Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Muslims have faced suspicion about their religion. At the California State Prison in Folsom, that feeling has become particularly acute, says the Sacramento Bee. A Muslim inmate, considered a “good brother” by his fellow prisoners, was indicted over the summer on federal terrorism charges. Authorities allege inmate Kevin James founded a radical Islamic group while serving a 10-year sentence for robbery. He is accused of orchestrating a terrorist plot from inside Folsom’s walls, targeting National Guard sites and synagogues in the Los Angeles area for assaults and bombings. He since has been transferred to a prison in Southern California, where his trial is scheduled next month.
To many of the Muslim inmates at Folsom, some of whom prayed alongside James, the allegations are shocking and disturbing. They say the Islam they practice is one of compassion, not destruction. In California, about 10,000 of the 166,000 state inmates are Muslim. The majority are Sunni, a sect of Islam practiced by nearly 90 percent of Muslims in the world. While inmates have forfeited many rights, a federal law passed in 2000 ensures that their freedom of religion is protected. Prison system spokeswoman Terry Thornton said religion can serve as a valuable deterrent to violence and delinquency behind bars, instilling a stronger sense of right and wrong for those who have broken the law. “If an inmate is in church and practicing his religion, he’s not in his cell making a shank,” she said. “Religion enhances safety and security; the point is to transform a person’s life.”