Interview with Tom Wicker

One more? How much time do you think is left on this?


I'm going to ask you--Ready?


--ask you once again about the effect the experience of Attica had on you.


Well I can't, the experience at Attica of course is a thing that, you know, remains with you forever, a horrendous event of that kind. I can't say that it changed my life in a material way, that is to say, I didn't change my way of livelihood or anything of sort. I'm still doing now more or less what I did then. But it certainly affected me emotionally and, and intellectually, perhaps even politically. I think I, I have a, a persisting sense of failure out of that because we were charged with the possibility of avoiding that terrible thing that happened, the deaths of 39 people, and we didn't. And it's all very well to say that, well, you couldn't have, and maybe that's true, but nonetheless we didn't, and I feel that very strongly and always have. Emotionally I, and, well it's hard to say whether it's emotionally or intellectually, I can't really quite look at the crime problem in this country any more, in the same way as so many other people do as, as literally an open and shut case: there are criminals and non-criminals, and criminals are bad and the non-criminals are good. It's pretty hard for me to see that because in the, and I'm not saying that that isn't true in some cases but in, in those close cir--and dramatic and emotional circumstances of 72 hours there in the prison, I saw men in a different, different light from that. I mean, I'm not trying to say that some of 'em had not committed terrible crimes, I'm sure they had, but I had an opportunity to see the, their humanity, you know, as perhaps they could see mine. And so I could never again quite look at the situation as being one in which you just say, "Well, you know, lock 'em all up, and keep them there a longer time, or death penalty," or that sort of thing because these people are human beings and in many cases there, there are, I'm not trying to make some generalized case that society is to blame for their problems, but in many cases there are problems of childhood deprivation, or drugs, or alcohol, or lack of education, or brutalization, or whatever that are responsible for, that have caused people to, to offend society. And it really isn't good enough on the part of our society just to throw these people into cages and, and leave 'em there and say, "Well, you know, you're a criminal." We need to see why we have so much crime in this country and we need to try to do something more about it than just revenge ourselves. And I, I think that's probably in any, in any sense having to do with my work, the way I look at the world, that's probably the, the lasting affect of, of Attica on me, the most lasting affect.