Like the children gathered around President Bush when his aide leaned over and whispered in his ear, I was in a classroom as well when I got the news. The teacher in the neighboring room came in and told my instructor that someone had flown a plane into the world trade center. We all stopped what we were doing and looked up. A million thoughts flooded my head and I somehow knew immediately that it wasn’t an accident. They sounded the alarm calling for an immediate lockdown of the unit and we all began to file back to our dorms. I wasn’t in college like most 21 year olds when the planes hit. I was in prison.
When we got back to the dorms, the guards allowed us to crowd around the televisions in the dayroom for an hour or so as we watched the live feed from New York. When the towers collapsed there followed an unsettling silence that lingered for some time. The only other times I had experienced a stillness like that in the penitentiary was right before a riot or rumble was about to kick off. This silence took on new meaning because of that. I kept my back to the wall in an act of self-preservation as we watched and waited to see who would take this as an opportunity to spread a little more lawlessness.
We got our answer when the alarms went off again calling for immediate and total lockdown. They shipped us out of the dayrooms and into our respective quarters. Some Aryan Brotherhood members had beaten a muslim within inches of his life and as they locked us down, they began to move all foreigners and practicing muslims into protective custody. The prisoners of the United States had already reached their own conclusions and were doling out justice as they saw fit.
I was sure that first day that America was going to war and that this war could take place on our soil. I remember feeling so powerless given my situation and I slowly understood that whatever would come about, I wasn’t to be a part of it. I was just a viewer and a spectator from afar, secluded from America, society, family and the threat of war and chaos because of my past actions.
On that day, in the face of unprecedented loss, helplessness and fear, so many Americans learned a little bit more about who they really were. I was definitely one of them.
(editors note-i took this photograph one year ago on the tenth anniversary)