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Exclusive new memoir vividly describes life inside Israeli max-security prison service!

Updated on June 21, 2015

Entrance To Top Security Cell Block

Despair, Hope and Encouragement: Inside Israeli prisons

Coffee Melts Bars—My Israeli Prison Career capsulizes Rabbi Major (ret.) Fishel Jacobs, thirteen year career as the only American to serve in the IPS at that rank and position.

Publication of the first-ever book which vividly details life inside the Israel Prison Service, IPS, is groundbreaking, eye-opening and thought provoking.

Coffee Melts Bars is an energetic book. The author, Jacobs widely opens the doors for his readers to see the IPS. But, even more critically, he opens the cells and hearts of the inhabitants: murderers, rapists, robbers and terrorists.

Chapters form separate personal stories. Every type of criminal is represented. The most (in)famous, for example, include an entire chapter dedicated to Adolph Eichmann, nazi-mastermind and the only criminal ever executed by death in Israel. Included, also, is the man which history has dubbed Israel's Al Capone. As well as an inmate who murdered the social worker who took his only daughter away to a foster home, and a female inmate who the author saved from a marriage which didn't exist by arranging the fastest divorce proceeding in the nation's history.

Throughout, Jacobs puts emphasis on the personal triumphs and fallings of his male and female inmates, almost always in their own words! The reader is pointedly reminded that each of us is only one decision, at any moment, away from disaster in their own life.

Jacobs reports a totally honest look at life behind bars. Simultaneously, he also fights to express love in some of the darkest, most desperate places. Feelings of true redemption, hope and faith permeate this work of art. The reader is left feeling unmistakably warm and inspired.

“I used Coffee as a metaphor in the book’s title,” says the author. “That’s because almost always it’s that cup of coffee which returns things to humanity, civility. ‘Can I make you of cup of coffee?’ In the outside world, that statement doesn’t mean too much. Inside prison -- between inmates or between staff -- that one statement can diffuse explosive situations. It can and does save lives.”

Jacobs’ building held 500 criminals, 200 terrorists and was staffed by over three hundred officers. Despite all that, the message of the book remains one of hope, encouragement and ultimate redemption.


  1. 33 Correctional facilities inside the IPS
  2. 25,000 inmates
  3. 60% on criminal offences, 40 % political (terrorists)
  4. Inmates are permitted family and attorney visits
  5. Inmates not convicted of terrorist convictions are permitted to complete free university degrees

Excerpt From Introduction

I’ve noticed that my working in prison fascinates people. Everyone who hears about it has to know about it. I can understand why. There’s a fascination with the unknown. What really goes on in there? Most people have probably never even seen a prison. The government usually builds them out of sight.

England actually founded Australia as an island for con- victs on January 26, 1788—the date Captain Arthur Phillip landed there with a thousand sailors, of whom 717 were convicts. In the U.S., Alcatraz Federal Prison, the Rock, was erected out in the middle of San Francisco Bay. America’s largest maximum-security penitentiary, Angola Prison, pop- ulation five thousand, is located on eighteen thousand acres of land in Louisiana—blocked in on three sides by the huge Mississippi River and on the fourth by the Tunica Hills. The place most associated in the American mind with prison was situated way up on the Hudson River: the euphemism “up the river” referred to boating inmates there, near the munici- pality of Sing Sing.

On approaching a prison, one feels an unnerving trepi- dation. Layers of barricades vacuum seal the whole works. Everything and everyone outside is out. Everything and everyone inside is in.

Armed vehicle patrols, trained dogs, concertina wire, and thick concrete walls separate the world outside from the world within. Surveillance systems, indiscernible shadows in watchtowers, and uniformed guards watch over a sea of men, each one individually identified by a computer-gener- ated inmate ID number. They pace to-and-fro in the exercise yards, intermingling, chain smoking, and whispering.

Life behind bars is not a storybook. It is not fiction. It is real flesh and blood people interacting with one another. It is dynamic. Staff work there, many until their retirement. Prisoners live there, many for the majority of their lives. Moreover, by the way, not all men do adapt equally. There are all kinds. They do all kinds of things. Some pace. Some cook. Some play backgammon all day. Some enjoy prison life. Others release energy by self-imposed regimens of exercise and sweat. Some pray. Some write home. Some never adapt at all. There’s always at least one guy standing for hours star- ing out of the bars of his cell window.

As microcosms of society, prisons tend to be ethnically diverse. This diversity complicates an already complex situ- ation. In Israel, as in the Middle East at large, this diver- sity has a heavy immediacy. Serving time in Israeli prisons are Russian inmates who, ironically, escaped decades of national internment until Communism’s fall in the 80s and 90s. Waves of illegal workers, seeking a better life—from the Philippines, Thailand, and Romania—are held for extradi- tion by immigration officials. The local criminal element is composed of its own ethnic makeup: Moroccan, Georgian, Yemenite. And, of course, there are around three thousand terrorists—AKA security prisoners—members of Hamas,

Jihad, Hizbalah, and the Popular Front, all roaming these same buildings.

As an aside, I am aware that some people will be hoping to find in this book details in the treatment of terrorists that will be incriminating to the Israel prison service. They will be disappointed and will need to look elsewhere. In my experi- ence, the overall professional and dignified modus operandi conveyed in these chapters applies to all prisoners—without exception. Frankly, I find reports of the mistreatment of such prisoners to be inaccurate and transparent in their motive.

Universally, the reality is that prisons hold people against their will. In any country, at any period of history, impris- onment is not a “natural” state for human beings. That’s not meant to be a political statement about the institution of incarceration or a call to seek possible alternatives. It’s simply stating the obvious. The Almighty created humans as productive beings. By definition, much of this is stifled by prison life. Energy stuffed up, builds up.

Am I a liberal or a conservative? I don’t think in those terms. I am a realist, and everything I’m reporting is what I saw. I have no agenda. What you will get out of my book, if you read it well, is that life behind bars is about people.

About: Rabbi Major (ret.) Fishel Jacobs, born and raised in the States, received his BA from the University of Vermont and has published eight non-fiction books, including on practical Talmudic law in use worlwide. Retired from law-enforcement in 2005 he spends his time writing, speaking and inspiring audiences all over the world.

Coffee Melts Bars is available for all digital devices, whether Kindle or iTunes and will soon be available in hard copy.

Cover of Coffee Melts Bars

Front Cover of Coffee Melts Bars - My Israeli Prison Career
Front Cover of Coffee Melts Bars - My Israeli Prison Career

Rabbi Major (ret.) Fishel Jacobs

Rabbi Major (ret.) Fishel Jacobs, in uniform.
Rabbi Major (ret.) Fishel Jacobs, in uniform.

Promo Clip Rabbi Fishel Jacobs

Your Opinion: Question about Israel

From everything you know, is Israel a fair and decent country to its inmates?

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