It's September 11, 2001, and I'm at USP Leavenworth, a medium-security federal prison in Kansas. My day began like it usually did that fall: I woke up around 6, drank a cup of coffee, and capped off breakfast with a healthy shot of black tar heroin.
With my head screwed on properly, I brushed my teeth and headed toward the telephone booth. That's when it happened.
"Holy fuck!" I heard a voice in the TV room claimed by white inmates yell. "A motherfucking plane just crashed into the World Trade Center... This is great."
The voice belonged to a German hitman named Hans. I entered the TV room and saw footage of one of the Twin Towers on fire.
"Wow, that plane must've been coming into JFK on an emergency landing," I said to no one in particular. "That sucks."
"Fuck no!" Hans exclaimed, as excited as I'd ever seen him. "The motherfucking psycho flew the fucking thing right into it."
I remember finding it amusing that Hans, whose trial transcript detailing his horrific exploits I read myself, would call someone else a psycho. But not believing for a second that the plane crash was anything but a tragic accident, I went to the phone booth and called my mom.
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It was only then that the implications of what had happened hit me like a ton of bricks: Mom stopped mid-sentence and said, "Oh my God, Robert! Are you watching the TV? A second plane just crashed into a building in New York."
At that very moment, I heard a knock on the glass of the phone booth and turned to find two Special Investigative Service officers—basically the institutional Gestapo—scoping me out.
"Get off the phone, Rosso," an officer called Russell said. "You're coming with us."
My heart dropped. When SIS comes a-knocking, it's for one reason and one reason only: you are going to the security housing unit (SHU), a.k.a solitary. The truth of the matter was I basically stayed in the hole back then, so going back was no surprise. The problem was that I had about a gram of tar heroin in my right pocket that I didn't want to lose.
"Robert, are you..." my mom began to ask over the phone.
Before my mom finished, I heard Hans start laughing and shout, "We're under attack! Hahahaha. Die all of you stupid mothers. Look at them jump! Hahahaha."
The ruckus Hans was causing was enough to compel both SIS officers to step away from the booth and venture into the TV room to see what was going on. This provided just enough time to grab the dope out of my pocket and shove it up my ass, praying that it was tied tight enough that it wouldn't secrete into my bloodstream and cause an overdose.
"Mom," I said before hanging up the phone. "I have to go. I love you and tell dad the same. I'll call when I can."
All of the inmates in the hole were kicking their doors and cheering, celebrating the falling of the towers.
To make a long story short, I was taken to the hole as part a gang-related investigation. The exact reason and the immediate events that followed are irrelevant. It's what happened from the moment that I stepped into the SHU that matters: All of the inmates in the hole were kicking their doors and cheering, celebrating the falling of the towers.
"Fuck America! " I heard someone shout. "Allahu Akbar!" said another. "I hope every one in there died!" screamed yet another inmate.
The place was completely out of control. I felt like I'd stepped into Dante's Inferno.
"Rob," I barely heard one of my friends say as I was being escorted to my cell. "Did you hear, Cracker? America is under attack." He broke out laughing.
Over all the noise I asked something like, "Why is everyone cheering? Don't you guys get it? This fucking bullshit is going to change the course of history, and not in a good way."
"Ah, shut the fuck up!" someone shouted back at me. "Don't you realize that the government fucked us all? What've you got, Stockholm Syndrome?"
By noon the same day, the Department of Justice had ordered that all prisoners in the Bureau of Prisons who had ties to terrorist organizations or who had been convicted of manufacturing or detonating a bomb be locked away in segregation. Further, law enforcement officials across the nation began locking up Muslims who were on watch lists and putting them in prisons and jails without due process. Six men of Middle Eastern descent, who had never been convicted of a crime, where arrested and placed in the hole at Leavenworth, in the same unit where I was housed.
Looking for an outlet, the angry convicted felons turned on the the Muslims who were in the SHU with us.
In the days that followed, the attacks where all we were talking about in the hole. The events consumed us. And what was strangest was that the hearts and minds of many inmates began to change. It was no longer cool that America had been attacked. Instead, it was about those "fucking ragheads" who did this to us. Looking for an outlet, the angry convicted felons turned on the the Muslims who were in the SHU with us. They must be terrorists, right? We were coming up with arguments to convince ourselves. They must be al Qaeda, we reasoned.
"Hey, you, terrorists," I said to one of the Muslim men detained near me. "Are you a Bin Laden? Do you hate America?"
These were the words I asked one of the men who'd been locked up without cause while doing my job as an orderly. I was angry, and I wanted to lash out.
"No! No terrorists," he swore. "Truck driver. I drive truck."
The man was completely terrified. He was in a cell with nothing but a blanket, and all day and night he and was constantly being harassed by the convicts and the guards.
"Please, leave me alone," I remember him begging. "I want no problems. Please."
The truth of the matter was that I felt bad for the guy, despite my anger. I only fucked with him a little bit, but never tried to harm him. Others were less generous. On numerous occasions, an inmate would walk up to one of the alleged terrorist's cells, place a milk cartoon full of piss and shit at the bottom of the door, and then step on it, squirting human waste all over their cells.
The guards didn't seem to care.
About three weeks later, during the middle of the night, some of the assumed terrorists were taken from their cells and sent to God only knows where. The war on terror was in full effect.
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