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A Guarded Existence

C.B. Gavant

For some frum women, Pesach doesn’t feel like zeman cheiruseinu; they live in the shadow of a husband behind bars. Wives of inmates share their loneliness and struggle — and what keeps them moving forward each day.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

The finality of the events that morning still leaves Dina shaking. It was the last day her husband Avi was home.

“He was scheduled to fly out of town that day, and we’d set the alarm for six so he could finish packing before Shacharis,” Dina recalls. “Since Avi traveled regularly for business, the kids and I were used to his periodic trips.

“Suddenly I heard a knock at the door. A friend was driving Avi to the airport, but he wasn’t supposed to be that early! Bleary eyed, I ran downstairs to answer.

“Several broad-shouldered men stood on our porch. They presented their badges, which said they were from the FBI, and asked for my husband.”

Dina showed the men in, sat them down in the living room, and offered them coffee before going to call Avi.

“Avi’s brow puckered when I told him who was there, but he came down, seated himself, and answered their questions slowly. The men asked me for his passport, so I went and got it. My oldest, Baruch, woke up and came down. I led him back upstairs so he wouldn’t be in the way, then hurried back down again.

“I could sense the men were looking around our house, which creeped me out. Finally the guy in charge told me, ‘Ma’am, we’re going to have to take your husband with us. We’re putting him in handcuffs, so you might want to keep your kids away from the windows.’

“And with that, Avi was handcuffed and led out to a car at the curb. He hasn’t been home since.”

Looking back, Dina doubts that Avi knew the brokerage company that employed him was involved in fraud. They both naively assumed he’d be taken in for questioning and released later that day or maybe the next. Instead, events snowballed, and the bail conditions set were all but impossible to reach. Several hearings were held, but nothing seemed to change except for the worst.

After several false starts with lawyers who were too inexperienced or too money hungry to help, the couple found a frum lawyer who took on their case. This lawyer advised them to negotiate a plea bargain; going to trial, he warned, would result in a far worse sentence than they could ever imagine.

Today, two years after Avi’s sentencing, Dina is raising her children alone, as are other frum women whose husbands are incarcerated for reasons ranging from money fraud to more sinister crimes. These women must be both father and mother to their children while struggling to support themselves and to maintain a connection with their husbands behind bars. These women juggle many responsibilities — and face difficult dilemmas.

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