I've alluded in the past for a Big Day coming. It had come today!
Today, 28/07/2005 @ 11:03 AM I was released from the IDF after four years of service.
This was one hell of a good day, to say the least. I'm now officially a mere citizen of Israel. The last four years have been... interesting.
I have served exclusively in military prisons, starting as a warder in Prison 6, which is a prison for holding IDF soldiers. The work load was crazy (19 hours a day was the norm) and the work wasn't fun. I met a lot of people that I wouldn't have met otherwise, I got to help to some of them, had two separate attempts by drug dealers (two different ones) to have a contract (the fatal kind) on me. I got a lot of people skill (mostly by necessity) and an aversion to Noblesse, which is the cigarette that the prisoners smoke.
Then I went for officers training and had the time of my life during Bahad 1 (the training base for officers in the IDF). I had a lot of really good people with me and I got to work on interesting problems (mostly unrelated to what I would do, but it's good to know that I can conquer the mountain if I have to.).
Afterward it was a post in the biggest prison in the Middle East. This time it was a prison for Palestinians terrorists, the place is called Qteziot, but most of the foreign media call it Ansar 3. I was quite shock to find out just how many horror stories there are about the prison on the net (most of it is wrong in so many levels I couldn't formulate a rebuttal even if I was allowed to).
The first thing I did when I got to Qteziot was to get personally acquainted with each of the ~500 prisoners that I was in charge of, which is something that I truly never want to do again. As a plain soldier I always thought that officers had the easy life, since they didn't deal with all the boring / ugly / annoying stuff, but for the first six months as an officer I worked much harder then I ever worked as a soldier. I had a lot of fun, and it was a good place to be in. The prison had just started to get established and I was able to influence quite a bit there (in fact, I designed the prison's logo, which caused a redesign in the logos of all the military prisons in Israel :-D ).
I served there just under two years, first as a Company Commander's Second (probably bad translation of the term), then as the prison's Operations Officer. I was also in charge of (the literal translation is Escorts Officer, which sound just as bad in Hebrew as it is in English) of securely transporting terrorists to courts, hospitals and other prisons. Near the end I was the prison's Instruction Officer, which allowed me to create some spectacularly bad Power Point presentations and some really cool movies ( in Windows Movie Maker, no less :-) ). At that point I was getting sick of the prison, there were quite a few personal changes, and I didn't like the atmosphere in the place so I had a stint in instruction soldiers fresh off Basic Training for about a month.
My new position was a prison's commander near Jenin. It is a small prison, which means that I was in charge of pretty much everything. The good side was that I was free to do mostly as I pleased, but the flip side was that I also had to handle a lot of the routine stuff myself. I'm not sure if it's good or bad that I couldn't blog about that time. Although what I'd to say would be of interest to very few. Nevertheless, it would have felt better to tell someone all those strange stories. Take for example the mess that crazy inmate in cell #3 did when he set fire to the cell because he wanted a bottle of coke (the drink, not the drug), or what happened when the transport to the asylum got to a completely different prison. Oh the other hand, maybe it's better that I didn't post those things, they are mostly insider's jokes. And I don't suppose that anyone who read this blog has spend any time working at a prison.
During the time I was in the army I had to deal with the strangest situations. What do you do when a soldier hands you a live scorpion as a parting gift, for instance? That is not something that Miss Manners ever covered, I bet. :-)
Four years have passed, I'm now a part of the reserve army of the IDF (and likely would continue serving in prisons when on reserve duty :-( ), looking back, it was interesting at times, often frustrating and hard, almost always the situation was when I had to a choice between what I was supposed to do and what I wanted to do. I got to discuss politics with a panel that included the Islamic Jihad, the Hamas and the PLO (the three main terrorists organizations) with side comments from the Democratic Front and the Communist Front (the two minor terrorists organization, which are even more fanatics than the rest, if this is possible). That was a good way to pass the night shits; we usually managed to resolve all the problems in a reasonable manner and reach world peace by 4:10 AM, by which time we had to stop so they could pray.
I was part of the Derech Chadasha (New Path) operation, during the Hudna's days (when it seemed that there might be peace in the Middle East), as Israel released close to three hundred prisoners, all of them have signed a declaration saying that they will not deal with Terror again. Just over a month later, two bombings, in Tzriffin and Jerusalem both of them were released in Derech Chadasha. It was this, among many other things, that made serving there so hard. On the one hand you are required to provide the prisoners with proper treatment and on the other hand... you listen to the news and see a bombing in Jerusalem and hear them celebrating. And that is in addition to the usual conflict of being in a position where you need to take care of people who would truly like to kill you.
I'm glad beyond words that I've finished with all of this.
I look back, and four years have passed. I'm not the same man I was when I entered the army. I grew, I learned (mostly thing I didn't want to know), I experienced both joy and sadness, had successes and failures. I wouldn't repeat it for anything, yet I wouldn't give up the experience for the world. How did a geek like me ended up being in such a place, I truly cannot say.
I remember that on the first few days of my last post I was in an interview with my commander and he mentioned that no one have ever finished such a post without at least a single criminal investigation. Talk about encouragement. I was the first to manage to do that. Thinking about it, I never once was on trial (and in this army, this means a lot, they put you to trail for losing a magazine).
I'm free to do as I please now, the Army's Phone (which they call VPN, for some reason) is no longer. I will not get calls in the middle of the night, or Friday's Shabbat Supper about whatever strange thing this or that prisoner did which require my personal attention. I will wake up in Sunday and I'll not have to go back to prison. I can now leave by no man's leave, underneath the law. Time to start a new life.
Most soldiers go to a trip abroad when they are released from the army, usually to the Far East, it's called "To Sit Under A Mushroom" and include high levels of alcohol and drugs and low level of personal hygiene. There is a nice song about such a boy, called: "Moshe, You're Not A Hedgehog." I've considered it carefully and decided that I've objections on several levels to that, so I'll pass.
Now I need to get a job and start living the life where you get up in the morning and you got a choice at what you wear.