People Who Were In Jail On 9/11 Reveal What The Experience Was Like

People Who Were In Jail On 9/11 Reveal What The Experience Was Like

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Most of the world was glued to their televisions on September 11, 2001, trying to figure out what was happening. But what if your access to information was limited?

Reddit user dancingbanana123 asked "People who were in prison during 9/11, what was that like?"

Here are the responses from the people who learned of the terrorist attacks from behind bars.

Australian Perspective

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It was weird. I was in minimum security at the time and it was night (because hemispheres). I got out of the shower and my flatmate (it was more like a 2br unit than a cellblock as we were in min near the ends of long sentences) had the news on. That was weird cos she usually wasn't interested in the news. She should have been watching reruns of "Whose line is it anyway?"

I watched the newsreader talking as the first tower collapsed in the live feed square in the corner of the screen. The newsreader kind of gasped and I sat down in my towel and stayed up watching for the next few hours. After that I had the radio going all night in bed. I'd never used the radio for anything other than an alarm before.

The next day, nobody was really hassled about going to work. Almost everyone was sitting watching the news all day and freaking out about what it meant. Ladies went from unit to unit with biscuits (cookies) and snacks to talk about it. Was our country going to be pulled in another war because of our alliance with the US?

Turned out yes, yes and more yes to that question. I wrote an article about it for the prison magazine. The live feed was very disturbing - a lot of what was shown there was never shown on commercial tv again. Didn't take long for things to return to normal, though.

Sounds of Silence

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I was doing an early shift in a big maximum security center. I was in the intake area where all the inmates go before they get taken to court.

At the time about 200 inmates a day were going to court. It was normally a really noisy area with tv's showing crappy morning shows which you couldn't hear anyway.

That morning was quiet, almost silent, you could hear a pin drop. I never saw it like that before or since. Everyone just knew what they were witnessing was a big deal.


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I was in maximum security (Foothills Correctional Institution) Morganton, NC. That morning I was in my C++ College course when another inmate came in late saying the World Trade Center was attacked by terrorists.

I was about to graduate in a few months and had the ability to leave the college area and head back to my Unit to watch TV. After realizing it was serious I went to my single cell and started strapping up in case martial law was declared.

Scary times...

Momentary Chaos

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I was in a level 4, maximum security in Connecticut at the time.

It was very odd, some people fired cells some guys flooded, cops were in shock, some things got out of hand immediately afterwards.

A day or two later it was business as usual.

No Concept of Severity

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I was serving 9 and a half months and was 8 days away from getting out. I was in a dorm setting and we were allowed to use the phones early in the morning.

One of my fellow inmates had talked to a family member and woke up the guy next to me and said "planes just flew into the World Trade Center".

That was pretty much all we knew. There was no sense of chaos or anything like that. I don't think we realized how bad it was until later that night. I just remember thinking "if sh!# really goes down I hope it's after my release date". For the most part it felt like it was just another day.

Family Concerns

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9/11 is significant to me for not only being locked up at the time but my mother was flying out of Boston that morning from Logan Airport. The airport where 2 of the planes were hijacked.

That morning I was walking across the top tier about to take a shower and below the TV's were on. The 1st plane had crashed already and the networks were still unsure of what was going on. It was just coverage of the tower burning. Then a girl points to the screen and yells and I watch the 2nd plane hit. Some were going to phones calling family who lived in New York. I proceeded to take a shower.

As I was showering I said out loud that bin laden came back to take out towers and finish the job. Little did I know I was actually right. It also was time I realized my Mom was in Boston and the news said that's where planes came from. I was Like F#$% My Mom might be on those planes! Panic flowed through me instantly. She was leaving Boston that morning to return home that day for I had court the next morning and she was going to court with me. Anyway, I jumped out the shower, got dressed and booked it to the phone to call my Dad. He answered. I said immediately was that her plane? He paused and slowly said he didn't think so for her flight was like at 9AM or something. He said he had been trying to call her but the cell lines were jammed. It gave me huge sigh relief but I was still freaked out cuz of all the misinformation going around that terrible day. Later I found out the FBI swarmed the airport and she stayed with my Aunt until she could get home via train and car 3 days later cuz all flights were grounded for days.

It was awful feeling that I'm not only locked up watching the world go to sh!#, and I can't even do anything but sit and watch helplessly all the while wondering if my Mom was on one of the planes. Terrible feeling. The not knowing. It was such a scary day that I hope we will never see again.

Howard Stern Bit

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Michigan level 2, medium security. I was laying in my bunk listening to Howard Stern on my am/fm cassette player during count time. It was very weird. I thought he was doing some bit for a few minutes and was like 'wtf?'. If I recall correctly he kept his show going longer than it was supposed to and I just stayed in my cell and listened.

I don't recall if they put us on lock down. Honestly from what I remember it was still fairly normal afterwards.


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During 9/11, I was incarcerated at the Correctional Industrial Facility in Pendleton, Indiana, serving a 30-year sentence for murder. I was working in the Chapel as a clerk, just outside of the Chaplain's office. In his office was a TV, and when the first plane struck the WTC and the news flash interrupted the current program, I was in shock that such a horrific accident could happen. When the second plane struck, I knew in that instant that it was not an accident, but a deliberate act of war against the United States. At that moment, the guards and administration also recognized that a serious national event was occurring. All work details were immediately canceled, and all of us inmates were escorted back to our cells. The entire prison was eerily quiet because everyone was either in shock or realized that the United States had just suffered an act of war. The prison was placed on lockdown, not only to prevent rioting, but also because no one knew what was going to happen in the coming hours or days. My cellmate had a TV, and we watched in horror as the events of the day unfolded. There were some inmates who found pleasure in the government being attacked, but these were very much in the minority. The vast majority of inmates, especially the veterans, were horrified.

There were many times when I was in prison that I felt helpless and incapacitated. But never more so than on September 11th, 2001. If I could have, I would have rushed to New York to dig through the rubble with my bare hands. But I couldn't. Never had I felt so acutely the crushing weight of those walls and those bars. I am a naturalized citizen, by choice, because I love this country. I committed a crime, and I paid my debt, but I harbor no ill will against the government for my incarceration. I broke the law, I got what I deserved. The United States is the greatest nation on earth (my incarceration notwithstanding), and on that day I would have done whatever was necessary to protect it. If only I could have. To this day, that is one of my greatest regrets.

72 Hour Delay

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We didn't know what happened, we all thought somebody escaped. That's what the older prisoners told us anyway. No TV, no newspapers, no radio, no work (we were kitchen staff and served 2 meals per day) and we didn't have trays, instead it was bagged lunch for everybody (PB&J and a carton of milk) for three days.

After the first 12-15 hours the older inmates were telling us "It could be a riot in another block." because it was too quiet. Any stirs by the inmates, the loudspeaker would come on and tell us we are on lockdown.

When we found out, 72 hours later, it was total shock. We were in California and we didn't know if our families were OK or what. I had to wait 2 hours to make a phone call to my family.

I had to have my family in CA contact family in NJ and tell them to accept the collect call from me. I wouldn't take anybodies word that everyone was alive.


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For us, they shut down the yard.

When we went inside the tv was on which wasn't normal for that time of day so we all knew that something was up.

Then we watched as the towers fell. They let those of us with family in NY call them to check on them.

Felt helpless.

Grudging Respect

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I was two years into a 12 year sentence for attempted murder in a maximum security prison in Connecticut, maybe 100 miles from where the towers fell. I was outside my cellblock on my job assignment in a prison industry program when it happened, we were all signing out tools and getting ready for work when they called for the lock down over the intercom. It wasn't anything out of the ordinary, prison wide lockdowns happened occasionally for a variety of reasons and in fact we were due for the annual prison wide shake down so we all assumed that's what it was. As I was heading back to my workstation to gather up my tools (and dispose of my contraband lol) I overheard one of COs say that New York just got attacked and we were at war, I just assumed bullsh!# and went about my business but it quickly became clear that something was up. The COs seemed panicked and they were rushing us out, I didn't even get a pat down on the way out. Normally if you're getting locked down because of a disturbance in the prison the COs feel the need to be a-holes to the guys that were just minding their business on the other side of the complex but they weren't like that, they kept telling us to just get back to our cells and we'd find out what's up.

I should mention here that most inmates had TVs in their cells. My cell mate and I arrived back at our cell at roughly the same instant, immediately hopped on our bunks and stayed there glued to our TVs for the next four hours. I got back about ten minutes before the second plane hit and when it hit I remember being so shocked that something like that was happening so close to me that I looked out the window to make sure the world wasn't ending.

So back story on my relationship with the cell mate. This guy just moved in about a month ago, he was a African-American Muslim from New York City, I was a white boy from the country with a chip on my shoulder. Needless to say there was your classic culture clash and we butted heads a lot in the beginning but gradually settled into a mutual respect relationship and coexisted. Up until that day we hadn't spoken in about two weeks. I know people wonder how you can spend all day in a cell with a person and never speak but honestly those are the best cellies, try getting locked in a cell with a guy that's constantly bitching about his problems and you'll know what I mean.

So that fateful day after about 4 hours they brought lunch, my cell mate went out to get it and we broke our vows of silence over egg salad. I just remember him being irate that it happened in his city and heartbroken over the damage this would do to his religion. I didn't realize it at the time but he was spot on with some of the stuff that he was prophesying that day. He was so apologetic for his religion, it was the first time I'd actually seen that miserable bastard vulnerable. We came off lock down 3 days later and things went back to routine quickly because that's how you get through a long prison sentence, just follow the routine. My cell mate got his backside kicked over a card game about a week later and I never saw him again but I credit him with the fact that I'm not one of those people that believe all Muslims are terrorists.


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I was in prison from October 2000 to June 15th 2002. On June 3rd 2001 I took my shahada (became a Muslim). As a white inmate this was pretty difficult. I was the only white Muslim in the prison I was in. So there was some extra heat on me for that. But it had subsided...

September 11th 2001 I was awoken by another inmate...turned on the tv and watched the second plane hit live while the first was smoking. We (the Muslim community) were all approached by the staff and were all offered protective custody status once they figured out it was a terrorist attack and Osama bin Laden was one of the masterminds. It was a very trying time. We would make salat (pray) on the yard in the evening together. It was a scary time. We had a few "meetings" with outside ministers and imams where we all tried to come together and understand things.

Religious Understanding

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I was in prison in Missouri at the time, minimum security camp (Tipton).

Even though there wasn't much of a security risk inmate wise, when the planes hit it was about 30 minutes later everyone was told to report back to our buildings. Temporary lock down was in place, and the closest military base had fighter jets on patrol almost immediately. Even though we had to go on lockdown, almost everyone was already in a cubicle watching as the 2nd plane hit.

"Holy f-" was about the most common expletive, as was "was that f'ing real?"

Religious groups were the main concern, as there was a strong Nation of Islam and Muslim population.

Luckily I was part of a multi faith group, being with my Wiccan group mainly, that spoke and shared beliefs, experiences, and sat in on each other's respective faith meetings and ceremonies. It was a very unique and interesting in between sort of group and time for about a month after 9-11 happened. I like to think the openness our eclectic mix of faiths possessed helped bridge the gap between opposite groups and their response to such an extreme point in our history.

Spectre of War

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It was shortly after count had cleared and I had just walked outside to the yard before going to my job in the education department. The inmate I worked with asked me if I heard that we were at war and that they had attacked New York. I remember my belly was in a knot thinking Oh sh!# we're at war and I'm stuck in here and my family is out there.

I grew up in the 80s and remembered that cold war fear that the Russians were gonna take over the country so that's what I was thinking when I heard war. I was only a few years into a very long sentence so I didn't know what to think. When we went into the classroom we rigged the TV to catch channels over the antenna, we were all glued to the TV and I'll never forget watching people jump to their deaths. I called my folks and said we loved each other and my dad reassured me that we weren't going to be taken over by another country. We had like 15 channels on TV in our units and I remember every single channel had the news on, even BET.

Rumor Mill

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I had just recently arrived in the system after sitting in county for a while, so was still in Diagnostics where all your processing like medical and affiliations and job placement stuff happens. I remember being still asleep when a guard turned on the lights and rolled the TV into the dorm. (Intake's had been torn down by the last batch, or maybe the batch before them.) I remember my bunk was right by the plug, so I could sit there and be right to the side of the TV. My house was popular for a few days, lol.

Everyone was confused at first, "What the hell boss, why you waking us up?", but his demeanor showed that something serious was up. Big grey-headed dude, usually jovial, was like "Y'all quiet down and look at this." We thought it was just a crash at first, but he answered, "No, we're under attack." I'm not super sure about the timeline--he must have brought it on shortly after the Pentagon got hit? I remember seeing one of the towers fall, at least, but the memory is fuzzy. We were one somber bunch of hoodlums, though.

They left the TV in the dorm all that day, and most of the next. Like others have said, we didn't go out for a few days. We didn't go full lockdown, because they kept running the diagnostic stuff, but I can't speak for the rest of the camp.

Among the inmates, it was gossip as usual, hyped to the walls. There's gonna be a war, they're gonna let us out, gonna write my recruiter and get outta here, blah blah blah.

Dark Cloud

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I was in a max prison in Texas at the time. I was in the infirmary talking to the PA when a nurse came in and told the doctor that a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center. A little bit later she came in again crying telling the PA that another plane had just crashed into the second tower.

All three of us came out of the room into the "lobby" where someone had rolled a TV in. We all watched the news broadcast, the people crying, footage of the planes crashing, everything.

In prison, prisoners segregate themselves according to race and then by city. Then there's more segregation between prisoners and guards, nurses, etc.,

But at that brief moment, we were all standing there watching the TV and all those lines of separation where gone. When those towers were attacked, we were all attacked. We were all feeling sadness, worry, anger. I remember walking back to my building and everyone was quiet. Guards weren't giving us a hard time, inmates were more quiet than usual, just a dark cloud over the prison.


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I was in Prison (Australia) in my cell, at night, watching Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (the series) on the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Commission). At approx 8:30/8:45pm the series ceased and live feed went up of the Towers etc,

Checked out the other channels, all the same. People were calling out from their cells to tell people about it.

My first thoughts: we were at War and here I am stuck behind 4 walls.

Media Blackout

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I was in prison during 9/11 in what was called "high risk" but most people would understand "maximum security". It was a two story section of cells where you went when you had been really bad in prison and gotten too many cases. We had been on complete lock down for a while, no TV, no anything. The guards hated us because we were jerks and only came back there when they were required to.

It was football season and we had been decently good hoping to talk the guards into letting us watch a cowboys game. This was maybe two weeks after 9/11. During the game they kept showing video of planes crashing into buildings.

A guard was walking by checking on us and someone asked why they kept showing it. That's when we were told that we had been attacked a couple weeks prior. Don't really remember what I felt about it because even then we didn't know a lot about it.

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