Interview with Tom Wicker
QUESTION 5
INTERVIEWER:

Just once again, I want to mine this area a little, the issue of amnesty. It seemed to be the major thing between the inmates and the state. And what did you think about the inmates wanting complete amnesty?

TOM WICKER:

Well I had, the issue of amnesty obviously was the thing that hung up the negotiation from beginning to end and on which they ultimately failed. To this day it's difficult for me t, to say that one side or the other was, was absolutely right about that. I mean there was a mixture here. The inmates had good reason to know, there had been other prison riots and some of them had been in them. At Auburn and places like that. They had good reason to believe that the state wouldn't play fairly with them. They had, they had seen inmates prosecuted, you know for things like the theft of an officer's keys and that sort of stuff. And they felt that they had real grievances as to how they'd been treated in that prison at Attica. The kind of conditions that they underwent there. And that, in that sense their revolt was justified. And that since there revolt was justified, whatever incidents might have occurred along the way ought to be forgiven them. Well that's an argument that was made very powerfully and strongly. And yet, clearly, from the state's point of view, you can see, they said well you know, you, you many have felt justified, but a lot of people feel justified when they break the law, but they break the law nonetheless. And therefore as Governor Rockefeller said very strongly that, you know, there's no provision by which I can grant amnesty and so forth. Now I don't really take that at full course either because political figures like Rockefeller find lots of ways to do things when they want to do it. But nonetheless it was a, not a clear cut argument one way or the other. And the inmates felt very strongly that they had to have amnesty. And that was particularly true after the death of the guard William Quinn, I believe was his name who was killed, he was injured in the first moment of rioting and then died like two days later. After his death became known in the yard, then the, the, the calls for amnesty are even stronger because it was feared that there was a murder charge waiting for somebody out there you see. And that also I think is fair to say made it more difficult for the state even to think in terms of amnesty because it was a murder charge possible against somebody. So it was virtually an insoluble issue. And what I hoped as, as, as a mediator there. I hoped that we could do what is so often done in political controversies that we could work out some formula that the inmates could accept as granting amnesty. But which the state would not have to say is amnesty. And that was the search we embarked upon and ultimately failed.