Interview with Tom Wicker

This had been? three days out of your life, how did this experience affect you?


Well it affected me very strongly in an, in an emotional sense and possibly in an intellectual sense. Not, it, it had no real impact on my life, I went on doing what I was doing, you know, what I had been doing, I'm still doing as a matter of fact, so I didn't suffer any great change of that kind. But it's, it's left me with a lasting sense of, in a moment when something was really required, you know, of me and of others there, it's left me with a lasting sense of failure because we had an opportunity, however limited, to stop that and we didn't. And I, I, it's, that's something that you have to live with, you know. Ah, on the other hand, it, I think it's given me a, a considerably greater insight than I might not have had into the workings of, not just of government but of power generally. I, I don't mean to sound on the, in this program, an apologia, the men who were in--inmates at Attica and for whatever crimes they've committed, and some of which were heinous, I don't mean to do that at all. But nonetheless they were, they were, they were human beings and, and they had rights and the wish to live and so forth, and we haven't in our society, yet, we haven't even remotely learned how to deal with such people, to deal with offenders in our society. How, how to, how to cope with the offenses and to help the offenders into a less offensive way of life. We haven't even begun to learn how to do that. And people who think, and you hear the cry all the time, "Clap them into prison," you know, "Keep them there a longer time," "Death penalty." I mean none of that is the right answer to any of this. And I think I see that more clearly than I ever did at Attica because I saw, I saw men up there who rightly I suppose could be called murderers, rapists, thieves, that I, and I saw that they were, you know, "There, but for the grace of God, go I." And I think it's a very serious problem. We now have in this country the greatest number of people in prison that we've had, it's over half a million I think. Our society imprisons the third largest number of people of any, any system in the world, any country in the world. And the first two are the Soviet Union and South Africa. And that's a third place that we ought not to be very proud of. And we continue to have high rates of crime. People who are fearful of being hit over the head at night or having their houses entered are right to be afraid of it. I mean we have a high rate of crime in this country and we need to do something about it. But the cries for vengeance and the cries for a sort of a, of a fundamental, basic security, you know, lock everybody up, death penalty, that sort of thing, I mean that's not doing it. Anyone who wants to take a look at the statistics and what's happened in our society over the last 20 years knows that that's not, that that's not doing it. And so I've felt very strongly since Attica that, you know, locking people up in cages and throwing away the key is not the right way to do it.