A Jew in Prison

One man’s struggle to survive in a correctional system ruled by the Aryan Brotherhood

| May-June 2010

David Arenberg   had everything going for him. He was smart, the son of a research scientist and a teacher. He graduated in 1980 from the elite University of Chicago with a degree in psychology and went on to become a left-wing tenants’ rights organizer in New York City. But in 1987 he suffered a “personal tragedy” and a “political defeat” that he doesn’t want to discuss but that prompted him to leave his organizing work. Always a moderate drug user, he says, he began abusing cocaine. His brother tried to rescue him by recruiting him to run a small trucking company. Despite that work, and later taking up tenants’ rights once more, he continued his drug use and also adopted a new line of work—using computers to engage in sophisticated financial ripoffs.

Arenberg was arrested and jailed briefly for forgery in 1996, but only became an even more active con man when he was released. Finally, in 2001 Arenberg was arrested for driving under the influence. The arrest led to charges of fraud, forgery, identity theft, and vehicle theft, culminating in consecutive sentences totaling more than 13 years. Today, with four years left to serve, Arenberg, 53, is trying to sort out his life. He sent Intelligence Report the following account of his experiences as a Jew in a state prison—a harrowing tale of surviving severe prejudice in an unforgiving environment, but also a remarkable story of self-discovery.


I am always the last person to eat. It’s part of a compromise I worked out with the skinheads who run the western state prison complex where I am incarcerated. Under this compromise, I’m allowed to sit at the whites’ tables, but only after the “heads,” and then the “woods,” and then the “lames” have eaten.

Not that there’s anywhere else I could eat. The prison yard is broken into five distinct racial categories. There are the “woods” (short for peckerwoods) that encompass the whites, the “kinfolk” (blacks), the “Raza” (American-born people of Mexican descent), the “paisas” (Mexico-born Mexicans), and the “chiefs” (Native Americans). Under the rules that govern interracial relations, different races are allowed to play on the same sports teams but not play individual games (e.g., chess) together; they may be in each others’ cubicles if the situation warrants but not sit on each others’ beds. They may go to the same church services but not pray together. But if you accidentally break one of these rules, the consequences are usually pretty mild: You might get a talking to by one of the heads, or, at worst, a “chin check.”

Eating with another race, however, is a different story. It is an inviolate rule that different races may not break bread together under any circumstances. If you eat at the same table as another race, you’ll get beaten down. If you eat from the same tray, you’ll be put in the hospital. And if you eat from the same food item, that is, after a person of another race has already taken a bite of it, you can get killed.

9/19/2014 5:09:58 PM

DAVID ARENBERG NEVER SPENT A DAY IN SUPERMAX-PUBLIC DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS WEBSITE WILL PROVE THAT. I am appalled at the blatant lies, fabrications, embellishment and plain out mistruths that are written in this article. Firstly, I don’t blame the writer. He was hoodwinked. My name is Ronald Edwin and I am a JEW ! Everything I assert in this response can be verified for its veracity. I had my Bar Mitzvah in 1969 at Niles Township Congregation in Skokie, IL where I was born and lived until moving to Scottsdale, AZ in 1993. After moving to Scottsdale with my family and children I had Cardiac Issues and became addicted to Fentynal a very powerful opiate narcotic and due to the cost of the medicine which was about 15,000 thousand a month I committed fraud to acquire them and the Insurance Company had to pay. I was charged plead guilty and sentenced to four – years in prison. This is where I met David Arenberg. One only needs to go to the AZ Department of Corrections Website to verify my facts as well as Mr. Arenberg’s. You will notice that David never spent one minute in Maximum Security as he claims. Check the custody level in his file which is public information and you will notice he was never in a facility that was higher than a level 3. Maximum is a 5. As for Protective Custody he would never have had to go there had he not continually mouthed off acting arrogant and thinking he was superior to all others. The only reason he was beaten was because he promised other inmates things and not only didn’t follow through but would lie to them giving them false hope. As for David being the only Jew, that’s another lie. I’m a Jew. As a matter of fact I received a Kosher Meal my entire time in Prison. I was on many Complexes and there were always at least 3 or 4 practicing Jewish Inmates as well as several that just chose not to open up to that for whatever reason they may have had. Until I found out about his lies and true character I ate with him at Florence-North Unit every night. I distanced myself when I saw his continually scamming, conning and detrimental behavior. He is a person that seeks out drama. Aleph Institute, a well organized and generous organization can verify that because they are they overseers for Jewish Inmates in Arizona Prisons. They always sent all the accoutrements that were needed for the Holidays, gratis. As for David not being able to eat with the Whites at meals is ludicrous. In Kingman alone there are 17 Jews that are on the roster with the Chaplain when I left in August of 2014. As for Nazi’s, White Supremacists and Skinheads those types of ignorant people, their just part of the fabric of society and you deal with them as you would deal with any other issue. I never had an issue other than the occasional youngster that wanted to make a name for himself and say something stupid. I wore and continue to wear a Star of David everyday. As for any power it’s a policy in AZDOC that Skinheads and etc….have no say so and have no power whatsoever in making decisions on the complex….just check David’s file online with AZDOC, its Public Information…I could go on for pages but why ?......it’s all fantasy and David trying to be somebody he’s not….just listen to what his ex-wife stated…that should tell you everything…..if you want to elaborate on this any further please contact me at………………… ronald_edwin@aim.com

Ricky Hicks
1/14/2012 4:29:28 PM

While in prison I was a good friend of David's he and I spent many hours together talking about our respective futures without the influence of alcohol or drugs. I hope the best for David and others like him who suffer at the hands of the misinformed and poorly educated.

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