Interviewer: Sam Pollard
Production Team: B
Interview Date: December 9, 1988
Camera Rolls: 2084-2087
Sound Rolls: 238
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Frank Smith (Big Black), conducted by Blackside, Inc. on December 9, 1988, for Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads 1965 to 1985. Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of Eyes on the Prize.
OK, first question here. What were conditions like in Attica before the rebellion?
The conditions in Attica before the rebellion I guess, Sam, you know, some kind of way, you know, I gotta--
Don't say Sam.
OK, I guess brother or whatever, that.
I don't have to say it? OK.
What were conditions like in Attica before the rebellion when you were there.
Conditions in Attica before the rebellion is somewhat the same as 1988, today, the present time, but all this.
What were conditions like in Attica before the rebellion?
Conditions in the 1971 before the rebellion, ah, ah, was bad, you know, bad food, bad educational programs, very, very low, low wages. We were called slave wages. You know myself I was working in the laundry and I was making like 30 cent a day, being the warden's laundry boy and that was the title that you had with my job, Warden's boy, and I'm far from a boy.** So the conditions in Attica was very, very bad, just to name some.
Tell me some more about the conditions, the toilet paper, showers.
You get one shower a week. You know a shower, you know, to us in Attica State Prison is a bucket of water, you know, and if you lucky and you get the right person outside of your cell that would bring you a second bucket then you can wash half of your body with one bucket. What we would do is wash the top of our body with one bucket and if we get a second bucket then we will wash the bottom part of our body. And you get one shower a week. You know, and, and, and the books in the library was outdated. They didn't have any kind of positive recreation for us. If there was any recreation, it was minimal. It would only be on the weekends. And Attica is four prisons in one. You got A Yard, B Yard, C Yard, and D Yard and two mess hall, what is that dining rooms. And the only time you would see a person that's in A Block if you in B Block like I was is when you would go to the mess hall and that would sometime, sometime you might run into him. Dehumanizing, the word would be for the conditions in Attica in 1971.
OK, that's good. Stop down.
Tell me what it was like in terms of getting a shower, having to just use toilet paper.
There's nothing too much that you could do no more than just wait, or, or hope you get lucky or some way to get on some kind of recreational list on the weekend in order to get more than one shower. You know, shower, getting more than one shower is a problem, you know. As far as the police are, as far as the facility is concerned, the institution is concerned, there's no problem as far as the water or the availability of a shower, its there but it just wasn't, it just wasn't a thing that they would give you more than one shower per week, you know, and as far as the toilet paper, you get one, one roll of toilet paper and that lasts until it give out or until the police, until you can get someone, you know, to swag, that mean another fellow inmate that can get access to a roll of toilet paper, possibly to get a roll out the police's toilet, ah, they bathroom, because they got three, four rolls in there. So, if you one of the people, you know, that moves around the facility you might to get someone to get you a roll of toilet paper or you could swag one from your job. And then if you get busted its like a 1751 and in the statute, in the law that's like possession of drugs, that's contraband. A roll of toilet paper now, and I don't know what they think you supposed to use. I guess you're supposed to tear your sheet up, you know, and use it, which you know, really a man in prison, you know, it's dehumanizing, very dehumanizing, very barbaric the way they treated you. You know, you're not a human being anymore, you know, you're a third class citizen once you go to prison and that's the way you be treated. That's what brought the rebellion on, dehumanized conditions.
How did Black consciousness that was happening out on the streets, how did that affect the brothers inside--
Well, we, some, some of us I'd say, you know, always had access to the outside world and was concerned and, and had that link, you know, that chain that reach outside. You know we was watching the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, and we was watching Malcolm, you know, in a lot of sense and Amiri Baraka, you know, he was doing a lot of poetry and Eldridge Cleaver, you know, _Soul on Ice_, you know, we had communication around Black history, around Black development, ah, the elevating that Blacks needed and eventually would see. So we had the educational vehicle, you know, we had a lot of literature that we, and a lot of it we had to swag it in order to get it into the facility because the facility wouldn't let it in, you know. So, we had to swag it. I mean we had to have somebody in the package room, you know, to, to let a box come through, even if it was a cop. If we subscribed to get Black literature in through the facility, it would get screened and would get rejected, you know, in a lot of sense. But we had, you know, a vehicle. We did have Black literature and, and, the _Muhammad Speaks_ would get in, the newspaper, we would read that, a lot of us. And we would pass it on. It might be two or three weeks, you know, before you get it, you know what I mean, but we did, you know, come about it. Mm hm.
We'll go on to the next question here: George Jackson had died. What happened the day of his death. Describe what happened that morning.
That was one of the most--
Include the day--
Yeah, the George Jackson death.
Why don't you just pick it up again.
OK, the George Jackson's death, you know, the day of his death, ah, the day afterwards, you know, really, was one of the most, I guess it was gloomy just like the 13th, you know, you could see death, you could feel it, you know, everybody was in a very, very down syndrome, you know, and that self-esteem was very low. You know and it was a broad thing to see you know. And really when it, when it really hit me is going to breakfast that When it really hit me was going to breakfast that morning and everybody was quiet, nobody wasn't picking up no silverware, you know when you go in the dining room, in the mess hall, you had to pick up a knife, spoon and fork and when you come out you had to have that. nobody was picking it up, nobody was talking.** And I was trying to figure out, you know, what was happening. You know what I mean, I kept asking some of the fellows, you know, that I was hanging out with, you know, what was going on, and, and they started explaining to me, you know, Brother George, you know, Soledad Brother, and duh duh dah, this happened in California but it was a, it was a thing to see, you know. And it remind me, and I seen it again, you know, in the yard, you know, in Attica how unity and, and how people could really come together around the same common goals, you know, and it, it was a very, very a broad thing to see and a good feeling to have, you know, around George Jackson's death. It's bad, you know that it had to be behind his death, you know, but it brought some form of unity all the way to New York State. We felt it.
Cut.OK, stop down.
Ready. A few days latter had a tape recorded message for the inmates. What was your reactions to his statements --
Well, after Oswald left the message, you know the tape message, you know, to the brothers in Attica, you know, Oh, he ain't high-jiving, you know, he thinks somebody's head is screwed on. He had to go that same rhetoric, you know. This ex-commissioner of parole, you know, he's shooting us a lot of, you know, White-wash again, you know, he's not going to do anything and, and he's overly reacting, you know, the situation that we're talking about or any manifesto that was given to him, you know, he's not going to adhere to it. You know he's not going to go with any of the demands or the suggestions, you know, that he call it, you know, he's not going to go with any of it. I thought he was going to take it as a laughing matter. You know the conditions in Attica, you know, he knew, you know, it wasn't the first time, you know, that it was thrown out there. You know, long before 1971. You know, there's been a lot of letters, you know. Even from our families, talking about the conditions in Attica, you know, and they'd had the change, the over crowdedness, you know, and, and, the slave wages and not being able to get any kind of productive, you know. programs in Attica, you know. The system knew, you know, we been talking about it. We'd talk about it. He'd talk about it. But you know a lot of leverage, you know, that's why I see that rebelling and conditions can bring it on a lot of different levels, you know, and I see it and I feel it, you know, that a lot of different things can happen, you know, behind the human conditions.
All right, lets cut
Describe again what the reaction of the brothers to Oswald's tape recorded message--
The Oswald tape recorded, ah, message was a bunch of hogwash. We never took it serious because we knew he didn't take it serious. It was another dupe situation. Period.
the day in terms of where you were, the day of the rebellion what happened with you?
The day of the rebellion, ah, I guess 7:30, quarter to 8 in the morning, I was in the laundry, that was my job assignment and myself and four, five, more of my friends, we were sitting at the window.
Describe the day of the rebellion in terms of where you were, what happened to you.
The day of the rebellion, ah, I was in the laundry, quarter to, quarter 8, 8 o'clock in the morning, that's my job assignment. Myself and three, four, five friends was sitting next to the hallway, other than that, they got a table adjacent to the hallway outside, inside you're locked in, you can't get out. And we seen and heard a lot of commotion in the hallway, a lot of inmates was running up and down the hallway and I start smelling gas, you know and I start asking questions, you know, "What was happening?" And, and, and we were getting feedback, "The shit is on, a lot of things is happening, let us in, they're gassing us, they're gassing us." So, the police that had the laundry, he came out and said, "What are you all going to do?" Said, "What are we going to do about what?" You know looking back now I assume he was talking about whether we were going to apprehend him or take the keys off him and open up the door. But we didn't have a chance to do that before we know anything. The whole wall gave in. That's how many inmates was in the hallway and to show you the condition that the building was in or the foundation was in. And now, here we are in the laundry and the people in the hallways in the laundry with us. So the police opened up the back door and, ah, they got this chemical, you know 50 gallon drum. Next thing I know that's on fire and over our shop, the laundry, is the mattress shop and over that is the barber shop, so this whole complex now is going up in smoke. So we go through the back door, the side door, but one of the inmates, a person that I knew from playing football told me, "Hey man," said, "you know, a lot of shit is on, you know, everybody just going every which way, you know. Some stuff happened last night, you know, over in A Block and something happening in Times Square this morning and, yeah I seen him with your friend which was a cop and he's in the yard and he look like he's in bad shape." So, I said to two, three of my buddies, you know, "Let's go and see what's going on." So, we goes down the hallway instead of going around the side of the building and going the other way, we went this way and then we, instead of going left, in fact normally we supposed to, we went right and wind up in the yard, you know. But on our way to the yard we seen a whole lot of things, you know, a lot of fights, a lot of fires, in, in, you know, inmates and cops running loose and people getting beat, you know and whooped, inmates and cops really. And I went right to the circle, you know, by that time there's a circle in the yard now, and all the, you know, the Department of Correction cops is in the circle. And I walked up to this cop, you know, buddy of mine, and I asked him what was happening. And he told me that he felt like his arm was broke or something, you know, was wrong with him. And I said, "Well man, just, you know, cool out. Let me see what's going on out here and I'll get back to you."
OK, stopping down.
Tell me again, Black, about that day, that day of the rebellion.
Well the day of the rebellion I was in the laundry and, ah, me and some friends of mine was hanging out by the door and we heard a lot of commotion in the hallway, a lot of people in the hallway, hollering, "Open the door and let us in!" Next thing I know, the wall is down and everybody is inside the laundry and the cop open up the back door and we go out the back door trying to figure out which way we really were going to go because there was two ways to go and we wind up in the yard, you know, I guess to see what was really going on. And I wind up to the circle, you know, where the hostages were and I seen a friend of mine, a buddy of mine that was in the circle of cops and I asked him what was happening and he told me that his arm or his ribs or something was broke and I told him I'd get back to him. And here I am in the yard with 1300 to 1200 inmates.
Tell me what it was like, those first moments ? What was it like in that yard when you first ?
To be in that yard and my feelings after I entered the yard was out, it would, it would take a lifetime, really for me to explain it to you, a feeling of and, and, and a view of unity and, and seeing everybody regardless to the color or hue, being under the same condition or the same situation, and everybody being out there together and, and, and the first time in seven years of seeing that many people being around each other and being in some form of unity and some form of collective ideas and, and, and projection I guess is what I would call it. The harmony that I seen and some kind of, the words, you know, is hard to describe and the feeling is hard to describe but it's a feeling of like being born again, where you didn't have to worry about who you were or what color you were or where you were at, you know, even being in prison, you know, I didn't feel it then. I didn't even feel like I was in Attica State Prison, just to view what was happening in that yard, you know, it's like freedom. And it was a form of freedom. You know, I didn't have, you know, that keeper up on top of me and, and, I felt like whatever I was feeling, whatever I was thinking was running together, my emotions was into my thoughts and my feelings, you know, and I had all of that together and I, and I used that emotion when I was in the yard to bring, to solidify my thoughts and my feelings and that I was thinking what I was feeling. And everybody else was in that kind of vehicle, the way I felt. I felt, I felt good, ya know. I felt relieved. I felt, I guess, liberated. You know. That I didn't have to worry about the bar in the front of me. Even though I knew that I was, I felt and knew that I was in prison, now that's the reality. But that visible thing wasn't there no more. You know the walls was there but that bar wasn't really in the front of me, that visible bar. It was more invisible then.**It was a good feeling, as especially after we started dealing and started organizing and started talking about the conditions and started talking about why were out there and started talking about the grievances and started talking about why we were rebelling and why rebelling was necessary, the feeling became more and more and more into me and I started feeling a part of it more** and it brought me more aware of really who I were, where I were, and what I had to deal with and what was being dealt with in a unified, collective fashion.
Great. That was great.
OK, Black, describe the chaos on the yard and how it got turned around and got organized and how you felt.
Well, after I, you know, arrived in the yard, you know, it was a chaotic situation. You got to see that, you know, it, it's got to be that way. Because now here is someone that's been, folks that's been locked up in a cell, you know the majority of the day, you figure 16 to 17 hours your locked in your cell and all of a sudden you're not in your cell no more, you know. It's like, a, a, level freedom, you know, you got room now, you got space, you know you can run around. There was food in the yard, you know, and, and, and medication in the yard and you could see your buddy that was over in another block and now everybody's in one spot. You know, so everybody was running amok you know what I mean. But eventually, after everything begin to get organized, you know, as to why we really were in the yard and what that meant to be in the yard, then it became more moderate. It started to level off a little bit. You know, then we started setting up, you know, the observers, in--inmates. We started setting up the, the protective force, you know, the peaceful force, you know, and I got, you know, an assignment as to make sure that when people come in the yard that they be able to leave the yard on their own free will and nothing happened to them. To make sure nothing happen to nobody in the yard. To make sure we act and stay as human beings, you know, and start dealing with the grievances and not our personal, you know, views.
How did you feel ?
I felt all right, you know, after start being organized, you know, I felt all right, you know, before but I felt more and the more organized it became the more I felt a part and seen that as being as part of me because prior, you know, to going into the yard, I was coaching football teams. So I had a lot of, you know, relationship with peoples in Attica State Prison, the cops and inmates. You know I was known in the facility. You know, peoples knew me and I was like up on top of it from jump street, you know, in organizing. I organized the football team. I organized a basketball team. And if you get into that organizing inmates in prisons, then, you know, you, you know how to organize. You know it's a different way now and a different thing that had to be organized now. Because now you got all type of peoples. You got White, Black, Red, Brown, whatever, that had to be organized, which, prior to 1971, on the 9th, you know, it, it, it's, it was a big separation, you know, you would think that you was in Mississippi somewhere, you know. The White over there. The Black over there. You know and, and the Puerto Rican over there. And the Native American over there. But on the 9th, we all came together.
The amnesty was important, you know, for a lot of reasons. Not a lot but one or two, I'd say was very, very important. Because we knew the system. We knew the prison system, you know. And being in the yard and there was a lot of violence, a lot of assaults on both ends, you know. And there would be reprisals. And we knew that once we go back to the cells, if that would happen, and get around the conditions or the demands that we had laid out. Say, if we had said, "OK, we'll go back." We knew they was going to vamp on us. So we had to have an amnesty there. And they knew that we, they were going to try and give us charges. They was going to try and bring that up and make us the criminals and the victims or the victims or the criminals. And then we had word that something was happening overtly about an assault act. Meaning that someone had got hurt fatally, you know. They didn't name it or they didn't say that Quinn, I found this out later, had died or had got killed. But we know that he died behind negligence. Because if they had moved faster, regardless to who did it, or brought the assault on Quinn, if they had moved more speedy in getting him some medical care, I don't believe he would have died. You know, so it wasn't, he was killed, he died behind the State not bringing the right medical care or medical assistance, just like they didn't do with us. They knew that they was going to vamp Attica State Prison, but they didn't bring the right medical care. They didn't bring the spasm. They didn't bring anything there to deal with the assault that they was going to put down because they knew how they was coming in there. They had the two refugee doctors, Steinberg and Williams, but they had a problem anyway with us. So, if they had brought the right medical equipment or they had the right medical facilities hooked up, Quinn wouldn't have, and I'm quite sure, some of those 43 people or 42 other than Quinn wouldn't have died.
I'm going to ask you--
Tell me why the amnesty issue was one of the most important issues that you and--
Well I say two reasons, the amnesty was very important to us. The main reason is that we had got word that something had happened beyond an assault. That meaning that some cop or somebody had died or had got killed. And number two, we tried to avoid or tried to put up some kind of defense on some reprisal, other than that bringing some indictment around some assault or some kind of arsony[SIC] or some kind of robbery or prison contraband or whatever. So if the amnesty was accepted then we wouldn't have to worry about that after we had went back to our cells.
That was good, cut.
The morning that they came in on the assault. I say, the morning of the 13th when they came in to retake the prison or to come in and do the assault. We, a lot of us, when I say we, I just say myself, really, really, really, it surprised me the way that they vamped, the way that they came in that yard. They thought that we was going to be the violent one. They thought that we was going to really be the one that do all the assault, meaning that we were going to cut up some polices, we was going to kill somebody. So they came in there with excess, overly excess force, retaking the yard. That's why I said 43 people got killed on the retaking. And I say 43. They say 39. But I say 43, you know, that's our count. We knew that once Oswald went outside after talking to us and say that we wanted everything and they wasn't going to give us the 33 demand and, and, and, and, everything we were talking about except 29 demands, that he could see it. See, they didn't knew that we had a television set up in the yard and everything that we would say to him and he would go in front of the media. We would see it from the yard. That's why they cut off all the electricity and that's why we demanded they cut it back on so we can continue to see what was being said to the public or saying to our families and the community about what we were, excuse me, talking about in the yard. But we knew that they were gonna come in but we never knew that they were going to come in there that way. That was really a big surprise, the way that they came in the yard. We thought they were going to come in there and knock some heads and bust some heads open and, and, that kind of way. And once we start seeing the helicopters and they start shooting the gas pellets and we start thinking the best way to protect ourself against that, we start opening up cans of milk, you know, because we got word that if you put milk on you that the gas wouldn't stick to you. And that's what we start doing. And then when they start shooting in the yard, and then when they start vamping in the yard, I mean, there's physical beings in the yard, and I start seeing people getting opened up with shotguns, you know, then I knew they were really coming in there in a violent violent way** and it was, very barbaric man, it was very dehumanizing, you know. And it was a sad, sad, bad, bad thing to see how people could really, really, knowing that we didn't have any weapons. Yeah, he might had a shank here, I mean a butter knife or a pair of scissors that's broke. But we didn't have no weapons, no guns. Why did they have to come in there like that? Why did they have to shoot from the helicopter? Why did they have to shoot from the roofs? Why did they have to shoot when they come over the wall and be right up on a person? Why did they have to shoot him with a shotgun or the 270s?
You want more than that?
I want you to describe again the day of the takeover and how you felt, everything happening around you.
The day the 9th the day of the retaking of the yard my feelings were, Well here goes, you know, butt-whipping and ass-whipping, you know, they're going to come here and they're going to beat us up. And I seen the helicopters circling the yard, you know, put your hands on your head and, and then lay down and then you won't be hurt and then the next thing I knew gas is in the yard and the next thing I know shooting is in the yard and peoples just getting shot. And the next thing I know the polices is coming over the wall, down in the yard.
What did they do after, what did they make all you guys do?
They made us strip.
The polices made us strip, you know, the guards or the State Troopers or whoever, you know, some law enforcement person, made us strip, pull all our clothes off, made us crawl on the ground, you know, as if we were animals. You know, beating us, you know, myself, you know, they took me, you know, up off the ground and laid me on the table, you know, and burned me with cigarettes and dropped hot shells on me and spit on me, you know, saying that I was one of the person that had castrated a police, you know, and buried one alive and cut his and cut his throat, which none of this happened, was proven later, that none of this really took place. And they tortured a lot of us, you know.
what they make you all do.
After they, when they did come in the yard, you know, they, you knew you got them when you explained it this way. It was very, very barbaric, you know, very, very cruel, you know, and I, you know and I, you know and I really feel it, you know, what they really did, you know, they ripped our clothes off, they made us crawl on the ground like we were animals, you know, and they snatched me and they, they lay me on a table, you know, and they beat me in my testicles. And they burned me with cigarettes and they dropped hot shells on me and then put a football up under my throat and they kept telling me that if it dropped they was going to kill me. And I really felt, you know, after seeing so many people shot for no apparent reason that they really were going to do this.** They set up a gauntlet in the hallway and they broke glass up in the middle of the hallway and they made people run through the gauntlet and they had 60, 30, 40 polices on each side, you know, with clubs they called nigger-sticks, and they was beating people. And it just hurt, you know, the way, you, you just see, you know, another human being treating a human being this way, you know, and it really hurt me, you know, even sitting here now, you know, describing it to you, you know, I never thought it would happen, you know. I never thought so many people would be treated like animals, you know, as the way we were treated like animals. And the way they treated me like animals, the way they beat me and after they took me off the table and ran me through the gauntlet and the way they broke my wrists, opened my head up, took me to the hospital and dumped me on the floor and, and playing with me with shotguns, pointing it in my face and putting the shot, the barrel of the shotgun over my eyes, and telling me, "Nigger we're going to kill you." You know I went through this all that afternoon and then took me up to the cell and played Russian roulette with me, you know, and left me in the cell nude, nothing to wrap up in and I'm trying to get up on the pillow to keep myself warm, you know, it was a hell of an experience, you know. And I think about it today and it really, really, it, emotionally, you know, it really grabs me but this soon too shall pass, you know. But they really treated us bad. They treated us like a bunch of animals, you know, really.
How'd you come out feeling about yourself? How did this experience transform you?
Well, the change now. I think, in, in my views now and how it changed me--
Sit up please.
--the experience of being Attica, made me feel.
Now, my experiences now, of being in Attica and, and the change that I see in myself after Attica, 1971. My manipulation, my bad manipulation, I feel is, is good. My, my, my views is different now. My values is different now. My unified thoughts in, in being is different and they're not now, you know, after Attica and during Attica that change I seen in myself. My needs is different. I, I just see a complete different in myself now, you know, my politics is different now. My collective struggling is different now and, and I think the most broad thing that I see in myself now, the unified way of looking at life after looking at the yard and looking at people of all makes and hues and color being in that yard, why the world outside, from the hierarchy all the way down to our low grass root community person can't be on a unified level as was in that yard. I would like to see that. And I work in that direction now, how we all can pull together and work together and be with each other in a unified way. And that's how I view it today and that's how I view it and, and seen the change in me up until the present time and hopefully the future that I could work in that fashion.
Is that all right?
Rolling and speed.
OK, Black, Tell me how you felt after the experience in Attica.
How I felt and how I feel, you know, after Attica. That feeling, I guess, you know, I'm about, you know, it's, it's really hard to explain, you know, But I feel different. I feel good about myself. You know, after experiencing it and seeing myself now. I feel good. I feel more cleaner about myself. I feel more real about myself, you know, since Attica. You know, I feel, my head, my body, everything feel different. It feels better. I put it that way.
Why does it feel better. What happened in the yard that made you feel better?
Attica changed a lot of my views. Attica changed me. Attica made me feel more human. Attica made my values more positive. Attica changed my behavior pattern, you know. Attica changed my unified way of looking at things, you know. I feel more positive about myself. Attica changed that. You know, believe me, I went in as a hustler and I came out as a struggler, you know, a more unified struggler, a more people's person. I was a my person, you know. I was a loner. You know, I was mingling, you know what I mean? But I was for Frank, you know. I was for Black, you know, me. You know, that's who, you know I am very selfishness. I'm selfish because I understand that me, I can reach out to others, so I'm not a selfish person now. You know, I'm a more unified person. OK?
What was it like the day after George Jackson's death in Attica ?
The morning after George Jackson's death, you know, entering the mess hall was like, you know, I, I related you know to, ah, old song, you know, Billie Holiday, Gloomy Sunday. You know it was a gloomy morning but it was a good feeling, you know, to see a bunch of people, you know, inmates, first of all, even the cops. Everybody was quiet, you know. Then nobody have to be told, you know, you were not supposed to eat. It was a feeling that you get, you know, once you walk in the door of the mess hall and you see everybody sitting down, nobody got no tray in the front of them, no silverware, nothing. Everybody was just as quiet. It was a unified morning. It was a good feeling that morning, you know, after George Jackson's death.
OK. That was good.
Tell me about where you were, what was happening the day of the rebellion.
The day of the rebellion I was in the laundry, you know, quarter to 8, 8:00 in the morning, doing our usual, you know, sitting in the laundry and all of a sudden a big commotion outside and gas. We could smell it. And people running all up and down the hallway, asking us to let them in the laundry. But we didn't have the chance because the walls just fell right in, just caved right in. And everybody was in the hallway, just about, was in the laundry. And the next thing I know this, ah, ah, chemical, I don't know exactly what it were, was aflame, you know, and the whole laundry was on fire and the police opened up the back door and we all were out in the back yard, trying, trying to figure which way we were going, whether we was going to the left or going to the right and we wind up in D Block yard.
OK, give us again, the day of the rebellion, what was happening and then how you felt.
Well the day of the rebellion, you know, I was in the laundry setting at the window adjacent to the hallway and, and we smelled some gas and then we seen a bunch of inmates running up and down the hallway hollering, "Let us in. Let us in." And the next thing I know, the wall cave in and they were in. And, and, and smelling that gas, you know, I'm figuring now, what are we going to do? How am I going to get out of here? And the police opened up the back door. And we out the back door and I wind up in D Block yard, myself and some more friends of mine.
What was happening? What did you hear? What was happening? What did you see?
This shit is on, you know, something is happening, you know. And, and everybody running amok, you know the polices and a lot of fights over here, the police and inmates and a lot of buildings was on fire and people running out of the commissary and running up and down the hallway and talking about the shit is on, you know. Everybody's in D yard and the shit is in D yard.
What was in, you're head when everybody kept saying D Yard, where did you want to go?
Well, what's happening, you know. I wanted to get out of there, you know. I want to try and figure a way that I can get out of there, you know, whatever is happening, you know. I want to get where I can see myself being safe, you know, that's what was happening with me, but then I wind up in D yard, being nosey and trying to figure out what's going on and be involved or, or, or to look at what's going on, if not involved, you know. Because at that time I wanted to just see what was going on, you know. Not to be involved with what's going on. Because a lot of violence and a lot of things was happening and a lot of gas and then I start seeing polices on the roof with guns, polices in the hallway with guns, and polices getting beat, inmates getting beat, and I wanted to try and get myself in a safe position. That's what I wanted to do, really. But I wind up in the yard. And after I got in the yard, then I see myself a prison in the yard. Because once you got in the yard, you couldn't come out the yard. Because all it start closing up.
Tell me about the conditions--
The conditions in Attica State Prison, you know, really, you know, if, when you say it, you know, people, it's hard for people to believe it. You know you get one shower a week, you know, and if you get more than that then you got to get a bucket of water when you get in your cell. And if you fortunate enough you can get two. That mean you can wash the top of your body and you can wash the bottom of your body. You get one roll of toilet paper, until that's given out, give out, or until the police want to give you another one or unless you can get one of the inmates, your fellow inmate, to swag you one. That means going in the police's bathroom which they keep two or three rolls in there and get one of those and bring them to you, you know. Now, the medical care, I mean what we call it, was two refugee doctors. If you got a toothache and you go to the doctor, they give you an aspirin or else they pull it. Wasn't no such thing as filling it. And if you tell a doctor you wanted to get it filled or you wanted to get it checked. Then he'll tell you, "Well, you not a doctor. How do you know what's wrong with you?" You know. And all they do is push aspirin. Push aspirin. No medical care at all. You know, no examination as to really what's wrong with you, you know, and those same two doctors is the ones that they had on the day of the retaking of the facility.
Talk about the refugee doctors, as you call them, how they treated the inmates, how they treated you.
We say refugee doctors, you know, really, you know, and the reason we say refugee doctors, you know, it's, it's, it's the mannerism, mainly it wasn't even a doctor, really, Steinberg and Williams, from the way they treat you, you know. There would be on one side of the window, you know, and you would be on the other side of the window. It's worse than going in a bank. You know, with no hand touching, no feel, you know, if you say you got a knot in your stomach, they'd say, "Here's an aspirin, maybe it will go down, go back to your cell." If you say you got a gum ball in your mouth, "Here's an aspirin." You know, you might have to open our mouth up or pull your shirt up, they on one side and you on the other. There's no physical touch, no examination, none whatsoever. And I'm serious about this. If you get serious enough. If they think and you complain enough to the right police or the right, you know, a, a, PK principal people, that's the assistant warden, maybe they might send you to an outside hospital. But there wasn't no examination from them doctors in Attica State Prison. You know, none whatsoever.
Tell me a little bit about what the, what were the guards like? What were the guards? What were they going through? I mean coming in there everyday, with you inmates, the other inmates? How--What was the attitude?
The attitude of the guards, you know, and what they were going through in some, you know, situations, some extent was just as bad as ours. Because they was, you know, in prison themselves, you know, they were being housed, they were being locked up, you know, you take a person that's coming from outside, they might have a little personal problem with his or her or just his, really, because there wasn't no female guards there, and only White, no Blacks, you know, at the time that we were there. They might have their little personal problems. They got to bring it in there and they got to see themselves coming in that door and that key is turning on them and now they got to come in there and they got to mingle with us. And if anything do happen, they can't get out. So they being kept themselves. They being locked up themselves. And they bicker among themselves, too. I know a lot of polices in there had problems with each other. Why you think so many of them got killed? I know for a fact, you know and I can see, you know a police looking down that barrel and pulling that trigger on someone that they really had a problem with or someone that was putting washing powder in their lunch pail or were hiding their lunch pail or was tryin', "Hey, motherfucker, get on up on that chair and stop hanging out down here." You know, the way they talk to each other.
What was the attitude, you know they come, bring their problems into, into Attica, What was the attitude toward the inmates? How would they treat you?
They would treat you bad, you know, that's the only way they could ventilate. You know they had to let they frustration out on you. You know, they couldn't take it home. You know, possibility that their wife or their girlfriend or whatever wouldn't put up with it. So the only way they could do it on the third class person, on the inmate, they let it off. But we would let it back off on them. So some kind of way, we both would ventilate. Because you couldn't find too many inmates would put up with the police's hogwash, even though you know, you were open to get beat up and put in segregation or put into the box. That was one of their main way of letting off their frustration is coming in there and dropping the attitude on the inmate.