In 2001, up-and-coming bad boy New York rapper “Shyne,” a protege of Sean “Diddy” Combs, was jailed after a 1999 New York City nightclub shooting incident that involved Combs and his then-girlfriend Jennifer Lopez. The rapper, who’s given name is Jamaal Michael Barrow, was convicted of reckless endangerment, possession of a firearm, and assault. He served nine years in prison, and was deported upon his release in 2009 because he is not a U.S. citizen.
Today, Barrow, a native of Belize, walks the streets of Jerusalem as Moshe Levy Ben David, his new legal name. Barrow’s maternal grandmother was an Ethiopian Jew who immigrated to Belize. “My grandmother taught me about the different struggles that Moshe Rabbeinu and David Hamelech went through – those were the point people, the standard bearers in my house,” he said.
Shyne standing in front of the Western Wall
Levy says he prayed daily and engaged in his own study of Judaism at the time of his arrest, but returned to his roots while in jail and became a practicing Jew, celebrating the holidays, keeping kosher, and observing the Sabbath with the support of prison rabbis. After his release, he traveled to Israel where he is now studying at rabbinical school. He is also preparing five new albums, two of them titled Messiah and Gangland. “My entire life screams that I have a Jewish neshama,” he explained, using the Hebrew word for soul.
It is common for inmates in the U.S. to turn to religion while serving time for crimes they committed. And while most convert to Islam – approximately 35,000 inmates annually – it’s nice to know that prisoners can find Judaism and thoughts of peace there as well.