A Geek in Prison — Part 6 — On Muslims, Christians and Jews

June 20, 2018 / by Charlie Shrem

A Geek in Prison is Bitcoin Pioneer Charlie Shrem’s account of his experience going from being a force for increasing adoption of Bitcoin before the world had heard of cryptocurrency to a 15-month stint in federal prison for selling it to the wrong people. In his excitement to spread the word about Bitcoin, Charlie fell afoul of the law and acknowledges that he committed the crime. He has since gone on to found Crypto.IQ, an educational and investment firm.


This is a post I’ve been wanting to write for a while, even since I was in prison. The following is my personal experience in prison. I do not know what happens in other prisons or county jails. Rather, I am writing about my personal experience.

When I first got to prison, I lived in Unit 1, Range 3. This was known as the “Party Range” because at night it was very loud. The Ranges downstairs were quieter, and the majority housed older folk, but my Range had a lot of younger inmates who didn’t give a shit about anything.

Basically, the ideal place to put a 24-year-old, 5-foot-4-inch kid from Brooklyn.

I grew up in a very religious Jewish Orthodox family, went to Yeshivah and studied to be a Rabbi. The advantage of growing up in Brooklyn was that I lived in a giant melting pot of world cultures. My family taught me to be tolerant of other people and, having lost family members to religious extremism, I grew up hating any type of intolerance for any religion. At any early age, I travelled a lot and became friends with Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Mormons, and people who identified with religions that don’t even have a Wikipedia page. I may not be religious anymore, but I have an immense about of respect for anyone who pledges their devotion and faith to a higher being.

So thats me. But what about everyone else? What can I expect from other inmates, especially in a prison setting where the level of education is a lot lower.

I followed the advice of a friend who spent some time in prison: “Respect first and be respected second”

When I walked into my cube that morning, Omar was praying. His prayer rug was taking up all the floor space of the cube. How do I act in this scenario? If I just hover at the entrance of the cube, it’s extremely disrespectful because I don’t want him thinking that I’m rushing him. In prison, perception is everything. I left my bags at the entrance and introduced myself to the inmate in the cube a few over. This way, I gave Omar his space and time to finish praying.

Respect first, be respected second.

Turns out, Omar was one of the leaders of the Lewisburg Muslim community, and we got a long great. When you have a lot of time and nothing to do, respectful conversations about religion and politics go really well.

We talked a lot about his learnings growing up and mine. What were his and my views about homosexuality? Punishment? Abortion? Politics? These were very heated discussions with wildly different views, but they never turned violent because of the respect we had for each other.

Over the next few weeks I got to know my brethren in the Jewish community, and we hung out all the time. Turns out, many of them were good friends with members of the Muslim community as well.

In prison, you are not defined by your religion. You are defined by who you are and how you act toward other people. Having said that, if others know you are a member of a specific community, if you act in a bad way, they will judge the community in that way. You represent the people you spend time with.

We shared resources. The chapel, the kitchen, various rooms to pray were all shared by all the religions.

On Friday evening, we had our Sabbath services around 5:30 p.m. This was our time set by the chaplain on the official schedule. We liked our seating a certain way, and the Muslim community that had services from 4:30–5:30 p.m. liked their seating arrangement different from ours.

When we walked into the chapel at 5:30 p.m., the Muslim community was reorganizing the chairs from their seating arrangements to ours to save us setup time. This was respect.

During a Muslim holiday, they asked us if they could use the chapel during our regular services. Of course we agreed. This was respect.

Respecting our fellow man for who he is and not by stereotypes goes a long way in how they treat you back.

Maybe the world can learn a few lessons from my time in Prison.

What are your thoughts? I’m always responding in the comments!

Until next time, Shalom and Salaam.