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A Jew in jail and beyond


REBORN?  Yarrow Kubrin says incarceration transformed him, but he still works as a consultant in the cannabis industry.
  • REBORN? Yarrow Kubrin says incarceration transformed him, but he still works as a consultant in the cannabis industry.

Jail can be hell. But not many people know that jail cells can also be a place of rebirth. Yarrow Kubrin lives in San Francisco with his wife and children. A longtime marijuana grower and dealer, he knows the two extremes that exist behind bars and inside thick walls.

Kubrin will not harvest a crop this year, though he has a bumper crop of memories in his head. As a religious Jew, he knows the joy and the sadness of Sukkot, the Jewish holiday celebrated at the end of September that traditionally marked the end of the harvest time and the culmination of the cycle of the agricultural year.

"I understand why people connect to spirituality while in jail," Kubrin says. "Spirituality is a natural reaction to depravity."

Locked up for six months, Kubrin saw the kind of depravity he had never seen before. He also experienced a sense of spiritual uplift.

Kubrin's life crashed all around him in 2010 when he was arrested and charged with possession of marijuana with intent to sell. It was the third time he was busted on pot charges. In 2010, Sonoma County police found the three big no-no's—cash, cannabis and guns—in his house. District Attorney Jill Ravitch depicted him as a threat to public safety and a menace to his own family. Local media wrote damning articles. The stories about him continue to haunt him.

What about the guns?

According to Kubrin, the weapons that the police confiscated—many of then unfired collectables intended for sports hunting—were legally acquired, legally registered and locked away. He says he did not have the key to unlock the cabinet were they were kept.

"I come from a family in which guns were part of our heritage," Kubrin says. "My father, David Kubrin, helped to register black voters in the Deep South in the 1960s. The KKK pursued him. He raised me with the idea that every family should have a rifle."

Prosecutors say Kurbrin had assault rifles, flak jackets and a shrine to the Sopranos.

What's also significant in Kubrin's case is that none of his or his father's guns were at the site where cannabis was cultivated, though a friend who was also a deputy sheriff was living at one of his properties. That deputy had a gun, a snub nose .38.

"He was not a member of our collective or our operation," Kubrin says. "He was a pal who needed a place to stay."

A longtime Sonoma County marijuana activist who spoke in confidence told me, "Every American has the right to have guns. That right applies to marijuana growers."

Kubrin echoes that sentiment. "Jewelers can have guns to protect their diamonds," he says. "Cannabis cultivators should have the same constitutional right."

After his arrest, Kubrin was lucky to be able to rely on his wife, Heather, his kids, his friends who showed up in court to lend their support, and his lawyer, Chris Andrian, who has defended marijuana growers and dealers for decades. Kubrin also had the backing of a rabbi named George Gittleman and the congregation at Shomrei Torah in Santa Rosa.

"It was a hard time for Yarrow," Gittleman says. "His whole life was turned upside down. Prison wasn't on his agenda."

Gittleman pauses for a few moments and then adds, "Most of us don't know what it means to go to jail. You lose your time and you can lose your humanity."

Gittleman's comments come just after the celebration of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur at Shomrei Torah, which were followed by Sukkot. Thousands of years ago, Sukkot was the most important Jewish holiday because it was the time of the year when people found out whether they had enough food for the year ahead, or would starve.


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