Former inmates will talk about bloody riots as 40th anniversary nears
By: Clem Richardson
NY Daily News - Forty years later, the Attica prison riot remains the bloodiest clash of its kind in American history. Twenty-nine inmates and a total of 10 guards and civilian employees were killed after Gov. Nelson Rockefeller ordered State Department of Correction guards and New York State troopers to storm the upstate New York facility to restore order on Sept. 13, 1971.
Inmates had taken over the prison four days earlier to protest a variety of grievances, including once-a-week showers, one call home a week, and monthly no-contact visits from friends and family.
Joseph (Jazz) Hayden, 70; Vincent Hutchinson, 78; Melvin Muhammad, 71; and William Maynard, 76, all did time in Attica.
Each will be on hand Sept. 9 when The Riverside Church presents “Attica Is All Of Us: An evening of conversation, performances and music to mark the 40th anniversary of the Attica rebellion and massacre and address current prison struggles.”
The event begins at 7 p.m. and is free and open to the public. Poet/activist Amiri Baraka and Princeton Prof. Cornel West are also scheduled to take part in the discussion.
The former inmates gathered at the American Friends Meeting House on Manhattan’s Rutherford Plaza earlier this week to discuss the historic takeover and its bloody end.
All were Harlem born — “We come from 110th to 150th St. and everywhere in between,” Maynard said — and all but Maynard have returned there since being released. Each was imprisoned on murder and manslaughter charges.
Hutchinson served the longest time, being released in 2008.
The men tell their stories with the force of a witness.
Hayden was transferred out just six days before the riot began. He said prisoners began organizing to protest the horrible conditions in Attica long before the riot started.
“We managed to bring the whole population under one umbrella called the People’s Party,” Hayden said. “I played a major role in D-Block yard, organizing. We taught legal research classes in the yard; we had political study groups and basically educated ourselves to try to begin to understand the system.
“We were pretty well organized,” he said. “Attica was divided into four yards, and if you lived in one and someone lived in an adjoining yard you could be there 10 years and not see them.” So inmates used the sports teams — football, basketball and softball — that played against each other to communicate about protest plans.
They recall a day of silence in the mess hall, where no one spoke as the 2,225 inmates ate breakfast, lunch and dinner. “The only thing you heard in the mess hall was as the inmates were walking out and you heard the click, click, click of the utensils falling into the receptacle,” Hutchinson said. “It was a powerful thing.”
The others were there for it all — Hutchinson climbed a catwalk as the riot got underway and relieved a guard of his keys, throwing them down so other inmates could be let out of their cells. He also ran between cell blocks letting other inmates know the guards had been disarmed in one block, prompting more guards to be attacked.
“Wherever it went, the block just exploded,” Hutchinson said. “It was a sign of oppression. If everybody had not been feeling the pressure, it would have ended with the first thing. But with everybody feeling it, it just exploded.”
Hutchinson was indicted and charged with robbery in the second degree for taking the guards’ weapons.
All indictments stemming from the riot were later dismissed. Inmates and guards won separate multimillion-dollar settlements from the state for injuries suffered during the mayhem.
Muhammad, who joined the Nation of Islam while in prison, was one of the group of people assigned to protect the prison guards who were kept as hostages in the prison yard once the uprising started.
Hutchinson and Muhammad were shot as authorities retook the prison.
Each man remembers two moments of the riot that would become iconic — prison leader L.D. Barkley’s speech stating the prisoners’ demands, and the photograph of the yard of inmates raising their fists as a group in defiance.
“L.D. said, ‘We are men, not beasts, and will not be driven as such,” Hutchinson said. “He delivered it right in the yard. He was a very bright youngster. He had political views about things that older people didn’t have.
“He and a group of young people got together and said people over 30 have the wrong attitude and should be eliminated,” Hutchinson said. “Then I started thinking about it and realized I was over 30.”
“God blessed us to survive,” Muhammad said. “Our job is to make sure the real truth gets out about what happened there.”
Source: Attica, their inside story
Response: replica hermes pursesHello, your articles here Event - Attica is All of Us - Riverside Church Friday September 9, 2011 - All Things Harlem - News, Video, Opinion to write well, thanks for sharing!
Response: hlEtObbxEvent - Attica is All of Us - Riverside Church Friday September 9, 2011 - All Things Harlem - News, Video, Opinion