Former hostages, loved ones and others associated with the 1971 Attica prison riot got to share their sides of the story Monday night.
They were a part of an evening forum, "Educational Symposium on the Attica Prison Riot of 1971," at Genesee Community College. The forum was sponsored by Forgotten Victims of Attica, which is made up of former hostages, their families and loved ones of those slain during the prison riot.
Forty-three people died during the Attica standoff and riot, from Sept. 9 to 13, 1971. Thirty-nine deaths were linked to gunfire on Sept. 13 when state police retook the prison.
It has been called one of the bloodiest conflicts between Americans since the Civil War.
Gary Walker, a retired corrections officer and hostage during the Attica riot, said the prison was overcrowded at the time. He said the prison was built for 1,600 inmates, but housed 2,200 in 1971.
"Every officer was secure," Walker said. "Every inmate was secure. They were locked up 16 hours a day."
G.B. Smith, a retired corrections officer who also was taken hostage during the riot, said there were 398 officers stationed at Attica in 1971. Walker acknowledged that the staffing at the prison was inadequate at the time.
"We were probably 40 officers short," Smith said. "Six guards would take 472 inmates to break."
Former hostage Michael Smith, also an Attica corrections officer during the riot, said there were hints of riot because of the typical inmate profile at the time.
"The inmate was a young inmate -- more politically active," he said. "The prison reflected the same issues in society. There were a lot of protests at the time. The inmates were a reflection of that."
G.B. Smith said he also sensed a riot would break out.
"Everybody knew something was going to happen," he said.
G.B. Smith was among corrections officers taken hostage and assaulted by inmates on the first day of the takeover.
"The whistle started blowing, and I looked out the window," G.B. Smith said. "There were inmates that were where they shouldn't be. . . . I said, 'What is the pipe for?' and they said, 'Mr. Smith, it isn't for you.' "
The guard said he then was struck with a nightstick.
"I wasn't taking my clothes off fast enough," Smith said. "They took my nightstick and they beat me."
Other speakers on the panel included former state prosecutor Malcolm Bell, retired attorney William Cunningham, former hostages Ron Kozlowski and children of slain hostages Deann Quinn Miller, Jamie Valone and Mary Ann Valone. Jonathan Gradess, executive director of the New York State Defenders Association, was also on the panel along with current Attica corrections officer Mark Cunningham. Gary Horton, Genesee County public defender, moderated the discussion.
Bell also is the author of "The Turkey Shoot: Tracking the Attica Coverup," which alleges a shoddy investigation.
"It was a destruction of a death scene," Bell said. "It was important to reconstruct. They were wrong. . . . What (state police) did, they swooped everything up and buried it out back."
The Forgotten Victims group was formed earlier this year after the recent $12 million federal settlement regarding inmates in the riot.
The group is asking for a formal state apology, opening of state-sealed records regarding the incident, counseling for members who still need it, compensation for the victims, a monument and a memorial ceremony.