Interview with Tom Wicker
QUESTION 4
INTERVIEWER:

I want you to go, give me again the picture, this time just from when you went into the yard again the first time. Not so much when you got to Attica, but when you went into the yard. What was the experience like?

TOM WICKER:

Well we were met by sort of a committee of inmates who had dressed in outlandish costumes. In many cases football helmets, you know and some had hoods over their faces. And that gave the whole thing kind of a strange feeling. And then we were led down a long corridor which had been trashed and burned out in the initial rioting. Across part of another yard and through a little short passage into the A yard where the, where the, where the inmates were gathered. And an immense crowd, I think probably about fifteen hundred of them is my recollection, in a space about the size of two football fields entirely surrounded by either brick walls or, or these buildings that were cell blocks for the inmates. So it was an enclosed area and very poorly lit with a few electric bulbs on the walls around there. And some fires burning in, in, gasoline, in trash cans. Giving a very scary orange flickering sort of light over the whole thing. And the first thing we saw was this human chain of inmates, one facing this way and one facing that way with their arms locked. And they stood between us and formed a sort of a, they formed a sort of path up to the front where a table had been set up. And all the big crowd of the inmates were behind that chain. I suppose had anyone tried to surge forward to capture us or something the chain would have protected us. That was clearly its design. And but once, I mean the first feeling of shock I think for a sort of sedentary middle class person like me was the feeling of being out of reach of the law that one ordinary thinks protects you. You know that sort of protection we all take for granted until you don't have it. And all of a sudden I realized that there wasn't anything in there to protect me except these other inmates whom, these inmates have, it's all too easy to think of you know is murders, murderers and thieves and so forth. And that, that is a somewhat scary feeling. There's no question. But very shortly, very shortly after that we all got down to business to try to, you know, work out the problems there. The inmate leaders got into some very fervent oratory. They were great orators**. And it was clear to me that the, after a very short time that the crowd out, great unseen crowd out there, they were not just dying to come forward and string me up, you know. They were quite docile in hands of the leaders. So they settled down very quickly. And I found the leaders there very business like. They wanted to get on with it. And their, their demands were obviously going to be very hard to satisfy, but they made them in a business like manner.