In December 2012, Matthew Schrier embarked for Aleppo, Syria to link up with his connections in the Free Syrian Army in an attempt to capture the most intense combat images coming out of the country at the time. It was only his second time going out into the field and by financing the trip himself, he managed to get to the front lines of the most dangerous positions in the city -- the Karm al Jabal district and outside the besieged Air Force Intelligence Directorate. After shooting for eighteen days and getting everything he set out for from life on the front lines to house to house combat, he decided his work was done and headed home. When he was forty-five minutes from the Turkish border, his ride was suddenly cut off and forced to a halt by an oncoming vehicle occupied by four members of the al Nusra Front, the most powerful terrorist group in the country at the time (a group the western world has come to know as Al Qaeda in Syria). He was immediately taken prisoner and the beginning of a hellish nightmare few have lived to tell had officially begun.
Over the next seven months, he would endure torture and at times near starvation while being held in six of the worst prisons in the world alongside government POWs ranging from privates to generals (a Senator from Syrian parliament, an aspiring American journalist), and even one of the terrorist's own who they had judged a heretic and suspected spy. Throughout his captivity, Matthew not only experienced the dark side of mankind, while keeping his Jewish heritage a secret, but also the light, becoming so close with the government soldiers he was incarcerated with that by the time they were separated, he would love them like brothers and hold a sacred place in his heart for every one of them. While together they would teach each other much about the other's cultures and ways of life, but no more important a lesson would be learned than when a group of men from different worlds are locked in a cell together. It doesn’t matter where you are from, what religion you are, or where your political opinions happen to fall. All that matters is what is in your heart and willing to give to the man next to you.
Throughout his ordeal, Matthew constantly practiced ways to keep his mind sharp while proactively gathering as much intelligence as possible for his government, should he defy all odds and survive. He would memorize the make and serial numbers on the windows to help locate the prisons he was in, look for landmarks he knew he would be able to spot using Google Earth, and even study the eye and beard colors of masked jihadi’s without them ever realizing it. Finally, after seven long months Matthew was transferred to a prison cell where he would figure out how to take apart the steel wires over the window like a puzzle and escape from a packed-out jihadi base with a wall around it into the partially demolished city. Continuing to rely solely on his street smarts and gut instinct, he would manage to make it to the Turkish border a little over twenty-four hours later with no money, no cell phone, and no passport until he finally crossed it to freedom once and for all.
Upon his arrival home, Matthew’s story of survival was documented by worldwide media, including on the front page of the New York Times, the opening segment of 60 Minutes, CNN, the Jerusalem Post, CBC, Fox News, as well as dozens of other outlets. He will also be featured in Academy Award nominee Sebastian Junger’s upcoming documentary, which is set to premier on the Discovery Channel later this year. He has spoken to groups such as law enforcement, religious groups, and the US Army, who honored him with a Certificate of Appreciation in recognition of his efforts that will assist the United States Army to counter and prevent terrorist attacks.