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Sikh News Prisoner Cites Faith To Fight Florida Rule On Cutting Hair (The Palm Beach Post)


Jun 1, 2004
Prisoner cites faith to fight Florida rule on cutting hair (The Palm Beach Post)
Wed, 05 Apr 2006 04:41:50 GMT
Wednesday, April 05, 2006

For Satnam Singh, a devout Sikh, to cut his hair would be a profane act, severing him from God.
But Singh, a forger, is scheduled to enter a Florida prison next week, and the state penal code is unrelenting on the point that incoming male prisoners must receive short haircuts and close shaves, no matter what their religious beliefs.

So grave a matter is a haircut that Singh's 84-year-old father said, "Please cut off my son's head instead of cutting his hair!"
So far, Singh has been unable to get Gov. Jeb Bush or state corrections officials to allow him to keep his hair. But a Department of Corrections spokesman said Tuesday that the DOC is monitoring the case and communicating with all parties in an effort to resolve the problem before Singh arrives in Florida.
Singh began writing to the governor and the corrections department in 2003, according to his lawyer.
But with time running out, he is now being joined by an ecumenical band of Muslims, Jews, native Americans, Rastafarians and, of course, Sikhs, all of whom have religious rules regarding hair. They claim to have sent hundreds of letters and petitions with several thousand signatures to the governor.
Singh, 45, was convicted in 2003 in Fort Pierce of forgery and criminal use of personal identification information. He was sentenced to three years in federal prison. His federal imprisonment ends Sunday, and he is to be transferred to a minimum-security Florida prison within days after his release.
Arvind Singh, an attorney representing Singh but not related to him, said that, regardless of the crime, a prisoner should not be subjected to treatment that debases his religious beliefs. In other state prison systems, prisoners' hair is not universally shorn. And in Florida, female prisoners' hair is not cut.
In federal prison, his hair was not touched, but Florida prison rules require that male prisoners have their hair and beards trimmed — by force if necessary. There are no exceptions for religious reasons and so far there have been no successful court challenges of the rules.
Sikh men never cut their hair, instead winding it around the crown of the head, considered the font of communication with God. They cover their head with a turban, six or more feet of fabric carefully wrapped around their heads. Their uncut hair, their beards and their turbans are the outward symbol of their faith. In past conflicts, their enemies cut their hair to humiliate them. Unwilling to live after losing their hair, Sikh prisoners begged their captors to cut off limbs or even their heads instead.
Sikhism was founded 500 years ago in India, when that country was the scene of religious infighting. Its message is "We are all one, created by the One Creator."
Singh's first name means truth, but the theme of his criminal history is quite the opposite.
An illegal immigrant, he was accused in 2003 of using another man's name to buy an $80,000 townhouse in Port St. Lucie in 2000. He also acted as an agent from an organization called the Catholic Helping Hands Trust, which was not in fact affiliated with the Catholic Church and whose trustee was a tattoo artist from Rosslyn, Va.
When Stuart police stopped Singh in 2001, he carried a black shaving bag with 100 pieces of identification that were not his own, including birth certificates, death certificates, passports, driver licenses, military IDs and one ID belonging to a congressional staffer.
Singh had been visiting a Stuart nightclub called Silhouettes, drinking and spending heavily. Though this was behavior similar to that of terrorists living in South Florida before the Sept. 11 attacks, no link was ever made between Singh and terrorism.
Though his 84-year-old father lives in Singapore, Singh's origins remained a mystery to police. He entered the U.S. on a student visa in 1982 but never pursued an education here. Court records show Singh was convicted in 1988 of passport fraud and deported. He was sent to Canada, but came to the U.S. three days later using a different identity.
He just completed a three-year federal prison sentence for passport fraud.
Arvind Singh, his attorney, hopes to get the American Civil Liberties Union to take up Singh's cause. He also is trying to persuade Gov. Bush to review the case.
When Satnam Singh returns to Florida from the Ohio federal prison, he is expected to go first to the St. Lucie County jail, where the sheriff promised not to cut his hair, the attorney said.
But within two days, he would enter a state prison, where no such promises have been made.
Attorney Singh also hopes to persuade the ACLU and a prominent law firm to assist with the legal efforts.
"This is what we were taught since we were young, this is what we say in our prayers every day, please remember those who saved their hair until their death," said attorney Singh.
There are about 25 million Sikhs worldwide, most of them in the Indian subcontinent; others in Britain, Canada and other parts of the world. About 1,000 Sikhs are in South Florida.
"It's the equivalent of giving him the death penalty," said attorney Singh. "People have been writing, saying that they have nightmares about this. We're trying to save our identity as a people."
Singh's possible haircut looms within days of the Sikh holiday commemorating the religious prohibition against cutting hair.
About 300 supporters of Singh are planning a rally on his behalf at 2 p.m. Saturday in Tallahassee
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