you have an interest and the intestinal fortitude, I encourage you to
the documentary. Filmmaker Stanley Nelson brings the Attica massacre
to the big screen using video footage never before seen publicly that
helps to fill in the gaps of the prison uprising that kicked off in
is available for free viewing on YouTube until the end of Black
years later, the Attica prison massacre remains the bloodiest in U.S.
history. In fifteen minutes, a blaze of bullets were fired by prison
guards, state troopers and national guardsmen. I’m always
amazed that there weren’t more casualties; it was like shooting
fish in a barrel.
the smoke cleared, thirty-nine lay dead, hundreds injured and many
more traumatized for life. This is the human toll it took to break
open the prisoners’ rights movement and simultaneously create
the blueprint for the imminent prison industrial complex.
the Attica standoff, everyone played their role. The organizing of
the prisoners was incredible, from building latrines to setting up
medical units. We saw the brilliance of certain leaders come through
and knew their leadership would be avenged. Young brothers like LD
Barkley - days away from being released - was summarily executed by
the state after regaining control of the yard and inmates had
mainstream media told their lies to ensure public sentiment would not
side with the prisoners. The airways conveyed that inmates had done
all kind of horrific things to the guards, like slitting their
throats when, in fact, a special patrol of prisoners was responsible
for keeping the hostages safe during the entire time of the siege.
Autopsies would later reveal that all victims, both prisoners and
guards, died by bullets from the state law-less enforcement.
there were the politicians. A politically ambitious Governor
Rockefeller was in regular communication with then President Richard
“Tricky Dick” Nixon. They never intended to negotiate in
good faith, seeking to project the most vivid picture of who could be
hardest on criminals, aka Black prisoners.
inmates had righteous demands like getting medical treatment,
receiving more than one roll of toilet paper per month, ending the
unbridled brutality by guards, getting more visiting hours. These
were the same demands echoing in archaic penal institutions across
the country at that time. Sadistic guards, intolerable conditions,
inhumane practices - the ingredients of an uprising in AnyPrison USA.
Missouri, we had our own Attica prison. Like most states in the
1970s, there was only one penitentiary - the Big House. Ours was the
Missouri State Penitentiary (aka Misery, Suffering, Pain) because of
the notorious savagery by guards and a warden who actively engaged in
the brutality of inmates. I was a young organizer with a coalition
that helped to fight for the rights and dignity of prisoners and
their families. My activism led to my being banned from the premises
until the mid-1980s when the penal system hired its first African
American director. He lasted a New York minute but our organizing
1970 there were almost 50,000 people in state and federal prisons.
From Ronald Reagan’s so-called war on drugs to Bill Clinton’s
crime bill and beyond, the stage was set to build a monster system
that currently contains two million people at an annual cost of
nearly $200 billion. This astronomic figure is based on the operating
costs of mass incarceration plus policing and courts. And let’s
not forget the cost paid by families to support their loved ones in
prisoners may get more toilet paper or can see loved ones in a bright
and colorful room instead of behind mesh. The sadistic guards,
intolerable environment and inhumane practices are still essential
elements of the oppressive prison system. Psychological torture,
verbal abuse and physical brutality happen away from the ever-gazing
eyes of surveillance cameras.
every issue lifted up through the Attica demands is alive and well in
2022. There needs to be serious scrutiny of U.S. prisons from bottom
to top, back to front. For a system that’s sucking billions of
taxpayers’ dollars from meeting human needs, it gets very
little scrutiny and scant government interventions.
prison rights movement is a sleeping giant when you think about the
number of people who’ve been touched directly or indirectly by
mass incarceration. The prison abolitionist movement must use the
interests and emotions coming from the Attica
documentary to infuse new energy into an old struggle.