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Attica Explores the Cutting Challenges of Incarceration

Marion Charatan

Posted on April 3, 2022 13:55

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For most people, lockup in a maximum-security correction facility is completely foreign to their personal experiences. Attica examines the reasons why inmates erupted and rebelled -- in an environment they had little control over.

"To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering." Those are the words of the German philosopher, cultural critic, and philologist Friedrich Nietzsche who lived from 1844 to 1900.

The intellectual, known for claiming 'God is Dead,' had a controversial effect on philosophical discourse in the 20th and 21st centuries -- which ties into a discussion of the Academy Award-nominated documentary Attica, showcasing the deadliest prison riot in American history. 

Attica did not win an Oscar on Sunday, March 27 for Best Documentary. The film, co-directed by Emmy-winning filmmaker/director Stanley Nelson and Traci Curry, is a haunting expose of the inhumane conditions in a maximum-security correctional facility. We are transported back to 1971, to the notorious lockup in upstate NY. 

Michel Martin, an NPR Host of "All Things Considered," said of Attica, "It's been a metaphor for just about everything that has been or still is wrong in America's prison system." Watching the documentary, you become a fly on the wall, seeing what led up to a truly terrible event in history, the prison revolt itself, and its aftermath.

Injustice, brutality, and racism that existed decades ago are still prevalent in today's correctional facilities. The film is noteworthy because it throws the spotlight on a corrupt system, wracked with sadistic practices. It shows that incarceration often has no connection to rehabilitation -- and in fact, can make inmates more aggressive and hopeless.

The movie is haunting. It revisits the bloodiest prison revolt of the past century. The year was 1971, during the often-unpopular Vietnam War and Richard Nixon's contentious presidency. One of the greatest events in music history, Woodstock, had taken place earlier, in August of 1969, at Yasgur's Farm in upstate New York. But the theme of peace and love that came out of the '60s did not crossover into politics of the 70s. In fact, in 1971, Marvin Gaye released his iconic song about police brutality, "What's Going On."

Times were turbulent and abuse in the prison system was commonplace. Actual footage of events in the Attica yard is shown in black and white. Naked and bloodied inmates, mostly black men, were filmed with their arms high up, as mainly white male corrections officers pointed guns squarely at them. The inmates rallied because of the injustices in the system. Attica's prisoners were angry, rightfully so, because of the degrading and subhuman conditions they lived in.

Inmates endured beatings, racial slurs, and targeted prejudice. Punishments included being kept naked in solitary for days, or "goon squads" charging into cells in the middle of the night, relentlessly beating detainees. Meals were skimpy and nutritionally inadequate. Most medical treatments were substandard. It was a living hell that violated international laws.

Nearly 1300 inmates participated in the revolt. The National Guard was dispatched. After 5 days, 32 prisoners and 11 hostages were dead. Yet America has not learned. Attica's survivors, including heirs of inmates and guards, are still suffering decades later.

Marion Charatan

Posted on April 3, 2022 13:55

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Source: Metro News

Artists for Humanity is a Boston-based nonprofit organization that employs city teens with a passion for the arts.

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