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Project Nia Attica Uprising 101 a Short Primer 2011

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By Mariame Kaba, Project NIA

with contributions by Lewis Wallace
and illustrations by Katy Groves
Design and Layout by Caitlin Seidler
September 2011

2   Attica Prison Uprising 101: A Short Primer

This publication about the Attica Prison uprising of 1971 is not intended to be a curriculum guide, but a brief primer for educators and organizers. It includes a timeline of
events (with primary sources); testimonies from Attica prisoners; poetry by Attica prisoners; sample activities for youth; and other suggested resources.
We do not claim to have addressed all of the complexity of the rebellion in this short
document. This is by no means intended to be the definitive word about the context and
meaning(s) of the rebellion. We simply offer this resource as another in the long line of
publications that have been produced about the Attica uprising. We do so knowing that
we will omit a lot important information. This is unavoidable.
We had been looking for exactly this type of resource to foster our own popular education efforts and activism on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Attica rebellion.
We didn’t find anything that quite worked so we took it upon ourselves to create what
would be useful for us. A core value of ours is to share information with others in order to facilitate movement-building to eradicate incarceration. As such, we share this
resource with you.
This guide was produced by organizers and educators rather than by historians. While
we tried to be objective, we are not neutral. We state this unabashedly and honestly. We
sincerely hope that this material is useful to you if you plan to discuss the Attica uprising with your students, community members, and others. We encourage others in the
future to add to our collective knowledge about the Attica Rebellion and its legacy.
If you have any questions about this resource, please feel free to contact Mariame Kaba
Finally, we invite you to freely reproduce and distribute this primer. We ask that it be
disseminated at no cost and that Project NIA ( be acknowledged
as producing this resource. We love hearing from folks about how they have used our
resources so make sure to drop us a line!

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Special thanks to the following people who contributed to making this primer a reality…
Caitlin Seidler has once again lent her considerable talents to designing and laying out
this resource. Caitlin’s commitment to social justice is unrivaled and she has our deepest gratitude.
Lewis Wallace has been integral to the development of our work at Project NIA. He is
a terrific organizer who is committed to the abolishment of prisons. We would like to
thank Lewis for all of his contributions to this project.
Katy Groves is a fierce advocate and ally to youth in conflict with the law. She is tireless in
the struggle for criminal legal reform. Our thanks to Katy for her incredible illustrations.
Finally, this primer is dedicated to the memory of all who died at Attica, we will not forget:
William Allen
Elliott (L. D.) Barkley
John B. Barnes
Edward Cunningham (hostage)
John J. D’Arcangelo (hostage)
Bernard Davis
Allen Durham
Willie Fuller
Melvin D. Gray
Elmer G Hardie (hostage)
Robert J. Henigan
Kenneth E. Hess
Thomas B. Hicks
Emanuel Johnson
Herbert W. Jones Jr. (hostage)
Richard J Lewis (hostage)
Charles Lundy
Kenneth B. Malloy
Gidell Martin
William B. McKinney
Lorenzo McNeil
Samuel Melville

Edward R. Menefee
Jose Mentijo
Milton Menyweather
John G. Monteleone (hostage)
Richard Moore
Carlos Prescott
Michael Privitiera
William E. Quinn (hostage)
Raymond Rivera
James B. Robinson
Santiago Santos
Barry J. Schwartz
Harold Thomas
Carl Valone (hostage)
Rafael Vasquez
Melvin Ware
Elon F. Werner (hostage)
Ronald Werner (hostage)
Willie West
Harrison Whalen (hostage)
Alfred Williams

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On September 8th 1971, two prisoners were roughhousing in the yard at Attica Prison.
They were ordered by correctional officers to stop. An altercation ensued involving a
few prisoners and guards. There is some confusion about what exactly happened during
this incident. Regardless, later in the day, two prisoners were escorted by guards to the
infamous “box” in Housing Block Z (HBZ). Prisoners at Attica had heard stories about
what happened to people who were taken to segregation and none of what they heard
was pretty. Stories of abuse, brutality and torture circulated; the guards did nothing to
disabuse prisoners of these ideas.
It seems that one of the prisoners who were targeted for confinement at HBZ hadn’t even
been involved in the original melee. His fellow inmates were furious at this perceived injustice. Others claim to have witnessed one of the prisoners being struck by guards on his
way to the “box.” The next day, a correctional officer named Robert Curtiss who had been
involved in the previous day’s incident was overpowered by a group of prisoners in retaliation. This sparked the most well-known prison uprising of the 20th century.
From September 9 to 13, 1971, prisoners took control of the Attica Correctional Facility.
They made a series of demands to prison administrators and held about 40 people as
hostages. After four days of fruitless negotiations, Nelson Rockefeller ordered that the
prison be retaken; 39 people were killed in a 15-minute assault by state police. The New
York State Special Commission on Attica (also known as the McKay Commission) appointed to investigate the uprising suggested that: “With the exception of Indian massacres
in the late 19th century, the State Police assault which ended the four-day prison uprising was the
bloodiest one-day encounter between Americans since the Civil War.”
The uprising did not come out of nowhere. In September 1971 at Attica Prison, there
were over 2,200 people locked up in a facility built to accommodate 1,600. 54% of those
prisoners were Black and 9% were identified as Puerto Rican. 40% of the prisoners were
under the age of 30. One out of 383 correctional officers was Latino and all of the prison
administrators were white. It cost $8 million dollars to run Attica Prison in fiscal year
1971-72; that amounted to about $8,000 per prisoner. Most of this money was spent on
correctional officers’ salaries (62%). Inmates at Attica spent 14 to 16 hours a day in their
6 by 9 foot cells. They also worked about five hours a day and were paid between twenty

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6   Attica Prison Uprising 101: A Short Primer
cents and one dollar for their day’s labor. Prisoner Frank “Big Black Smith” offered his
recollections of life at Attica in 1971:
“Conditions in 1971 was bad – bad food, bad educational programs, very, very low, low
wages. What we called slave wages. Myself, I was working in the laundry and I was
making like thirty cent a day, being the warden’s laundry boy. And I’m far from a boy.
You get one shower a week. You know, a shower to us in Attica state prison is a bucket of
water, and if you lucky and you get the right person outside of your cell that would bring
you a second bucket, then you can wash half of your body with one bucket. What we
would do is wash the top of our body with one bucket, and if we get a second bucket then
we will wash the bottom part of our body. And you get one shower a week.
The books in the library was outdated. They didn’t have any kind of positive recreation
for us. If there was any recreation, it was minimum. It would only be on the weekends.
And Attica is four prisons in one. You got A yard, B yard, C yard, and D yard and two
mess hall. And the only time you would see a person that’s in A block if you in B block,
like I were, is when you would go to the mess hall and sometime you might run into him.
“Dehumanizing,” the word would be for the conditions in Attica in 19711.”
Prisoner Carlos Roche, interviewed for the documentary ‘Disturbing the Universe,’ provided details about racial segregation at Attica:
“When I first went to Attica, they gave out ice once a year. Frozen water. They would
bring it on the fourth of July and say, “White ice!” Bring it in fifty-five-gallon drums,
open the door to the yard, throw it out on the ground and say, “White ice!” and only white
guys could get the ice. And they would take the drums back to the mess hall, fill them up
again and bring it back and say, “Black ice!” and anybody could take the ice, you know.
And that was the first thing that hit me, and I mean it blew my mind. I was … I couldn’t
believe it, you know. And that went on from ’66 to ’70. And then they stopped it in ’70.
Uh, haircuts was segregated, a white guy couldn’t cut a black guy’s hair or vice versa.
Uh, the mail was insane. If I had a letter from a lawyer and I gave it to you to read, and
the letter was found in your cell, we both went to the box. You got a year and I got two
years. And every two days you did in seg, you lost a day of good time, you know. That was
Attica, you know2.”
 In Voices of Freedom: An Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement from the 1950s through the 1980s
by Henry Hampton and Steve Fayer. New York: Bantam Books, 1990. Pp. 545-546.


  I nterview with Attica Prisoner, Carlos Roche, from Disturbing the Universe, a documentary about William Kunstler -


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Attica Prison Uprising 101: A Short Primer   7
Attica had been on a slow boil throughout the summer of 1971. In May-June 1971, five
Attica Prisoners established the Attica Liberation Faction (ALF). The five founders were
Frank Lott (who took on the title of Chairman), Donald Noble, Carl Jones-EL, Herbert
X. Blyden, and Peter Butler. Carl Jones-EL suggested that the ALF was founded:
“To try to bring about some change in the conditions of Attica. We started teaching political ideology to ourselves. We read Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Malcolm X, de Bois, Frederick
Douglass and a lot of others. We tried a reform program on ourselves first before we
started making petitions and so forth. We would hold political classes on weekends and
point out that certain conditions were taking place and the money that was being made
even though we weren’t getting the benefits3.”
Lee Bernstein (2010) provides some background about the founders of the Attica Liberation Faction:
“These five – Frank Lott, Herbert X. Blyden, Donald Noble, Carl Jones-EL, and Peter
Butler – were among the most experienced activists in Attica. Blyden had participated in
a rebellion at the Tombs prison in New York City the previous year, helping to write the
rebels’ list of demands. Others had been involved in a sit-down strike at Auburn prison.
Blyden is credited with demanding that the prisoners be transported to a nonimperialist
country as a condition of ending the takeover. While deemed impractical by one of the
outside observers, this demand grew logically from the political education many inmates
received while in prison. Blyden and Jones served on the negotiating committee during
the takeover. Blyden was a member of Attica’s Nation of Islam community, and Carl
Jones-EL and Donald Noble were members of the prison’s Moorish Science community4.”
The McKay Commission suggested that during that summer prisoners at Attica participated in peer-led classes in sociology. These were preceded by the formation of several
study and discussion groups led by prisoners who had affiliations with the Nation of Islam,
the Black Panther Party, the Young Lords and the Five Percenters. Carl Jones-EL explains:
“The education department, the school system that they have, it only goes so far, far as
trying to give a man an education. We more or less have to educate ourselves. When we
came here [Attica] we knew the conditions and we felt that people should come together
and get a better understanding of the conditions here, what was being did to them by
the administration. So behind this we would hold meetings in the yard. We’d hold open
house and whoever wanted to come and listen to our political ideology were welcome. We
  Voices From Inside: 7 Interviews with Attica Prisoners (1972).


 Bernstein, Lee (2010). America Is the Prison: Arts and Politics in Prison in the 1970s. Chapel Hill: The
University of North Carolina Press.


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8   Attica Prison Uprising 101: A Short Primer
didn’t bar anyone. This was frowned upon by the institution and they would break it up.
If we congregated too big, this wasn’t allowed. In order to reach everyone, we had to set
up some sort of communications. We had to get along with the different factions here: the
Muslims, the Fiver Per-centers, and all the other factions to become one solid movement,
rather than just be separate parts here trying to accomplish the same things, better conditions for the inmates5.”
These informal gatherings provided a forum for prisoners to debate and discuss the
social and political issues of the day. The McKay Commission found that these prisonercreated spaces politicized and radicalized inmates and contributed to a series of protests
in the summer of 1971.
In July 1971, the Attica Liberation Faction presented a list of 27 demands to Commissioner of Corrections Russell Oswald and Governor Nelson Rockefeller. This list of demands
was based on the Folsom Prisoners’ Manifesto which had been crafted by Chicano prisoner,
Martin Sousa, in support of a November 1970 prisoner strike in California. Carl Jones-EL
offered this description of the genesis of the manifesto and the prisoner’s motivations:
“We wanted to do things, let’s say, diplomatically. We were seeking reform. Although,
many were not in favor of reform, because they didn’t believe that the people would listen.
So, five of us had gotten together. This is how we started. We met in the yard and we’d
draw up drafts as to proposals we should make. And we sought support from the entire
population, the four different blocks. And the only way we could accomplish this was that
by us not being able to see everyone in different blocks, we, more or less, had to get on the
traveling list. In other words, if you were a baseball, a football, a softball official, and
you were in a position to travel and get around to different blocks. So we did this. One of
us would go to different blocks, and there we would set up an educational program, and
bring to their attention what the manifesto was going to be about. So we got a lot of support on this. Then we moved on it. Everyone was not in favor of signing their names to it
though, because they didn’t want to spotlight themselves. So five of us did.” 6
Commissioner Oswald did not act on the demands instead the warden of Attica, Vincent
Mancusi, responded “by increasing the frequency of cell searches, censoring all refer Edited transcription of separate interviews with nine of those the prison administration had isolated as
“leaders” of the rebellion taken from interviews conducted by Bruce Soloway of Pacifica Radio, WBAI,
in February 1972. In “We Are Attica: Interviews with Prisoners from Attica” published by the Attica
Defense Committee.


 Edited transcription of separate interviews with nine of those the prison administration had isolated as
“leaders” of the rebellion taken from interviews conducted by Bruce Soloway of Pacifica Radio, WBAI,
in February 1972. In “We Are Attica: Interviews with Prisoners from Attica” published by the Attica
Defense Committee.


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Attica Prison Uprising 101: A Short Primer   9
ences to prison conditions from news sources, and announcing that there would be no
prizes awarded to the winners of the upcoming Labor Day sporting competitions7.”
Donald Noble, a member of the Attica Liberation Faction, explains what the prisoners
hoped to accomplish through the Manifesto:
“Well, I’m one of the men whose name was on the manifesto [that] was submitted to Oswald.
We submitted a manifesto, 28 demands, to Oswald in July. We also submitted one to Rockefeller. We also submitted one to Shirley Chisholm. We also submitted one to Arthur Eve
and different other legislative people and lawyers and so forth. You know, we got a beautiful reply back from Oswald, think it was sometime in August. He acknowledged our letter
and so forth, and he was enthused about the way the manifesto was drawn up, because this
was more or less coincide with his ideas. And he stated that he is for all these here changes
that we talked about, because he sees that they are needed, but to give him time. And, everybody went along with him, because a lot of us have had dealings with Oswald for years,
coming back and forth while he’s sitting on the parole board. Like there was things that all
he had to do was more or less get in touch with the warden here that would have gone into
effect. And these things more or less didn’t take place. […] He said he was going to look into
these things, but they would take time. So he came here. He made a speech, but the speech
he made, a lot of people didn’t like it because he talked about long range things. But people
wanted to know what he gonna do about the problem what exists here8.”
When George Jackson was killed by correctional officers at San Quentin Prison in August 1971, his killing sparked protests including work stoppages at prisons across the
U.S. At Attica, the different prisoner factions, that had previously found it difficult to
unify in order to strengthen the likelihood that their demands would be enacted, were
mobilized by the killing of Jackson. Donald Noble, one of the founders of the Attica
Liberation Faction, explained it this way:
“What really solidified things was George Jackson’s death. This had a reaction on the
people, one that we were trying to accomplish all along, to bring the people together. We
thought, ‘How can we pay tribute to George Jackson?’ because a lot of us idolized him
and things that he was doing and things that he was exposing about the system. So, we
decided that we would have a silent fast that whole day in honor of him. We would wear
 Bernstein, Lee (2010). America Is the Prison: Arts and Politics in Prison in the 1970s. Chapel Hill: The
University of North Carolina Press.


 Edited transcription of separate interviews with nine of those the prison administration had isolated as
“leaders” of the rebellion taken from interviews conducted by Bruce Soloway of Pacifica Radio, WBAI,
in February 1972. In “We Are Attica: Interviews with Prisoners from Attica” published by the Attica
Defense Committee.


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10   Attica Prison Uprising 101: A Short Primer
black armbands. No one was to eat anything that whole day. We noted that if the people
could come together for this, then they could come together for other things9.”
The Attica prison uprising was the most dramatic and deadly of the post-Jackson killing
protests. However, the seeds of the revolt had been sown way before Jackson’s death.
On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Attica Prison revolt, we felt that it was a
good time to both reflect on the conditions that precipitated the rebellion and to examine its legacy. In 1970, there were 48,497 people in federal and state prisons10 in the
U.S. By 2009, there were 1,613,74011 million individuals locked up in our federal and
state prisons. This exponential growth of the prison population means that the events
of Attica are as relevant today as they were in 1971; perhaps even more so. There is a
continued need to investigate the conditions of our prisons today and to advocate for an
end to mass incarceration.

 onald Noble, interview, in Prisons on Fire: George Jackson, Attica, and Black Liberation, audio CD
(San Francisco: Freedom Archives, 2001).


 Langan, Patrick A. Race of prisoners admitted to state and federal institutions, 1926-86. NCJ-125618. U.S.
Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics (May 1991).


  Numbers for both years 1970 and 2009 exclude the jail population.


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The following timeline of events was compiled by Mariame Kaba, director of Project
NIA, based on several sources. It is by no means exhaustive and is provided as an introduction to the Attica Prison uprising. We encourage you to conduct further research to
augment this timeline. A number of useful resources about the rebellion are provided
at the end of this primer.

AUGUST 1970  The men in Auburn prison revolted. Forty

of them are transferred to Attica. At the same time a struggle begins at Attica for higher wages and lower commissary
prices. It included petitioning and, later a strike by hundreds
of prisoners. This results in the alleged leaders being shipped
out to other prisons and all the men in cell block “B” being
locked in their cells for two weeks. It also results in commissary prices being lowered and, a short while later, in a small
increase in wages.

OCTOBER 1970  Rebellions occur at several New York
City Jails. This includes the “Tombs” where Herbert Blyden was
a leader of the uprising.

JUNE 1971  The Attica Liberation Faction is founded by
five prisoners.

JULY 2, 1971  27 demands are presented to Commissioner Oswald and Governor Nelson Rockefeller by the Attica
Liberation Faction.
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Attica Manifesto (JULY 2, 1971)
The following is the list of demands that were presented to Commissioner of
Corrections Russell Oswald and Governor Nelson Rockefeller on July 2, 1971
by the Attica Liberation Faction.
We, the men of Attica Prison, have been committed to the New York State Department of Corrections by the people of society for the purpose of correcting
what has been deemed as social errors in behavior. Errors which have classified us as socially unacceptable until reprogrammed with new values and more
thorough understanding as to our values and responsibilities as members of
the outside community. The Attica Prison program in its structure and conditions have been enslaved on the pages of this Manifesto of Demands with the
blood, sweat, and tears of the inmates of this prison.
The program which we are submitted to under the façade of rehabilitation are
relative to the ancient stupidity of pouring water on a drowning man, inasmuch
as we are treated for our hostilities by our program administrators with their
hostility as medication.
In our efforts to comprehend on a feeling level an existence contrary to violence, we are confronted by our captors with what is fair and just, we are victimized by the exploitation and the denial of the celebrated due process of law.
In our peaceful efforts to assemble in dissent as provided under this nation’s U.S.
Constitution, we are in turn murdered, brutalized, and framed on various criminal charges because we seek the rights and privileges of all American People.
In our efforts to intellectually expand in keeping with the outside world, through
all categories of news media, we are systematically restricted and punitively remanded to isolation status when we insist on our human rights to the wisdom
of awareness.
1.	 We Demand the constitutional rights of legal representation at the time of
all parole board hearings and the protection from the procedures of the
parole authorities whereby they permit no procedural safeguards such as
an attorney for cross-examination of witnesses, witnesses in behalf of the
parolee, at parole revocation hearings.
2.	 We Demand a change in medical staff and medical policy and procedure.
The Attica Prison hospital is totally inadequate, understaffed, and prejudiced in the treatment of inmates. There are numerous “mistakes” made
many times; improper and erroneous medication is given by untrained
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14   Attica Prison Uprising 101: A Short Primer
personnel. We also demand periodical check-ups on all prisoners and sufficient licensed practitioners 24 hours a day instead of inmates’ help that is
used now.
3.	 We Demand adequate visiting conditions and facilities for the inmate and
families of Attica prisoners. The visiting facilities at the prison are such as
to preclude adequate visiting for inmates and their families.
4.	 We Demand an end to the segregation of prisoners from the mainline population because of their political beliefs. Some of the men in segregation
units are confined there solely for political reasons and their segregation
from other inmates is indefinite.
5.	 We Demand an end to the persecution and punishment of prisoners who
practice the Constitutional Right of peaceful dissent. Prisoners at Attica
and other New York prisons cannot be compelled to work as these prisons
were built for the purpose of housing prisoners and there is no mention as
to the prisoners being required to work on prison jobs in order to remain
in the mainline population and/or be considered for release. Many prisoners believe their labor power is being exploited in order for the state to
increase its economic power and to continue to expand its correctional industries (which are million-dollar complexes), yet do not develop working
skills acceptable for employment in the outside society, and which do not
pay the prisoner more than an average of forty cents a day. Most prisoners
never make more than fifty cents a day. Prisoners who refuse to work for
the outrageous scale, or who strike, are punished and segregated without
the access to the privileges shared by those who work; this is class legislation, class division, and creates hostilities within the prison.
6.	 We Demand an end to political persecution, racial persecution, and the denial of prisoner’s rights to subscribe to political papers, books, or any other
educational and current media chronicles that are forwarded through the
U.S. Mail.
7.	 We Demand that industries be allowed to enter the institutions and employ
inmates to work eight hours a day and fit into the category of workers for
scale wages. The working conditions in prisons do not develop working
incentives parallel to the many jobs in the outside society, and a paroled
prisoner faces many contradictions of the job that add to his difficulty in
adjusting. Those industries outside who desire to enter prisons should be
allowed to enter for the purpose of employment placement.
8.	 We Demand that inmates be granted the right to join or form labor unions.

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Attica Prison Uprising 101: A Short Primer   15
9.	 We Demand that inmates be granted the right to support their own families; at present, thousands of welfare recipients have to divide their checks
to support their imprisoned relatives, who without outside support, cannot
even buy toilet articles or food. Men working on scale wages could support
themselves and families while in prison.
10.	 We Demand that correctional officers be prosecuted as a matter of law for
any act of cruel and unusual punishment where it is not a matter of life and
11.	 We Demand that all institutions using inmate labor be made to conform
with the state and federal minimum wage laws.
12.	 We Demand an end to the escalating practice of physical brutality being
perpetrated upon the inmates of New York State prisons.
13.	 We Demand the appointment of three lawyers from the New York State Bar
Association to full-time positions for the provision of legal assistance to
inmates seeking post-conviction relief, and to act as a liaison between the
administration and inmates for bringing inmates’ complaints to the attention of the administration.
14.	 We Demand the updating of industry working conditions to the standards
provided for under New York State law.
15.	 We Demand the establishment of inmate worker’s insurance plan to provide compensation for work-related accidents.
16.	 We Demand the establishment of unionized vocational training programs
comparable to that of the Federal Prison System which provides for union
instructions, union pay scales, and union membership upon completion of
the vocational training course.
17.	 We Demand annual accounting of the inmates Recreational Fund and formulation of an inmate committee to give inmates a voice as to how such
funds are used.
18.	 We Demand that the present Parole Board appointed by the Governor be
eradicated and replaced by the parole board elected by popular vote of the
people. In a world where many crimes are punished by indeterminate sentences and where authority acts within secrecy and within vast discretion
and given heavy weight to accusations by prison employees against inmates, inmates feel trapped unless they are willing to abandon their desire
to be independent men.

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16   Attica Prison Uprising 101: A Short Primer
19.	 We Demand that the state legislature create a full-time salaried board of
overseers for the State Prisons. The board would be responsible for evaluating allegations made by inmates, their families, friends and lawyers against
employers charged with acting inhumanely, illegally or unreasonably. The
board should include people nominated by a psychological or psychiatric
association, by the State Bar Association or by the Civil Liberties Union and
by groups of concerned involved laymen.
20.	 We Demand an immediate end to the agitation of race relations by the
prison administration of this State.
21.	 We Demand that the Dept. of Corrections furnish all prisoners with the services of ethnic counselors for the needed special services of the Brown and
Black population of this prison.
22.	 We Demand an end to the discrimination in the judgment and quota of parole for Black and Brown people.
23.	 We Demand that all prisoners be present at the time their cells and property are being searched by the correctional officers of state prisons.
24.	 We Demand an end to the discrimination against prisoners when they appear before the Parole Board. Most prisoners are denied parole solely because of their prior records. Life sentences should not confine a man longer
than 10 years as 7 years is the considered statute for a lifetime out of circulation, and if a man cannot be rehabilitated after a maximum of ten years
of constructive programs, etc., then he belongs in a mental hygiene center,
not a prison.
25.	 We Demand that better food be served to the inmates. The food is a gastronomical disaster. We also demand that drinking water be put on each table
and that each inmate be allowed to take as much food as he wants and as
much bread as he wants, instead of the severely limited portions and limited (4) slices of bread. Inmates wishing a pork-free diet should have one,
since 85% of our diet is pork meat or pork-saturated food.
26.	 We Demand an end to the unsanitary conditions that exist in the mess hall:
i.e., dirty trays, dirty utensils, stained drinking cups and an end to the
practice of putting food on the tables hours before eating time without any
protective covering over it.
27.	 We Demand that there be one set of rules governing all prisons in this state
instead of the present system where each warden makes rules for his institution as he sees fit.

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Attica Prison Uprising 101: A Short Primer   17
We are firm in our resolve and we demand, as human beings, the dignity and
justice that is due to us by our right of birth. We do not know how the present
system of brutality and dehumanization and injustice has been allowed to be
perpetrated in this day of enlightenment, but we are the living proof of its existence and we cannot allow it to continue.
The taxpayers who just happen to be our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers,
daughters and sons should be made aware of how their tax dollars are being spent
to deny their sons, brothers, fathers and uncles of justice, equality and dignity.

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18   Attica Prison Uprising 101: A Short Primer

AUGUST 21, 1971  George Jackson is killed by correc-

tional officers at San Quentin Prison. They contend that they
shot him as he was attempting to escape. No one believes

AUGUST 22, 1971  A hunger strike is called in honor of

George Jackson at Attica. Prisoners marched into the mess
hall for breakfast single file, sat silently, and refused to eat.
Frank Smith who ended up serving on the negotiating committee during the September rebellion describes the scene
on the morning after Jackson’s death: “I didn’t know anything about George Jackson. So, when we got to the mess
hall that morning, everything was quiet. No one was saying
nothing, and you’re talking about five, six, seven hundred
people! Inmates! So, I said to my buddy, ‘What’s up, man? ”
The McKay Commission described the correctional officers’
impression of the protest as follows: “For the young correction
officers who found themselves in the mess hall with 700 silent,
fasting inmates wearing black armbands, the very silence
and the mood of unreserved hostility was the most threatening and frightening experience in their memory. ‘I was scared
shitless,’ one young officer later recalled.” The Commission
put the number of prisoners participating in that silent protest
at seven hundred, out of a total population of 2,243.

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Attica Prison Uprising 101: A Short Primer   19

AUGUST 30, 1971  Three hundred prisoners sign up for

sick call and occupy the hospital area to dramatize the substandard health facilities. This was the second peaceful protest in as many weeks at Attica.

SEPTEMBER 2, 1971  Commissioner Oswald visits At-

tica and meets briefly with Frank Lott, Chairman of the Attica
Liberation Faction. Oswald asks for more time to implement
demands. He leaves early due to his wife’s illness and leaves
behind a recorded a message that was played three times
over the prison public address system. Oswald said: “I assure
you that changes will be made.” He asked for more time to
implement the requested changes.

SEPTEMBER 8, 1971  There was an altercation be-

tween correctional officers and two prisoners. Later that day,
correctional officers led two prisoners whom they believed to
be responsible to Housing Block Z (HBZ), the disciplinary housing unit where inmates were locked down for twenty-three
hours per day. Ray Lamorie, one of the two, had not been
involved in the altercation. Observers saw officers strike Leroy
Dewer, the other prisoner, while taking him to HBZ. Prisoners
believed that HBZ was a site of routine, brutal beatings by
correctional officers.

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SEPTEMBER 9, 1971 The

revolt begins. Prisoners
subdue Lieutenant Robert Curtiss in a tunnel that divided the
prison yard into quarters. A group of fifteen to twenty-five prisoners eventually overpowered four guards and locked them
in cells. The uprising quickly spread to the other cell blocks,
with more than 1200 prisoners congregating in Cell Block D.
Although members of the Attica Liberation Front did not participate in the initial rioting, they quickly joined in to move the
prisoners toward more explicit demands for reform. The prisoners create a committee to negotiate with Commissioner
Oswald and demand that outside observers be present.
Once the inmates of Attica Prison took over the facility on
Thursday, September 9, 1971, a committee of inmates drew
up five demands as preconditions to end the takeover. These
five demands would be broadened into “15 practical proposals” that would form the basis for the attempted negotiations among the prisoners, the committee of outside observers, state prison officials, and representatives from the
governor’s office.

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Declaration to the People of America
(SEPTEMBER 9, 1971) – read by L.D. Barkley
The People of the United States of America: first of all we want it to be known
that in the past we have had some very, very, treacherous experiences with
the Department of Correction of New York State. They have promised us many
things and they are giving us nothing except more of what we’ve already got:
brutalization and murder inside this penitentiary. We do not intend to accept
to allow ourselves to accept this situation again. Therefore, we have composed
this declaration to the People of America to let them know exactly how we feel
and what it is that they must do and what we want primarily, not what someone
else wants for us. We’re talking about what we want. There seems to be a little
misunderstanding about why this incident developed here at Attica and this
declaration here will explain the reason:
The entire incident that has erupted here at Attica is not a result of the dastardly bushwhacking of the two prisoners, September 8, 1971, but of the unmitigated oppression wrought by the racist administrative network of this prison
throughout the year. We are men. We are not beasts and we do not intend to be
beaten or driven as such. The entire prison populace, that means each and every one of us here, have set forth to change forever the ruthless brutalization
and disregard for the lives of the prisoners here and throughout the United
States. What has happened here is but the sound before the fury of those who
are oppressed. We will not compromise on any terms except those terms that
are agreeable to us. We’ve called upon all the conscientious citizens of America
to assist us in putting an end to this situation that threatens the lives of not
only us, but of each and every one of you, as well. We have set forth demands
that will bring us closer to the reality of the demise of these prison institutions
that serve no useful purpose to the people of America, but to those who would
enslave and exploit the people of America.
Our demands are such:
1.	 We want complete amnesty, meaning freedom from all and any physical,
mental and legal reprisals.
2.	 We want now, speedy and safe transportation out of confinement to a nonimperialistic country.
3.	 We demand that the Federal Government intervene, so that we will be under direct Federal Jurisdiction.

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22   Attica Prison Uprising 101: A Short Primer
4.	 We want the Governor and the Judiciary, namely Constance B. Motley, to
guarantee that there will be no reprisals and we want all factions of the
media to articulate this.
5.	 We urgently demand immediate negotiations through William M. Kunstler,
Attorney at Law, 588 9th Avenue, New York, New York; Assemblyman Arthur O. Eve of Buffalo; the Prisoner Solidarity Committee of New York;
Minister Farrakan of the Muslims. We want Huey P. Newton from the Black
Panther Party and we want the Chairman of the Young Lords Party. We
want Clarence B. Jones of the Amsterdam News. We want Tom Wicker of
the New York Times. We want Richard Roth from the Currier Express. We
want the Fortune Society; Dave Anderson of the Urban League of Rochester; Brine Eva Barnes; We want Jim Hendling of the Democratic Late
Chronicle of Detroit, Michigan. We guarantee the safe passage of all people
to and from this institution. We invite all the people to come here and witness this degradation so that they can better know how to bring this degradation to an end. This is what we want.
—The Inmates of Attica Prison

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(handed to Oswald by prisoner Jerry Rosenberg)
1.	 Apply the New York State minimum wage law to all state institutions. STOP
2.	 Allow all New York State prisoners to be politically active, without intimidation or reprisals.
3.	 Give us true religious freedom.
4.	 End all censorship of newspapers, magazines, letters, and other publications coming from the publisher.
5.	 Allow all inmates, at their own expense, to communicate with anyone they
6.	 When an inmate reaches conditional release date, give him a full release
without parole.
7.	 Cease administrative resentencing of inmates returned for parole violations.
8.	 Institute realistic rehabilitation programs for all inmates according to their
offense and personal needs.
9.	 Educate all correctional officers to the needs of the inmates, i.e., understanding rather than punishment.
10.	 Give us a healthy diet, stop feeding us so much pork, and give us some
fresh fruit daily.
11.	 Modernize the inmate education system.
12.	 Give us a doctor that will examine and treat all inmates that request treatment.
13.	 Have an institutional delegation comprised of one inmate from each company authorized to speak to the institution administration concerning
grievances (QUARTERLY).
14.	 Give us less cell time and more recreation with better recreational equipment and facilities.
15.	 Remove inside walls, making one open yard, and no more segregation or

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SEPTEMBER 10, 1971  Uprising continues. 33 observers assemble at Attica and pay a brief visit to D yard.

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A Scene from Inside Attica Prison
(SEPTEMBER 10, 1971)
From A Time to Die by Tom Wicker (1975) P.96-98
But Wicker’s impatience vanished as Brother Flip took the microphone and began to speak, even though Flip’s was the same message that had been spoken so
often already – men in prison were still men entitled to be treated by other men
like men, not as animals or numbers. But the conditions of prison life, of Attica,
made it impossible for them to be treated as human beings. That was what the
uprising was about, Flip said, that was what the world should understand.
The same message, but different. Wicker could feel, as could the other observers, its gathering power as Flip talked on almost conversationally. He was different from any of the speakers who had preceded him – soft-spoken where most
of them had been ranting, persuasive as against their brute force, eloquent in
a more learned and sophisticated way. Brother Flip seemed an educated man
with a high sense of drama. Wicker speculated that he might have been an actor on the outside; where else could he have found the style to wrap himself in a
blanket as if it were the toga of a Roman senator? He had a thin, sensitive face
adorned with an elegantly trimmed mustache. His head was quite bald in the
glaring lights. When he gestured, his long, expressive fingers underlined his
relatively quiet words.
Flip moved toward a peroration as expertly as any politician Wicker had heard
on the stump – better than most. D-yard was silent, listening; the bonfires flickered on the walkways. Beyond the linked men of the security chain, the mass of
the brothers surrounding the dark circle of hostages were still upon the ground
or in their makeshift tents.
“We no longer wish to be treated as statistics, as numbers,” Flip cried, his voice
rising in volume and intensity, but so controlled as to reinforce Wicker’s belief that he was a professional actor. “We want to be treated as human beings.”
Then, sharp as the crack of a rifle: “We will be treated as human beings!”
The brothers were “not advocating violence,” Flip said. “We are advocating communications and understanding.” He mentioned Soledad, Kent State, Jackson
State. Attica was not different; the brothers of Attica were calling only for what
“oppressed people are advocating all over the world…We do not want to rule,
we only want to live.” Then, the long arms, the sensitive fingers, swept wide to
include the observers raptly listening at the table. “But if any of you gentleman
own dogs…” the voice fell to a dramatic whisper, “you treating them better than
we are treated here.”

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Scattered applause and yells broke the silence but quickly died, as if most of the
brothers realized that Flip was about to reach for the highest, most demanding note. “So we have come to the conclusion…after close study…after much
suffering…after much consideration…” In silence so deep that his voice rang
back from the surrounding walls, Flip was marching to the inevitable point, taking his listeners with him so that they knew before the words came what they
would have to say: “That if we cannot live as people, then we will at least try to
die like men!”
The brothers erupted, long-held breaths burst forth in a shattering roar, a thunder of voices carrying out at once – as much in joy, Wicker suspected, as in actual defiance, because he did not believe men cheered the thought of their own
deaths, in whatever cause. He could well remember Lurleen Wallace explaining
to him what she believed was the source of George Wallace’s popularity in the
South, and elsewhere. “He speaks out for the people. He’s not afraid to say what
they think. When he’s on ‘Meet the Press’ they can listen to George and think,
‘That’s what I would say if I were up there.’
So it was with these men, who would not cheer more than any others for the
idea of dying, but who would cheer getting it said, as Flip had said it, for all of
them, for at least that one time – getting it said to the world that in the ultimate
and unavoidable act of humanity, in the limitless brotherhood of dying, if in no
other way, they would be men no less and no more than any others.
Flip stood motionless, as they cheered and fell silent. He was standing on one
side of the table, the microphone in his hand, the toga flowing from his shoulders, when suddenly he leaned forward and across the table, the light gleaming
from his bald, dark head.
“Brother Kunstler!” he cried, the microphone and his head thrust near that of
the lawyer seated across from him. “What did they do with you in court?”
Kunstler was still for a moment, in the renewed, breath-drawn silence of the
yard. Perhaps he was recalling the Chicago Seven, Judge Hoffman’s courtroom,
Bobby Seale in chains, the contempt sentence hanging over his own head. Then,
like a woman surrendering to a lover, he rose, his glasses pushed up on his forehead into his long hair, and threw his arms around Flip. There was pain and
rapture in Kunstler’s face, in his voice, as he cried out, “The same thing they
did with you, Brother!”
The two men embraced, and once again there were cheers. Then, releasing himself, Flip said quietly to the observers, “I want to thank all of you beautiful people
for coming here. Stand with us now…walk with us…die with us, if necessary…”

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SEPTEMBER 11, 1971  Rockefeller refuses to come

to Attica to aid in the negotiations. He also refuses the prisoners’ demand for amnesty. William Quinn, a guard held
hostage, dies of head injuries. The observer committee negotiates the 28 points package with Oswald. This plan was intended to convey what the state would offer in concessions
to the prisoners. However the key issue of criminal amnesty
was not agreed to. The prisoners reject the 28 points package because they did not trust the state to meet even these
promises. Bobby Seale arrives at Attica. There were hopes
that he could convince the prisoners to accept the 28 point
package. Seale tells Oswald and the observers that he could
not tell the prisoners what to do but that he would let them
know that he would support whatever decisions they made.
Tom Wicker (NY Times reporter) describes an incident that
took place in the observers’ room:
“While Wicker was waiting to sign the list of those going in,
he idly picked up a small, crumpled piece of paper from the
floor and smoothed it in his hands. “Brother Bobby,” the note
read, in wobbly script. “Our lives are in your hands. Come! Attica prisoners.” Wicker stared at the note. One of the inmates
must have smuggled it out of D-yard to Seale, probably via
one of the observers sent as messengers to No Man’s Land

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The Twenty-eight Points (SEPTEMBER 11, 1971)
The following are the proposals that State Correction Commissioner Russell G.
Oswald said that he would accept after a meeting with the observers’ committee on September 11th 1971.
1.	 Provide adequate food, water and shelter for all inmates.
2.	 Inmates shall be permitted to return to their cells or to other suitable accommodations or shelter under their power. The observer committee shall
monitor the implementation of this operation.
3.	 Grant complete administrative amnesty to all persons associated with this
matter. By administrative amnesty the state agrees:
a.	 Not to take any adverse parole actions, administrative proceedings,
physical punishment or other type of harassment, such as holding inmates incommunicado, segregating inmates, or keep them in isolation or
in 24-hour lockup.
b.	 The state will grant legal amnesty in regard to all civil actions that could
arise from this matter.
c.	 It is agreed that the State of New York and all its departments, divisions
and subdivisions, including the State Department of Corrections and the
Attica Correctional Facility and its employees and agents, shall not file
or initiate any criminal complaint or act as complainant in any criminal
action of any kind or nature relating to property damage or property-related crimes arising out of the incidents at the Attica Correctional Facility during September 9, 10, and 11, 1971.
4.	 Recommend the application of the New York State Minimum Wage Law
standards to all work done by inmates. Every effort will be made to make
the records of payments available to inmates.
5.	 Establish by Oct. 1 a permanent ombudsman service for the facility, staffed
by appropriate persons from the neighboring communities.
6.	 Allow all New York State prisoners to be politically active without intimidation or reprisal.
7.	 Allow true religious freedom.

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8.	 End all censorship of newspaper, magazines and other publications from
publishers, unless it is determined by qualified authority, which includes
the ombudsman, that the literature in question presents a clear and present danger to the safety and security of the institutions. Institution spotcensoring only of letters.
9.	 Allow all inmates at their own expense to communicate with anyone they
10.	 Institute realistic, effective rehabilitation programs for all inmates according to their offense and personal needs.
11.	 Modernize the inmate education system, including the establishment of a
[Spanish-language] library.
12.	 Provide an effective narcotics treatment program for all prisoners requesting such treatment.
13.	 Provide or allow adequate legal assistance to all inmates requesting it, or
permit them to use inmate legal assistance of their choice in any proceeding whatsoever. In all such proceedings inmates shall be entitled to appropriate due process of law.
14.	 Reduce cell time, increase recreation time and provide better recreation
facilities and equipment, hopefully by Nov. 1, 1971.
15.	 Provide a healthy diet, reduce the number of pork dishes, increase fresh
fruit daily.
16.	 Provide adequate medical treatment for every inmate. Engage either a
Spanish-speaking doctor or interpreters who will accompany Spanishspeaking inmates to medical interviews.
17.	 Institute a program for the recruitment and employment of a significant
number of black and Spanish-speaking officers.
18.	 Establish an inmate grievance commission, comprised of one elected inmate
from each company, which is authorized to speak to the administration concerning grievances and develop other procedures for inmate participation in
the operation and decision-making processes of the institution.
19.	 Investigate the alleged expropriation of inmate funds and the use of profits
from the metal or other shops.

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20.	 The State Commissioners of Correctional Services will recommend that
the penal law be changed to cease administrative resentencing of inmates
returned for parole violation.
21.	 Recommend that Menenchino hearings be held promptly and fairly. [This
concerns the right of prisoners to be represented legally on parole-violation changes.]
22.	 Recommend necessary legislation and more adequate funds to expand
work relief programs.
23.	 End approved lists for correspondents and visitors.
24.	 Remove visitation screens as soon as possible.
25.	 Institute a 30-day maximum for segregation arising out of any one offense.
Every effort should be geared toward restoring the individual to regular
housing as soon as possible, consistent with safety regulations.
26.	 Paroled inmates shall not be charged with parole violations for moving
traffic violations or driving without a license unconnected with any other
27.	 Permit access to outside dentists and doctors at the inmates’ own expense
within the institution where possible and consistent with scheduling problems, medical diagnosis and health needs.
28.	 It is expressly understood that members of the observer committee will be
permitted into the institution on a reasonable basis to determine whether
all of the above provisions are being effectively carried out. If questions of
adequacy are raised, the matter will be brought to the attention of the Commissioner of Correctional Services for clearance.

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SEPTEMBER 12, 1971  Uprising continues. Rockefeller, again, refuses pleas of the hostages, Commissioner Oswald and the Observers Committee, as well as the prisoners,
to come to Attica.

SEPTEMBER 13, 1971  Bloody Monday. Rockefell-

er orders thousands of National Guardsmen, State Troopers
and Corrections Guards to attack the prisoners. Hundreds of
prisoners are shot. The State’s forces also shoot and kill nine
of the hostages. The prisoners have no guns. Many of the
alleged leaders of the rebellion are selectively marked and
assassinated by the State’s forces. 39 men (prisoners and
hostages) die in the retaking of the prison. The Corrections
Department says the hostages’ throats were slashed by the
prisoners. Guards torture and beat prisoners.
Here’s how Carl Jones-EL recalls the events of September
“The thirteenth, everyone was in the yard and there was a lot
of tension, because you could see that these people were
getting ready to come in. They was going to use force. Now
from where I was, I’m in the middle of the yard, so to speak,
near the trench. Next thing I knowed there’s this big helicopter flying over us and tear gas coming from everyone, and
there’s a whole lot of shooting and carrying on. So naturally,
everyone is running for cover. So I’m next to the wall and I
note that around me everyone is hiding his face and guys
(continued on next page)

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32   Attica Prison Uprising 101: A Short Primer

spitting in rags and putting it to their nose. But what I know
was troopers start coming from everywhere, then I start seeing different people fall, you know, they was shot. Guys was
losing their hands and shot in the head and the neck. Like it’s
been stated about indiscriminate firing. I don’t see it as indiscriminate firing because the people that were shot, and the
people that were killed, they were selected, man. How you
going to call this indiscriminate? You take the troopers that
came in, they wasn’t hurt. Now if it was indiscriminate, why
didn’t some of them get hurt? You see, why was it just inmates
and hostages that got shot, that got killed? At the same time
the helicopter was flying overhead, the helicopter was telling everyone to surrender and they wouldn’t be hurt. A lot
of people were doing this and they were still getting shot.
They were putting their hands up and this helicopter just kept
flying around talking about surrendering and nobody would
get hurt. So after everyone seen what was happening, they
didn’t come out. It was a slaughter like, man, the people
were defenseless. They had sticks and homemade weapons
to defend themselves, but this doesn’t compare, man, with
magnums and carbines. This is ridiculous, you know.”

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Coroner’s report shows
that no hostages died of slashed throats. All died of police
gunshot wounds. Demonstrations protesting Attica Massacre
begin in New York and around the nation. Beatings and harassment of prisoners continues. Several hundred of the rebel
prisoners are shipped out to other prisons. 80 of the alleged
leaders are put in 24 hour segregation. On May 1, they also
are shipped out. Wyoming County Grand Jury prepares to
indict prisoners for the rebellion. Ultimately 62 prisoners are
indicted for their role in the rebellion. The McKay Commission,
created by Rockefeller, holds hearings about Attica revolt.
The Commission issues a comprehensive report titled “Attica:
the Official Report of the New York State Special Commission
on Attica.”

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THE AFTERMATH: Testimonies from Prisoners12
Frank Smith or “Big Black” was sentenced to 10-15 years for assault, robbery
and larceny. Though he has served seven years and should be up for parole
soon, it’s not expected that he’ll even have a chance to sit down with the parole
board. After the prison was retaken, he was beaten and dragged upstairs to
segregation. There, stark naked, he was put into a cell with only a mattress and
a pillow. Guards opened all the windows. “Imagine a 250 pound man trying to
squeeze under a pillow,” he commented. Guards told him, “Don’t worry if you
don’t freeze to death, you’ll die another way, nigger.”
What Happened After Attica Was Retaken?
I was laying in the hallway from the gas because they shot gas in the hall, observing things outside the window shooting, death assaults and different things
happening in the yard that I just came out of. The next thing I know I’m pushed
out the door into the A block area and my clothes are being ripped off me. I’m
on my stomach and I’m crawling across the yard.
I must have crawled for ten or fifteen minutes, then someone said, “Alright nigger, when I tell you get up, get up, and look straight ahead with your hands behind you, hear?” So the Department of Correction officers said, “That’s one of
the leaders over there – that’s one of the niggers.” So another one took me.
They took me on the side of the building under the catwalk in A block yard and
laid me on the table on my back. They took a football and put it under my throat
and he told me if I move the football, he would kill me.
Then they started asking me if I was the one who cut the officers’ testicle out –
castrated and put it in his mouth. I said, “No, I had no knowledge of this.” One or
two of the civilians there said, “You did it nigger, we know you did it.”
So one says to the other, “I bet you I can shoot his testicles off.” This time I’m
looking at a pistol. Another one says, “No, I bet I can throw a cigarette on him
and burn it off.” The other one says, “If you can get a cigarette on him I bet I can
shoot it off.”
For the next two hours I was constantly used as a human ashtray and spittoon.
They dropped hot shells, bullet shells on my body. I have spots on my body now
that I can show you and also I have burn marks on my body – between my legs,
on my legs, on my stomach.

  From Voices From Inside: 7 Interviews with Attica Prisoners (1972)


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All the while, these people are doing these things, they are constantly saying,
“Big Black, you know you did this, we seen you do this, we had glasses on you,”
while I’m constantly saying, “You know I didn’t do this – Why are you saying
this to me?” Meanwhile, I’m trying to shake myself to get the cigarettes off me
because I’m being burned and no one will knock them off.
So he tells me, “Don’t wipe it off or we’re going to kill you.” So he said, “Black is
beautiful – that ain’t beautiful.” At this time I have cigars and cigarettes between
my legs. The officers tell me that when I get off the table they have 60 officers
standing in the hallway and I’m going to have to run through the hallway “and
there’s no telling what they’re going to do to you Frank, after what you did.”
Were you medically treated at all?
They took me and lay me in the hospital, a nurse who works in the hospital said,
“Yeah, nigger, if we find out you did that, I’ll feel sorry for you.” Going to and fro,
he steps deliberately on my body and I was told by a state trooper if I moved
he would kill me because all the time I’m laying on the floor, I’m laying on the
stretcher and he has a gun in my nose. I can’t move my head. I can’t look left or
right. All I can look is straight up while laying on the floor. They pick me up and
take me to the x-ray table and the state trooper takes his foot and kicks me in
the buttocks.
There are four or five state troopers. Now the Department of Corrections officer
came in and he had two civilians with him. I’m laying down and I have my legs
closed and he says, “Open your legs” and I open my legs. This state trooper took
his rifle and he hit me in my testicles six or seven times. Not hard enough to
make me unconscious but just enough to hurt. And this is what he is constantly
doing. While he is doing this, two civilians are taking my pictures. “You’re the
one who cut the officers’ testicles and put them in his mouth. Do you know we
have a big surprise for you?” I don’t say nothing. “He’s a big one, he can stand
it.” They got four National Guards to pick me up so they can take me upstairs.
I can see the location, I can see the death and I say I know the institution. They
raised me right next to the elevator and they dumped me right on the floor. They
made me crawl in the elevator on my back, on my buttocks and on my elbows.
They make me get into a corner like so with my legs up against the wall. They
kept on the whole while, constantly telling me that they were going to kill me.
An officer upstairs knocked my head like I was a piece of meat or an insect. He
kicked me two or three times. He made me stand up but I could hardly stand
up because I lost quite a bit of blood and a puddle of it was right there when he
knocked me out. But I went because I was more scared than anything else because I don’t know what’s going to happen. I finally got up and they whipped
me to my cell. One thing I have to say is that I’m not going to let them do that to
me again.

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Since that time I have received no physical abuse at all. Since they put me in
my cell nothing but psychological harassment and so forth has continued until
right now, this morning. At present, conditions are the same or worse. Each
night two or three nights out of week, there is some officer somewhere who
says, “Be quiet niggers and die peaceful. You’re going to die niggers.” Each time
we come out of our cells, we have to strip and be exposed to 17 officers picking
our testicles up, turning around, bending over, spreading our buttocks and officers standing behind us with gestures, laughing and snickering.
If you ask for any kind of medical assistance, you don’t receive this, I have an
infected eye and I’ve been complaining about my eye and my jaw for the longest
Frank Lott has done nine years on a 50-years-to-life sentence (“I’m a modernday Methuselah,” he said) after being convicted of killing a cop. There seems
to be some question about whether it was he or the cop’s partner that did the
shooting. It seems that no one told him that the jury that was trying him was
hung – that they couldn’t come to an agreement about the case. The D.A. came
to him and pressured him into copping a plea by telling him how bad his chances were. So he copped the plea and it wasn’t until two years later when he wrote
for the transcripts of the trial that he discovered that the jury was hung. He has
appealed six times and has been turned down but “if you stop swimming you’ll
drown,” he says. One of the judges who heard his appeal is Mitchell Schweitzer,
who recently quit the bench after being suspended for taking bribes. Schweitzer,
through Frank’s attorneys, asked for a $15,000 payoff – from Frank sitting in
his cell in prison.
What Happened After the Prison Was Retaken?
After the taking of the prison by troops and guards, we were required to strip
naked. We were herded over from the D block area, barefooted. We were required to walk on the glass in the hallways, bleeding feet and all. And afterwards we were taken upstairs and we were made to run a gauntlet with guards
and troopers yelling “run nigger, run white nigger, run Spanish nigger.”
This is what they were doing – you wouldn’t believe it. You’d have to see it.
These are people that you call human beings. This is why I said that the Archie Bunkers of Attica are a bunch of hypocrites, man, they’re a bunch of sick
people. They were beating us with buckles and belts and everything they had.
After we had gotten in our cells they came around with the water hose. I noticed some of the local yokels around here. They had a fire truck up to the back
way in the A block area and I could see through the window, they hooked it up
to the fire hydrant down the end and brought the hose in and climbed the bars,
up the gallery to hose the fellas down whole they were in the cells. They were
putting three fellas in a cell.
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Everyone got beaten – some fellas got fractures and what not, kicked and
abused and racial slurs and things of that nature. After that was done, they
came around later after they had wet down the fellas in the cells. They started
from the front taking one guy at a time beating him up, putting him back in.
We had to sleep there – we had no furniture – just a spring with no blankets and
anything. We were stripped naked – sleeping three to a cell. They opened the
windows. It was pretty cold. But we weathered the storm.
That same night, they told me they had orders from Mancusi (the warden) for
me to be removed. They took me to D block area and held a gun to my head.
They had me in a ditch and they asked me if I was going to beg for my life. Naturally I refused to say anything because I resigned myself to death because I
knew these people were sick.
It so happens just at that moment, another correction officer called through the
broken window in the hall and he told them to bring me back. So they did, they
brought me back and put me in the cell. The very next morning they brought
me up to HBZ. I’ve been here since the 14th – September 14th.
Mancusi says we are up there because we are suspected of being leaders of the
rebellion. My understanding of it is that the guys who are up there one time or
another, they had some argument with Mancusi or one of these officials concerning their letters or concerning their political books or concerning the food
in the messhall. He thinks these guys are trouble-makers – these guys who
wrote to senators and thing like that.
They say we’re not up there for any kind of punishment and yet we have no
desks, we have no stools, cold food and things of that nature. We have no brooms.
The cells haven’t been swept in over two and a half, three months. No mops,
things like that. You can’t keep yourself clean. I worked in the metal shop five
days a week as a spray painter. It gets pretty sweaty there. If I got caught bringing in a towel into the shop other than shower day, they would lock me up.

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Prison rebellions erupt nationwide
From Prisoners Solidarity Committee
(Second 8-page newsletter on Attica) – September 30, 1971
In the wake of the Attica massacre, prison rebellions spread like wildfire across
the United States, as the country’s 200,000 prisoners expressed their solidarity with the Attica rebellion. The 13 reported rebellions since the Attica massacre doubles the total number of reported prison rebellions since the beginning
of this year.
•	At Walpole State Prison in Massachusetts, about 200 inmates also staged a
day-long strike against the prison factories on September 27.
•	At Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary, prisoners went on strike against the
prison’s factories.
•	The prison at Atlanta, Georgia, was also the scene of a protest strike against
the Attica massacre and similar conditions prevailing there.
•	In Terre Haute, Indiana, prisoners launched another protest strike.
•	At Wayne County Jail in Detroit, over one hundred police armed with shotguns and tear gas surrounded the prison on September 13 in anticipation of
a rumored rebellion planned to protest Attica, Inside, a “shake-down” was
carried on.
•	At the Women’s Prison in Alderson, West Virginia, 37 women, “the more vocal,
revolutionary types,” as one prison official put it, rebelled against being transferred to maximum security prisons, until finally subdued by pepper gas.
Throughout New York State, billionaire Gov. Rockefeller ordered all prisoners
kept under tight security restrictions. Nevertheless, prison rebellions continued:
•	At Clinton Prison in Dannemora, N.Y., 250 prisoners, some wearing black
armbands, tried to march on the mess hall on September 15 after hearing
about Attica, before being turned back by shotgun-carrying prison guards
and state troopers.
•	At the Great Meadow Prison in Comstock, New York, about 75 inmates rebelled for three hours on September 15, throwing bottles and setting fires.
•	At Elmira Prison, New York, about 200 prisoners staged a protest of several
hours on September 14, chanting slogans in their cells expressing solidarity
with Attica inmates.
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From “Betcha Ain’t: Poems from Attica” (edited by Celes Tisdale, Broadside Press, Detroit Michigan, 1974)
The poems below are the product of a poetry workshop that was intended as a rehabilitative
measure for Attica. A series of 8-week poetry workshops began on May 24, 1972, run by Celes
Tisdale who was a member of the Buffalo Black Drama workshop. Mr. Tisdale selected some of
the poems from the workshops and published a pamphlet titled “Betcha Ain’t: Poems from Attica.” The pamphlet includes brief biographical information on the poets.
The clouds were low
when the sun rose that day.
For the white folks were coming
to lay some black brothers away.
From eight surrounding counties,
the white folks came,
with 12 hundred locks
and some brand new chains.
The word was kill niggers,
kill all you can.
For they don’t have the right
to live like men.
Then up in the sky
appeared a big green bird.
And from inside came
these few words.
“Put your hands on your heads
and you won’t get hurt,
lie on your bellies,
put your face in the dirt.”

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Attica Prison Uprising 101: A Short Primer   41
Then from a distance
came a black brother’s cry.
“I’m a man, white folks,
and like a man I’ll die.”
By Isaiah Hawkins
Isaiah Hawkins was a prisoner at Attica. He was a member of the prison liaison committee
who worked for the betterment of all inmates’ conditions. He was released soon after the workshop began.
It isn’t strange to awake in the silence
Of midnights,
To hear MEN weeping, in harsh and gravelly voices
That turn away your lies,
They have witnessed the slaughter
And heard your songs of merriment
As you filled your cups with blood.
Anoint yourselves in madness,
Dance with Hitler’s ghost.
By Hersey Boyer
Born: August 19, 1941. Education: 9th grade Junior High School. Birthplace: New York City,
Harlem. Time: Life. Desire in life: to be a man wherever I am!

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A year later
And it’s just another page
And the only thing they do right is wrong
And Attica is a maggot-minded black blood sucker
And the only thing they do right is wrong
And another page of history is written in black blood
And old black mamas pay taxes to buy guns that killed
their sons
And the consequence of being free…is death
And your sympathy and tears always come too late
And the only thing they do right is wrong
And it’s just another page.
By John Lee Norris (Kamua)
Born: November 1941. Birthplace: New York City. Sign: Scorpio. A father with one son.
Dropped out of high school in the second year. I am a musician who plays drums. I write poetry
as love and preparation for becoming a playwright. Favorite poets are Imamu Baraka, Don
Lee, Carolyn Rogers, and Langston Hughes.

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SEPT. 13
Let the drums roll
Give the first command
That puts us in the ground
We stiffen our shoulders
Hold our heads up high
Let the world take note
That proud, black men
Are here about to die
If our actions
Cause brothers and sisters to unite
As we die,
In their fighting spirits we live.
So let the drums roll
And damn that final order that puts us in
The ground…
By Christopher Sutherland
Multi-talented (poet, musician) and eyes that appear to pierce the soul – an early standout in
the group sessions.
Was it really necessary?
Did they really have to carry
Rifles and shotguns?
Let’s ask the gov’,
Who’s so full of love!
Was it really necessary?
Did they really have to carry
Rifles and shotguns?
Against sticks and knives!
Was it worth 43 lives?
Let’s ask the gov’,
Who’s so full of love!
Was it really necessary?
Did they really have to carry
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44   Attica Prison Uprising 101: A Short Primer
Rifles and shotguns?
Shoot them with intent to kill!
Shoot them even when they lay still!	
Let’s ask the gov’,
Who’s so full of love?
Was it really necessary?
Did they really have to carry
Rifles and shotguns?
While troopers were killing with hate and glee,
Rock was safe in Albany!
Wasn’t he?
Let’s ask the gov’,
Who’s so full of love!
Was it really necessary?
Did they really have to carry
Rifles and shotguns?
Rock on T.V., says he didn’t know,
While 43 are helping daisies to grow!!
Does it sound like I’m angry?
Damn right, my heart pains me!!
Let me tell you something,
Since it’s time for me to split.
Don’t ask the governor nothing, Man,
Cause he’s full of it.
By Samuel L. Washington
Born: 1952. Birthplace: Toledo, Ohio. Sign: Libra. I came to Buffalo at age 3 and attended
school until age 16. Dropped out; drugs, two minor arrests before this; conviction on manslaughter. My sentence is 16 years.

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…..and when
the smoke cleared
they came aluminum paid
from Rock/The/Terrible,
of S.O.S. Collect Calls,
They came tearless
apologetic grin factories
that breathed Kool
and state-prepared speeches.
They came
like so many unfeeling fingers
groping without touching
the 43 dead men
who listened…
threatening to rise
By Mshaka (Willie Monroe)—Diminutive, incisive young man who was released from the
prison and transferred after two sessions in the workshop.

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1.	 The documentary “Disturbing the Universe” about lawyer William Kunstler (who
served as an observer and prisoner liaison at Attica) includes a 10-minute section
on the Attica Revolt. It can be found here: The clip can also be found on YOUTUBE here: Watch and discuss.
2.	 Use the Timeline of Events provided in the primer to explain the origins of the
uprising and what happened. You may want to write out individual points on the
timeline onto pieces of paper, and split up into small groups to discuss the points.
Then have the groups place them on a broader timeline on the wall and go over it
as a group to see how it all fits together.
3.	 Have students read the Attica poetry out loud, and then discuss. Starting questions:
What was the person who wrote the poem feeling at the time? What do you imagine his role
was in the uprising, if any? Does the poem give you a better understanding of the uprising?
4.	 Have students write their own “Attica” poem for the 21st century. You can provide
them with some inspiration by showing them Muhammad Ali’s Attica poem: http://
5.	 In 1919, Washington, DC newspapers ran wild with sensational stories of an alleged
sexual assault that was said to be committed by an African American. The stories
sparked a series of twenty riots during the summer of 1919, beginning with a white
lynch mob that targeted blacks in Washington. There were 28 public lynchings in
the first half of the year, and the following summer and fall came to be known as
“The Red Summer of 1919.” The Red Summer was the motivation behind Claude
McKay’s poem “If We Must Die.” (source:
In this poem, the Jamaican-born McKay is urging his brethren to fight back against
the racist violence that they are experiencing. Read the poem (Index A) and then
use the discussion questions to respond.
6.	 Have students read the excerpt by one of the leaders of the rebellion, Richard X.
Clark (Index B). Students can answer the discussion questions provided.

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For educators and organizers who are interested in units that can help your students
better understand the current prison system, download a copy of our “Something is
Wrong: Exploring the Roots of Youth Violence” curriculum guide for two workshop
We also created a PIC Jeopardy Game which can be downloaded here:

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By Claude McKay
If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.
If we must die, O let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
O kinsmen! we must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one deathblow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!
a.	 How does this poem apply to the Attica Prison Rebellion?
b.	 For what reason does McKay say that even a doomed resistance is worthwhile?
c.	 What does it mean to die nobly?
d.	 Do you believe that the prisoners at Attica died nobly?
e.	 Compare the poem “September 13th” by Attica Prisoner Christopher Sullivan (you
can substitute the poem 13th & Genocide by Isaiah Hawkins if you prefer) with
Claude McKay’s poem. What are the similarities? What are the differences?

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Richard X. Clark is a 25-year old Black Muslim convicted of attempted robbery. He was
one of a number of inmates who had an X marked on their backs by guards after the
prison was retaken in September. Elliott “L.D.” Barkley, who also was X-ed, didn’t live
past September 13. In February he was to come up for parole but the prison authorities
tried to take away 30 days of his “good time.” It was only after a court suit that he was
released in the middle of February.
What’s it been like since the rebellion?
The brothers here have gone through a lot of hell, we’re still going through a lot of hell
but you know this is one of the sacrifices that have to be made to get the message that
we want outside. Coming down in the elevator, we are compelled to stand with our backs
facing the people who are on the elevator – noses and toes to the wall – while the officers
continually harass you, they pat you, slam the doors with their sticks and so forth.
We’ve been tapering off in the respect that we’ve been acting more civilized than they
have but it’s getting to the point that we’re going to let loose and tell them to bring the
rest of the barrage on. We’re tired of it, that’s all it is. We’re tired of it. We have continually and firmly been voicing that we want to be treated like men. And we want everyone
to know it, that we are men.
Now it is understandable that we can’t retaliate in the same amount of force that they
use but by using our intelligence which is our unity, our solidarity. We know that for
them to do something to one of us they have to do it to all of us. There is no alienation
in here. Like there should be none in the communities, in the streets.
White inmates couldn’t even communicate with a black inmate without being subjected
to undue harassment, called “faggot,” “punk-lover,” “nigger-lover” or what have you. But
due to the extent that we were firm in our convictions, we were able to come together.
We understand that we all wear white uniforms upstairs. This is what they’re afraid
of, they’re afraid that any time we oppressed people come together, they’ve got to lose.
When I say they got to lose, they’ve got to expose themselves.

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They exposed themselves by vamping down on us and killing 43 of us, even their own
men. The corrections officers who are primarily the lower echelon, they don’t understand what’s happening. This is a job to them, just like the correction officer who is in
here now, he doesn’t understand what he’s being exposed to. All he understands is that
I’m an inmate and he’s an officer. He goes home every night and I stay in here.
But in actuality he’s in jail because if he analyzed it, he does more time than I do. And
not only is he locked up physically but his mind is locked up too. He can’t deal with the
myths that have been placed in front of him. He can’t break them down.
The correction officers who are here now, I don’t even think they stopped to think about
what had actually transpired in the yard. They don’t even stop to think that they could
have been placed in the same position that their fellow correction officers were placed
in: that Rockefeller and his guards could have come in and killed them too.
When you start using the example of George Jackson, Kent State, even My Lai, they feel
that this doesn’t relate to them because they are the poor, lower class white people who
are in the rural district of Attica. But there’s going to be a time that it is going to relate to
them. After all, times like when Attica came off the correction officers didn’t think that
they were vulnerable, that they were dispensible. But they were killed, not by us, but by
their own men.
Now the cry has been primarily to free the political prisoners. We know we’re not political prisoners, we’re slaves. The political prisoner is subjected to reprisals by the system
because of his views but a slave is subjected to reprisals because of his situation. If you
look at the jails, they’re 85% black. Now ask yourself why is it 85% black and not the other
way around? It’s because blacks are subjected to atrocities from birth – education-wise,
job-wise and economically. We are just cast aside on economic grounds by the system.
Now when a brother comes to jail he has time to sit down and analyze and really see.
When we were trying to negotiate, the people saw that the things that we were asking
for weren’t so extreme that they couldn’t have been given to us. They were things that
many people thought we had already. This is why we had to stipulate that we wanted to
have a concerned Community Committee to make sure that anything that was agreed
upon was imposed.

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We know that utilizing the tricks and deceitfulness that the system has always been utilizing, that if we were to agree “OK, we’ll go back in our cells if you agree not to beat us,
not to stomp us, not to take any reprisals,” once all of the concerned citizens leave the
prison, the doors are locked again. Now they’re locked tighter, then the regime can once
again come out in full force and do what they want to do.
We knew that a lot of us were going to be killed but we felt that due to the fact that we
had some outside observers that by them exposing, which is what is being done today,
exposing the murderers, that this once again would expose the system. Anytime you try
to expose the system which is as vast as this system is, you know there are going to be
many, many sacrifices. Sacrifices have been made all through time. If all of us have to die
to save generations to come then that is what has to be done. No crime was perpetrated
by us. Even the hostages could bear witness to this.
a.	 What is Richard X. Clark’s overall opinion of the Attica Rebellion?
b.	 Why does he believe the rebellion occurred?
c.	 What was the relationship like between the prisoners and the guards?
d.	 Did anything about his description of the prison surprise you?
e.	 Clark says “no crime was perpetrated by us.” What does he mean? Do you agree
with him?
f.	 At one point, Clark makes a strong statement: “ We know we’re not political prisoners,
we’re slaves. The political prisoner is subjected to reprisals by the system because
of his views but a slave is subjected to reprisals because of his situation.” Based on
what he says about the situation at Attica, what does he mean? Do you agree with his assessment that the prisoners at Attica were not political prisoners, but slaves?

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Attica: The Official Report of the New York State Special Commission on Attica (1972)
Attica: My Story by Russell G. Oswald (1972)
The Brothers of Attica by Richard X. Clark (1973)
A Time to Die by Tom Wicker (1975)
Ramsey Clark Discusses William Kunstler’s Involvement as a Community Observer who
had been asked to come to Attica by the prisoners:
Prisoner Carlos Roche on Life at Attica:
Prison Guard Michael Smith (who was held hostage at Attica):
Betcha Ain’t: Poems from Attica. Edited by Celes Tisdale. Detroit: Broadside Press, 1974.
Voices from Inside: 7 Interviews with Attica Prisoners. New York: Attica Fund, 1972.
We Are Attica: Interviews with Prisoners from Attica. New York: the Attica Defense
Committee, 1972
Attica Revisited is an invaluable resource that includes tons of useful information including film clips, documents from the McKay Commission, radio interviews, etc. about
the rebellion:

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The documentary “Disturbing the Universe” about lawyer William Kunstler (who served
as an observer and prisoner liaison at Attica) includes a section on the Attica Revolt. It
can be found here:
The PBS documentary “the Rockefellers” addresses the Attica Prison Uprising as part of
its discussion of Nelson Rockefeller. You can find clips of interviews with Frank Smith
and with Robert Douglass (who had been sent by the Governor to negotiate at Attica)
Bob Dylan wrote a song about George Jackson’s death—
John Lennon wrote






Muhammad Ali wrote a poem about the Attica Rebellion which he recites in this wonderful clip on YOUTUBE:
Against the Wall (1994)—This is a feature-length film about the Attica uprising featuring
Samuel L. Jackson. Make what you will of this. The film can be purchased at Amazon.
com for under $10.
The Ghosts of Attica (2001)—A riveting 90 minute documentary about the uprising—It
is expensive so find your local University library and borrow it from there.
The Killing Yard (2002)—This is a Showtime produced film featuring Alan Alda and
Morris Chesnut. I don’t think that this film is available on DVD.

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