Experiencing 9/11 from prison

Seodaemun Prison
Seth Ferranti writes at Hopes&Fears:

I was doing time at FCI Fort Dix, a low security prison in New Jersey that housed mobsters, drug dealers, drug mules, white collar guys, fraudsters, snitches, political prisoners and undocumented immigrants in 2001 when the Twin Towers crashed to the ground in New York; the events changed everything dramatically, not just out in the world, but even for those of us isolated and locked up deep inside the system.

I had a midnight orderly job in my unit and I remember being woken up by my cell mate who told me the news. I immediately went downstairs to the TV room and watched the images of the Twin Towers burning. People jumping out of the buildings. It was crazy because this was live TV. Staff and prisoners a like were in a frenzy. “I remember being in prison on September 11th,” says Michael Santos. Santos, who now runs Prison Professor, did 26 years in the Feds and was only about halfway through his sentence when we were struck. “At the time, I’d been incarcerated for 14 years and I had 12 more years of imprisonment awaiting me. A friend came to my room to tell me that our country was under attack.”

We were close to New York so a lot of inmates were worried about their families, and everyone was on the phones trying to see what was up. “As a prisoner, I had limited access to the telephone,” Santos recalls. “Many people from New York were confined with me. Some lost family members or friends in those attacks.” Unable to reach out, we could only sit and wait for news to come to us.

Widespread paranoia and forced alienation

It was a paranoid time in the world and inside our nation’s correctional facilities. People were scared and the government seemed vulnerable. Amin, a Sunni Muslim prisoner who did 20 calendars in the Feds says, “They immediately locked up all high-profile inmates everywhere,” as if they were suddenly going to rise up and take advantage of a seemingly defenseless authority. “They took all of our Islamic books and then gave us the books that they wanted us to have,” books free of anything that might promote camaraderie among Muslim inmates. Some facilities even invaded Islamic practices, appointing imams with or without the input of those practicing. There are still complaints by Muslim inmates who are being denied Halal meals necessary for their faith.

“What I noticed after 9/11 is that institutions started taking notice to odd behaviorisms [that were usually overlooked],” says a Brooklyn native we’ll call Rock, who is serving a life sentence and currently housed at FCI Otisville. “If you had a crew, group, gang or any form of unity, they actually concentrated on you to figure out what your philosophy or ideology was. They monitored the phone system and mail extra hard.” Reading materials were all under scrutiny, and priviledges seemed to disappear if there was any sort of suspicion that you were “affiliated” in any manner. “They concentrated a whole lot of time, energy, and attention to those they deemed a threat to our country, and if you conducted yourself like a person who didn’t appreciate the latitude/laws of this land; they could make your bid very uncomfortable.”

This new scrutiny even came down on me, despite my attempts to keep a low profile, to show dedication to my family who lived nearby and visited often, and my dedication to my future freedom by pursuing a bacherlor’s degree and starting a writing career while behind bars.

“A White Boyz Tale”

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