A week ago, I had the pleasure of meeting a man named Joseph Heath, one of the lawyers that worked for many, many years to help some of the victims of the Attica Uprising. Recently, a book called Blood in the Water written by Dr. Heather Ann Thompson, was released. It deals with the uprising, cover-up, charges and lawsuits that followed.
As part of a series on the Attica Uprising, Mr. Heath was giving a presentation at SUNY Geneseo and I was invited by my good friend and faculty member, Michael Oberg. I was humbled and honored to be among so many intelligent and dedicated people, including the students, who represent our future. My hope for them is that they will learn from the past and not repeat the mistakes of their fathers and grandfathers. It was breathtaking to see them hang on to Mr. Heath's every word, as he spoke about the horrors of the uprising; the torture the inmates endured, even showing us pictures of swollen, bloody faces. I couldn't help but to think about my husband. (Who, by the way, called right before the presentation began... of course! He was just as excited as I was about this event once he heard where I was. He offered to let me get off the phone. I accepted.)
As I sat there, listening to him describe how the events unfolded I could imagine it. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Those men had a window of opportunity and they took it. The rest is history. The truth was hidden for a very long time, but among the inmates the truth has always remained. I didn't know very much coming into this presentation, but what I did know (from what my husband mentioned to me) was that the authorities messed up. They were responsible for the deaths and for the injuries but tried to cover it up by putting the blame on the inmates, you know... business as usual! Except that this gained a lot of attention and eventually, the truth had to find it's way out. Who knows what else we'll learn about those days?
I wish the sacrifices of the victims of the Attica uprising would have made a difference worth dying for. The conditions in today's prisons are no better. They may SEEM better, but they're not. Here is one example... In August of last year, 2016, my husband had spent about 16 months in a facility near the Adirondacks (4 hours away). He was sent there after being in the box for speaking at a service in Attica. During his time a this facility, he had exemplary behavior, earning a spot in the honor block and all! He was able to choose where to go next (preferential transfer), so, of course, he wanted to be closer to home. Two days before his move, he called home to say that he wouldn't be calling for a few days due to being in transit. "This will soon be over!" he said about the long rides. I was cautiously excited about having him closer, knowing that things sometimes change.
Almost a week had gone by and there were no news. I kept checking the website to see where he might be, but it said that he had not moved. Hmmmm, weird. Finally, I called the facility to ask if he left or what. The counselor said "He's still here, got himself in some trouble." And that is all he would say. I was floored! WHAT???? In trouble? This man, who was in honor block, on his way to the closest facility to home, after all this b.s., got himself in TROUBLE???? NO WAY! There is no way
anyone can make me believe HE got in trouble. There's got to be more to this story. I took a deep breath and tried not to cry.
Later that day, I got a letter from my husband. The handwriting was unrecognizable and the content brought me to tears. He had been assaulted. By several guards. The day he was leaving. I called his mom (cause you don't mess with her baby!!!) and we headed to the prison early the next day. He came out and greeted us. His demeanor was quiet, defeated. His eyes were swollen, his hands were bruised and his wrists (where the handcuffs had been) had scabs on them. I looked down as he told us all about how a civilian woman (who works a the laundry) ran out of the laundry while he waited to turn in his I.D. and board the van to be transferred. He was the only inmate, the only person period, in the hallway. As he sat, waiting, he saw the woman run out and call for help. When the officers came, they asked her, "where did he go?" They ran down the hall, stopped in front of him and she pointed at my husband and said, "there he is!" That was it! The next thing he knows, he was shackled, on the ground getting kicked and punched. He was later charged with assaulting an officer and sentenced to SIX months in the box. How has prison gotten better?
He should have been an hour away. Closer to his family. He worked hard for this.
I have yet to read the book that has sparked renewed conversations about Attica. It is on the top on my to do list. I have not heard from my husband, who is currently without "privileges."