Jailhouse Islam – The Radicals Among Us
THE TWO CONDITIONS described so far — the city’s history with the Muslim Mob, and the contemporary scene inside its prisons — create a climate of great force and risk for certain young men in the city.
Men like Howard Cain, Levon Warner and Eric Floyd.
Thirty-three-year-old Cain’s rap sheet tells the story of his life. Among many arrests, he was convicted in 1996 of robbery and gun charges, and sentenced to what could have been more than a half-century of jail time. The dark-eyed, brooding Cain converted to Islam in prison, and threw himself into it wholly; he so riled up his fellow Muslim inmates that prison officials moved him to a separate area of the facility. He developed a dark zebiba — literally, “raisin” — on his forehead, a callus formed when a devout Muslim presses his head to the floor during prayer. He served nine years, and was released.
Levon Warner, 39, was a professional heavyweight boxer who had fought at venues around the mid-Atlantic, and had a long record of arrests similar to Cain’s. In 1997 a court sentenced him to a potential 15 years for robbery and gun charges. He, too, converted to a form of Islam in prison, and he grew a long beard. After he was released in 2004, he returned to boxing and won several fights, but in September 2007 a last, crushing loss at the Blue Horizon ended his career.
Like parolees Cain and Warner, Eric Floyd had spent time in and out of prisons on numerous convictions for robbery and parole violations. Like them, he had converted to Islam along the way. Unlike them, Floyd had escaped. Last February, he was serving time at a minimum-security halfway house in Reading when he simply walked away and didn’t come back.
The ease with which these men found their way back into society — repeatedly — baffles Philadelphia police commissioner Charles Ramsey. The three are only the latest examples in a long trend, he says. Several months ago, another multiple offender, Daniel Giddings — himself a convert to jailhouse Islam who had broken laws even during his time in prison — was released before serving his maximum sentence. A month later he shot and killed Highway Patrol officer Patrick McDonald in North Philadelphia, then shot another officer before falling to gunfire himself.
The very idea stirs Ramsey’s anger.
“Bullshit!” Ramsey says. “I’m all for working with folks and rehabilitation and trying to give people a second chance. But do you give them a fourth, a fifth, a 26th chance? I don’t think so.”
The great danger, he and Inspector O’Connor say, is that repeat offenders don’t sit idle in prison. “They network,” O’Connor says. “They learn their craft.”
And so — in one narrow sense — prison may do more harm than good, when inmates leave more hardened than when they arrived. They’re exposed to radical ideologies, to new personalities and better strategies.
“Many of them come out more sophisticated than when they went in, but still intent on causing harm to the community,” Ramsey says. “Not all, but some.”