Review of BLOOD IN THE WATER:THE ATTICA PRISON UPRISING OF 1971 AND IT’S LEGACY

BloodInTheWaterBLOOD IN THE WATER:THE ATTICA PRISON UPRISING OF 1971 AND IT’S LEGACY
Heather Ann Thompson
Pantheon Books

August, 2016

This book broke my heart. I can’t think of the last book I’ve read that hit me on such a profound emotional level.

The Attica Prison Uprising took place over the dates of September 9-13, 1971. Roughly 1300 prisoners took control of the prison. They had guards and civilian employees as hostages. In a nutshell, the cause of the riot was prison conditions which were deplorable on many levels. For days there were negotiations for the safe release of the hostages. Then September 13, 1971, the Governor Nelson Rockefeller ordered the prison to be retaken by force by heavily armed state troopers and corrections officers. This led to 39 hostages and and prisoners dead and over a hundred wounded.

Now those are the general facts, the things somebody with a cursory knowledge may know.ATTICA_photo7

Every story has a cause and affect. It has a beginning, a middle, and an aftermath.

BLOOD IN THE WATER is a detailed account of all these things and it was a heartbreaking story to read.

I’m really trying to organized my thoughts on how to describe this book.

The story of the uprising is like watching a multi-car pileup on a freeway during winter rush hour. Picture cars adding to the pile but crashing from all directions. The root cause gets lost in the ensuing mess. But the key fact is the story didn’t end there. It’s not like the prisoners went back to their cells and life went on.

There were massive repercussions in the form of months into years of abuse of the surviving prisoners by guards and troopers. Physical and mental abuse, along with legal abuse as in their civil rights were trampled.

Attica_riot-1024x772I can’t list some of the forms of abuse as much as I’d like to. They are soul crushing. And no employee of the state of New York were ever charged for any of it.

The State of New York prosecuted only the prisoners involved. Which is why the full scope of the story hasn’t been seen until now. To this day many of the facts of the Uprising have been still restricted from public view.

Heather Ann Thompson spent 10 years writing this book and she should be commended for it. This book should be required reading in studies of penology, civil rights, American history.

I myself, I have to read this book again, I’ll probably read this book multiple times. This book chronicles a valuable slice of the history of this country and it’s been relegated to a dusty forgotten corner for too long.

It’s never too late to bear witness.

Dave Wahlman

 

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