Incarceration shielded prisoners from the full impact of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but a changed world still awaits them on the outside.
It was like any other Tuesday for Matt Gore and the other prisoners inside Minnesota Correctional Facility-Stillwater. But by the end of that day—September 11, 2001—Matt knew everything would change.
During Matt’s prison sentence, he served as editor of The Prison Mirror, the oldest continuously published prison newspaper in the United States. In the months following the terrorist attacks, Matt wrote several editorials addressing the horrific events and how they affected the incarcerated. Though the daily routines of prison stayed the same, he recognized the world around them had entered a new, more dangerous era.
The following is taken from Matt’s editorial, "The Last Place on Earth," first published in the November 2001 edition of The Prison Mirror. It is used here with permission.
Life is not just different since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, it has changed forever. Because of that day, time will be forever divided. That was the day, a friend remarked, that finally ushered in the 21st century.
… The masses are experiencing that change at this moment. Innumerable lives have been affected by the attacks through billions in expenses, massive layoffs, and new travel restrictions. But I wonder just how many in prison realize what's taking place. Life has changed little for us since Sept. 11. Someone else opens our mail. No flights depart from the prison (at least since I’ve been here). Nor has anyone been laid off from their 50-cent-per hour job.
Our only real concern is the safety and well-being of loved ones. We are merely spectators to the changes taking place everywhere. A strange position to be in—a seemingly insulated and secure position afforded by prison wall—but, truth be told, certainly not an enviable one.
… Here we are, our lives changing before our eyes—yours, mine, and those outside our little confined world. The only difference is, we have yet to experience these changes firsthand and, depending on how much time you have left to serve in prison, they may one day come as more of a shock than you or I realize.
A RESPONSIBILITY TO CHANGE
Now, all of a sudden, the tables have turned. Life outside prison is not as safe as it was Sept. 10. … Things once thought to be safe now pose a real threat. And while you might not feel it in prison, your life will change, too. Your biggest mistake may be not recognizing it.
… It's easy to lose yourself in prison and forget just how different things have become. Not having much to worry about other than yourself can do just that. … The world is changing fast, and I'm afraid your responsibility is to be ready to also change. You may not yet realize the impact that the terrorist attacks will have on your life. You may not until the moment you’re out. On that Tuesday morning, life got a little harder for all of us.
Matt Gore, November 2001,
The Prison Mirror
CHOOSING HOPE IN AN UGLY WORLD
Even behind bars, isolated from the outside world, Matt understood that 9/11 had changed his country and the world forever. "Something ugly was exposed in the hours and days after the attacks on New York and Washington," he wrote in a separate editorial in October 2001.
But while the terrorist attacks were unprecedented in recent American memory, he recognized the anger and hatred behind them. Those emotions are all too common in prisoners' lives. And "If left unchecked, the anger sours and turns to hatred," Matt explains. "For a short while in my life, I tasted hatred. But I soon spit it out. … [It] didn't take long to realize there’s no future in it."
Instead, Matt chose hope. He chose to change.
Matt first pursued education, earning a bachelor's degree and a graduate degree with the help of Pell Grants. Years later, Matt enrolled in the Prison Fellowship Academy®, an intense, long-term community that helps prisoners identify the negative thought patterns and beliefs. Then as now, the Academy offers participants a new way forward, one that replaces anger and hatred with empathy, responsibility, and community, transforming prison culture from the inside out.
Today, Matt is back on the outside, working for a digital printing company. The world has changed a lot since he first entered prison—due to the events of 9/11 and many other factors—but because of the choices he has made to center his life on the unchanging truth of God's Word, he is ready to face it and give back.
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