BUFFALO, N.Y. Mixing a historic panel of eyewitnesses and
survivors with past and present multi-media attractions, the
University at Buffalo will mark the 40th anniversary of the most
deadly prison riot in the nation's history with a three-day
conference, Sept. 11-13 at UB and other Buffalo college campuses, a
short drive away from the prison.
"I hope we can begin the process of healing the wounds that this
event inflicted," says UB law professor Teresa A. Miller, lead
conference organizer who has been behind prison walls about 35
times in the last two years filming a documentary and acting as a
state-appointed advisor to men serving life sentences for
second-degree murder at Attica State Prison.
See a video interview with Miller at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IN_hw5o13jA
The conference is called "Forty Years After the Attica Uprising:
Looking Back, Moving Forward." For more information or to interview
Miller or others involved in the event, contact Charles Anzalone in
UB's Office of University Communications at (716) 645-4600.
The highlight is a panel discussion among people whose lives
Miller says have been "indelibly marked" by their roles in the 1971
uprising. The Attica Uprising ended Sept. 13, 1971, with the deaths
of over 40 inmates, corrections officers and a civilian when 500
state troopers stormed Attica after inmates took over the prison
and held hostages.
"Some of the presenters include a corrections officer who was
taken hostage and later survived four bullet shots to the abdomen,"
Miller says. "Also an inmate eyewitness who was 19 years old when
he was sent to Attica for a parole violation as a juvenile. A woman
whose father was killed by inmates in the process of taking over
Times Square, the central area in the prison, during the first
minutes of the uprising. A corporate lawyer who answered an ad to
prosecute crimes after the uprising and who later wrote 'The Turkey
Shoot,' a book about the criminal investigation of the uprising and
the state's cover-up.
"These presenters will all sit together at one table and discuss
their firsthand experience during the uprising as well as the
impact on them personally, and its continuing impact today.
"To my knowledge, this is unprecedented. What makes this 40th
anniversary unique is some of these stakeholders are in their 80s.
They may not be around for the 50th anniversary."
The three-day conference includes numerous visual attractions
showing the drama that has become a part of American history, from
Al Pacino's infamous "Attica, Attica" chant in "Dog Day Afternoon"
to iconic images of the Attica prison yard occupied by hundreds of
The conference begins 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 11, with a
screening of "Ghosts of Attica" at the Burchfield Penney Art Center
at Buffalo State College.
A graphic collage of photos taken at the uprising will be
displayed. On Tuesday, Sept. 13 at UB's North Campus Student Union
Theater and 106 O'Brian Hall, New York State Department of
Corrections Commissioner Brian Fischer will give the keynote
address at 3:30 p.m.
Also, at 9 a.m. during Monday's panel presentation, the large
screen in Allen Hall will show original news footage of the
uprising and testimony before the McKay Commission that
investigated the uprising.
During a Monday afternoon panel from 2:30 to 4 pm, Miller's
20-minute film, "Four Myths About Attica" will be shown.
Miller brings years of first-hand experience with Attica and its
prisoners to the conference. Her observations of a prison system
that has grown too large and been toxic to everyone from the
prisoners and their families to the guards and civilian workers and
their families has shaped the conference.
"The biggest lesson to learn is that what happens in society
affects prisons and what happens in prisons affects society," says
Miller. "The public needs to be more concerned about what goes on
behind prison walls. The two worlds can never be cordoned off. And
we ignore that relationship at our peril."
Also important in Miller's research were the relationships and
connections Miller has made with inmates and corrections officers
and their families.
"Corrections officers are significantly affected by the
conditions that exist in prison," she says. "As one officer told
me, 'My day consists of negative interactions, day after day.' And
after 25 years, that really affects who a person is."
The relationships she has formed with the men serving life
sentences has left her with equally strong convictions.
"There is a core of people, lifers, men serving life sentences
anywhere from 20 years to life to 145 years to life, they have an
investment in making Attica as functional a place as possible,"
Miller says. "Some of the hardest work being done to make Attica a
safe place for everyone is being done by the lifers group.
"As one of the men told me, he would trust someone incarcerated
for life for second-degree murder before trusting someone convicted
for burglary because the person in for burglary may very well kill
you in the process of committing their crime, but many people
incarcerated for second-degree murder reach a point in which they
"Many of these people serving time for second-degree murder
reached that breaking point, and that's the point where any one of
us, if pushed hard enough, might reach."
A full schedule of the events and presenters is available at
UB's Law School web page at http://www.law.buffalo.edu/baldycenter/attica40/
In addition to the UB Law School, conference sponsors are UB's
Baldy Center for Law and Social Policy, Prisoners' Legal Services
of New York State, the Criminal Justice Department of Buffalo State
College and the Erie County Reentry Task Force as well as UB's
Institute for Research on Women and Gender, the Civic Engagement
and Public Policy Strategic Strength and the UB Humanities