Prison Visit

David Holzel, staff writer - Atlanta Jewish Times - May 10, 1991

Atlantan Michael Rosenzweig received a gift from Jonathan Jay Pollard when he and two other attorneys visited the convicted spy in prison last week - knitted kippot.

"He's not allowed to have knitting needles," said Mr. Rosenzweig, who is active in support of Mr. Pollard's release from prison. "So he bought yarn in the commissary and knitted the kippot with pencils."

Mr. Pollard, 36, an American Jew, was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1987 for passing U.S. military secrets to Israel. The kippot were not the only surprises Mr. Rosenzweig found during his six-hour visit to the maximum-security federal penitentiary in Marion, Ill., where Mr. Pollard is held in solitary confinement.

In an interview during which he described his impressions of Mr. Pollard, the Atlanta attorney said he expected to meet a zealot with fire in his eyes.

"I found, instead, a thoughtful, very careful, methodical individual," Mr. Rosenzweig said. "He knows what he did and why he did it. What he did he did because he's a committed Jew and regarded it as his duty. He may have been misguided, but you can't doubt his sincerity."

Mr. Rosenzweig said his visit on May 2, marks the first time "ordinary people" have been allowed to visit Mr. Pollard. Previous visits were restricted to Mr. Pollard's family and rabbi and some big-name guests, such as Knesset Members and Seymour Reich, former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Mr. Pollard is held in the prison's K-Unit," which Mr. Rosenzweig said is known among prisoners as "the place from which no one returns. No one leaves except in a casket." Held in the unit are convicted murderers and John Walker, an American imprisoned for passing secrets to the Soviets.

The group of attorneys met Mr. Pollard in a small basement room adjoining K-Unit. "I saw him emerge, handcuffed, from his cell about 10 or 15 feet away," Mr. Rosenzweig said. Mr. Pollard was led into the meeting room and the door was shut behind him. "To have his handcuffs removed, he had to stick his hands through a slot in the door."

Mr. Pollard, bearded and heavy-set appeared healthy. "I hugged him and he felt solid," Mr. Rosenzweig said.

"He essentially has no contact with people," Mr. Rosenzweig said. "So he was thrilled by the visit."

Mr. Pollard is allowed to leave his cell one hour a day to exercise, Mr. Rosenzweig said. Mr. Pollard wears a kippah and eats kosher food, which consists of an unvarying regime of TV dinners. He displayed a keen sense of humor and peppered his conversation with literary allusions and references to the Torah and other Jewish sources.

"It's obvious his Jewishness is central. It's his very being," Mr. Rosenzweig said.

Jonathan Pollard is a man living in desperate conditions, but has retained his sense of self, Mr. Rosenzweig said.

The Atlanta attorney said he was impressed most by Mr. Pollard's intelligence. "He's unbelievably smart. It's a horrible waste to have that intellect locked up there."

He is allowed to read, write and receive mail. The letters he writes often don't reach their destination. "He spends a good deal of time writing to others. I was astonished at how well informed he is."

Mr. Pollard is studying about desalination and alternative energy, a field he would like to pursue were he allowed to emigrate to Israel, Mr. Rosenzweig said.

Informed of the visit in advance, Mr. Pollard came to the meeting with a prepared agenda. "It was a normal conversation in very weird circumstances," Mr. Rosenzweig said. "He was, in an odd sense, relatively relaxed. You don't have the impression of a guy beaten down in any sense. He's not wallowing in self-pity.

He regards the facility as being run as a punishment regime," Mr. Rosenzweig said. A sewer line runs outside Mr. Pollard's cell. Occasionally the effluent backs up into the cell. In addition, "It's abysmally hot and humid in the summer. Cuts don't heal. But he said there's air conditioning two floors above. For the staff, not for the prisoners, who swelter below."

Waiting at the airport to return to Atlanta, Mr. Rosenzweig found himself thinking of similarities between Mr. Pollard and Natan Sharansky, the refusenik who emerged from a Soviet prison seemingly unbent. Considered a larger-than-life figure, Mr. Sharansky turned out to be an average man in many ways.

"After I met Jay [Mr. Pollard], I thought, this guy is smarter than most people I know, more committed than most people I know, but he's not so different from most people I know.

"On some level, he has no reason to think that he'll ever get out. But he acts as if he will. He has plans. He has dreams."