a public area like a restaurant, Kraybill said, “but to have it available constantly would create a whole new temptation for them.”

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