The Prisoners Took Over And This Actually Happened

The Prisoners Took Over And This Actually Happened

From the Women’s suffrage movement, to the
food riots during The Great Depression, to the civil rights movement of the 1960’s,
American citizens have rarely been shy about voicing their disapproval of the United States
Government. In all of these cases, those involved were
fighting for better rights and treatment in their everyday lives. But what if you had no rights to fight for? Today on The Infographics Show, we’re looking
at how the Attica Prison riot really went down and how the impact continues to ripple
through the American prison system. The 1971 Attica Prison riot started as a rebellion
against inhumane prison conditions. An organized group of prisoners detained in
this New York State prison sent a manifesto to the commissioner of prisons that read “the
guards no longer consider or respect us as human beings.” In the end, the riot would last a total of
5 days and take 39 lives. The whole truth behind this story has only
recently been uncovered, as the prisoners involved were finally allowed to tell their
side of the story, following a four decade long coverup by the government. First let’s look at what incited the prisoners
to come together in the first place. Tensions were growing nationwide within prisons
due to overcrowding, extremely limited food, access to one shower or less per week, and
the absence of medical care, and life in Attica was no exception. During the late 1960s and early 70s there
was a rise in serious incidents across American prisons, including the 1970 riots in Manhattan
House of Detention and the Auburn Correctional Facility, and these events sparked a fear
of more potential revolts across the country. Just before the riots began in Attica, there
were over 2,250 inmates housed there, even though the prison had been designed for only
1600, with each guard being responsible for between 60-120 inmates each, many of whom
were violent offenders. Back to that manifesto sent by the prisoners
we mentioned earlier, in the summer of 1971 the Commissioner of Prisons received a letter
with a list of demands from a group of prisoners who called themselves the “Attica Liberation
Faction.” The letter described the outright mistreatment
of the black and hispanic majority within the prison and contained a list of 28 reforms
including “improvements in the working and living conditions and a change in medical
procedure”. In an attempt to stop any violence or rioting
before it could start, the state’s reaction was to punish anyone found in possession of
this document with 60 days of solitary confinement. The state’s attempt to pacify the inmate
population proved to be a failure when on August 22, a Californian inmate was killed
by prison guards, and the usual divisions that existed between the prisoners and various
factions began to dissolve and a common solidarity formed. The next day, many prisoners wore black armbands
and ate breakfast in total silence to mourn the loss of the slain California inmate. The prison took immediate note of this change
in the prisoners’ behavior. The guards began more seriously arming themselves
and leaving behind personal items such as their wallets just in case anything “jumped
off” while they were at work. Their fears were well placed as it didn’t
take long for something to “jump off.” On the morning of September 9th, one inmate
was able to flip the switch that controlled a cell door, releasing his friend from lockdown. A guard noticed the released prisoner and
responded by locking down a group of prisoners being escorted in a passageway known as Tunnel
A, trapping both prisoner and prison guard alike. The group of prisoners, perhaps afraid that
they would meet the same fate that the California prisoner had met the previous day, tackled
the guard and began beating him. The sounds of terror echoed through the prison,
which motivated other groups of prisoners to do the same, grabbing weapons, attacking
guards, and opening cells. While some prisoners hid in fear, others took
this opportunity to access the prison’s control center known as “Time’s Square,”
shutting off all the lights and locating the prison’s keys. The chaos continued to grow with nearly 1,300
inmates now involved. Armed with bats, wooden planks, glass from
broken windows, police batons, and anything else they could find, the prisoners took control
of the prison. After giving up his nightstick and keys, one
inmate slogged a guard named William Quinn with a large piece of wood, an injury that
would lead to his death two days later. After the initial beating, 42 guards and civilian
workers were forced out into the exercise field known as D Yard. Some prisoners later stated that the guards
who had been known for treating the inmates with respect were shown the same, while the
guards with a reputation for cruelty were not so lucky. The prisoners were able to quickly organize
themselves, even creating their own security force and protocols, as well as a negotiation
committee to handle disputes between prisoners and the prison’s administration. Frank “Big Black” Smith was appointed as head
of security, and he is also responsible for keeping the hostages and the observers safe
while tensions were high. The next two days were filled with intense
negotiations between the prisoners and officials outside the walls. Better sanitation, higher quality food, more
visitation rights, and an end to beatings by the guards were the first demands brought
to the table by the prisoners in exchange for letting the hostages free. Negotiating on the other side was Commissioner
of Prisons Russell Oswald along with famed attorney William Kunstler as well as New York
Times reporter Tom Wicker to both assist with negotiations as well as broadcast the event
to the public. Despite the high profile of the incident,
the Governor of New York, Nelson Rockefeller, did not make an appearance. Some early miscommunication from Oswald led
to distrust from the prisoners and they soon after refused direct talks with him.While
negotiations were in full swing, the inmate leaders like Frank Smith were giving empowering
speeches to boost morale and motivate the prisoners. The prisoners dug moats, turned back on the
electric fences, doused the surrounding areas with gasoline, prepared weapons, further secured
“Times Square”, and lit up the dark hallways in preparation for when the state finally
moved in. When it seemed that negotiations were hitting
a dead end, the prisoners knew they would be forced to make a bold move. Oswald gave the prisoners a final ultimatum
which they rejected, and responded by taking eight hostages out to the catwalk of the prison
where they threatened them with knives. Following this bold rejection, on September
13th, the fifth day of rioting, with the state now being made aware of the death of prison
guard Quinn, Governor Rockafeller, with President Nixon’s support, ordered the storming and
recapture of the prison. 15 minutes after the order, a National Guard
Helicopter flew over the prison firing tear gas canisters meant to disorient the rioters. Shortly after, roughly 550 uniformed New York
State police officers prepared to retake the prison. They were joined by hundreds of sheriffs,
deputies and police from neighboring counties who had come to “support” the working
officers though many have claimed they were there mostly to take revenge. Many of the officers then removed their identification
before entering the prison which allows them to act with impunity and be exempt from any
punishment, as they would be able remain unidentified without their badges. Many of these officers brought weapons of
their own from home, with one group of officers using “.270 caliber rifles, which utilized
unjacketed bullets, a kind of ammunition that causes “such enormous damage to human flesh
that it was banned by the Geneva Convention.” Decades later, when the prisoners were able
to share their side of the story, journalist Heather Ann Thompson wrote about the horror
stories relayed by the surviving prisoners in a Pulitzer Prize winning account that described
the police storming the prison, shooting ferociously and with no real targets, or plan at all. This was followed by an hour of beatings and
torture, with police knocking prisoners heads together, hitting people with the butt of
their rifles and then shooting them, putting the barrel of the gun in the mouths of prisoners
just for laughs, or forcing them to strip naked. In one specific instance, a prisoner was shot
in the abdomen, told to walk, and when he couldn’t, he was killed. After the bloodbath came to an end, the state
once again had control of the prison. A grand total of 128 men had been shot; with
29 prisoners and 9 hostages lying dead. This was not the end of the abuse for the
prisoners, as bizzare work methods, like forcing them to clean the prison naked, and physical
harm lasted for weeks following the raid. According to one source, Attica Prison’s
doctor, Dr. Paul Sternberg, exacted his own form of revenge, often using racial slurs
and refusing to treat many of the prisoner’s injuries, or making them wait weeks for treatment. But perhaps the most bizarre part of the entire
ordeal was the cover up that would follow. The state took great pains in trying to obfuscate
what actually happened in the retaking of Attica’s D Yard on September 13th. Following the hour-long battle to take the
prison, Walter Dunbar, the executive deputy commissioner of New York’s Department of
Correctional Services had reported to the public that the guards who had been kept as
hostages were killed by the prisoners, when in fact they had been killed by law enforcement,
caught in the crossfire during the assault. He further claimed to have witnessed an inmate
performing a castration on a guard before killing him, to further vilify the inmates
and strengthen his cover up. An official Attica investigation was called
by Governor Rockefeller and undertaken by the New York State Police and its Bureau of
Criminal Investigation and strongly focused on the wrong-doings of the inmates, completely
disregarding the role played by law enforcement either prior to or during the riot. The state continues to push this side of the
story, even going so far as to pressure medical examiner, John Edland to falsify death records,
an order he refused. He would be regarded as a hero by many when
he revealed publicly that many of the victims had died of gunshot wounds inflicted by police,
not by the prisoners. Although this news surfaced, not a single
officer or civilian involved was indicted or convicted of any crimes. Governor Rockefeller and President Nixon were
able to sell the case to the public that the monstrous battle was warranted, and eventually
62 inmates would be indicted for more than 1,200 criminal acts, the blame for the riot
and its aftermath placed squarely at their feet. However in 1974, after more reports of the
incident came to light, the new governor of New York Hugh Carey sought to bring an end
to the whole affair by ending any and all criminal charges related to the riot. He was successful in pardoning every Attica
prisoner for cases related to the riots, and offered restitution to victims of crimes committed
by authorities before, during and after the riot. In the year 2000, the Dean of NYU’s Law
School held meetings to discuss and investigate the Attica Revolt. The final report described the details of
the gruesome conditions and race-based terror prisoners were subjected to in the years prior
to the revolt, and was strongly critical of how law enforcement handled the crisis. Also in 2000, the State of New York finally
settled a civil suit brought by inmates for a total of $12 million dollars in damages
for the use of excessive force, though by then many of the potential claimants were
dead with many more uninterested or unable to be located. Frank “Big Black” Smith , the motivational
leader of the prisoners who received some of the worst treatment after the riot, who
was subjected to being burned, assaulted, humiliated and threatened, spent the rest
of his days living in New York City and working as a paralegal, dedicating himself to prisoner’s
right’s cases until his death in 2004. The Attica Prison Riot serves as a reminder
of what can happen when a failed prison system is combined with a systemic abuse of human
rights. While some sort of justice has been served,
the riot will forever be another reminder of why you shouldn’t always believe what the
authorities tell you, but rather exercise your right to research and demand what is
right. Do you believe the prisoners deserved their
initial punishment? Or that the Police officers deserved to be
charged for their actions? We would love to know what you think. Let us know in the comments! Also, be sure to check out our other video
What Happens In The H Unit At Federal Supermax Prison?! Thanks for watching, and, as always, don’t
forget to like, share, and subscribe. See you next time!

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About the Author: Sam Caldwell


  1. Honestly, those demands from the prisoners seemed pretty reasonable. Of course the people in power would not do that, but who wouldn't ask for a better quality of life?

  2. This is 100% on prison staff themselves. You mostly get whats going to you. I cant translate this better: but why complain when it was you who made the order and its exactly what you meant.

  3. Yeah, I've seen what American prisons are like

    There ain't no spin that would make me sympathetic towards prisoners

    Interesting story though

  4. How come the prisoners were not referred to as racist as 1 point I guess when you discluded white people that's why even though they were also limited to less than one shower a week and yadathey spoke about this as if it was a great civil rights movement that disincluded people based on race

  5. Sometimes I want Terrorists to Bomb the government areas to teach them a lesson, not saying it is right but.. they are the true criminals

  6. Interesting story, but it would be nice to know the actual truth. The president? The state of New York? New York state police? The governor of New York? All known liars. Prison inmates, also known liars. Which side is telling the truth? Probably neither. There were no cameras.

  7. Lol take them guns away and you’ll see who the real men are lol I need my second amendment rights cause I’m a p$$$y without it lbs

  8. Take note. When racism and divisions become seen as the lies they are, those in control will tremble. Workers of the world unite!

  9. I think the officers were in the wrong the prisoners may have committed awful crimes which gets them arrested and they go to prison but the guards are basically doing what the prisoners did when they were free like those guards assaulted prisoners how do the guards not get arrested? Is it just not possible their should be a human right law about this

  10. Similar and the same treatment by medical staff and guards towards inmates exist today in virtually every single county in the United States

  11. Oh those poor prisoners..Going about their business, they only killed a guard. How dare the sheriff's respond with some human emotions on display..Shame on prisoners involved should have been charged & not simply let off because someone was too tough on them

  12. That's why I don't trust police or the govt.

    They are a bunch of liars.

    If you want to be safe you have to protect yourself

  13. It is abuse of power for sure but most of these are violent criminals. Hard to feel sympathy.
    Inmate: Our rights are being abused.
    Me: Why are you locked up in here?
    Inmate: Oh, I killed a store clerk when I robbed him.

  14. This happened because of Muslim violence. Rage against white people for crimes they did. That is why you can't have pork in prison

  15. so youre telling me a prison got taken over by said prisoners, had access to all keys and doors and yet NONE OF THEM TRIED TO ESCAPE?!
    at that point you're definitely there just to make a statement. either that or they WANT to live in prison??

  16. The kind of tactic that works perfectly to this day, because so many people are sheep who believe everything the government tells them. Also prisons are of particular importance to the gov: They're literally a modern day slavery system, without prison labor the economy would be affected… the state's goal is to have as many people in prison as possible, working as hard as possible, demanding as little as possible.

  17. My institution has about 900 inmates and 15 co's on shift.only 6 of them certified.we normally work 16 hr shifts.and haven't had a rise in 12 years…..

  18. Thanks to infographics show for explaining from the side of victims(prisoners)…Law Makers are the one who breaks it many times soo brutally

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