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Attica Prison Uprising | Last Rites | 4

Attica Prison Uprising | Last Rites | 4

Tue, 31 Aug 2021 09:00

The inmates receive a final threat, as the state demands their surrender. Governor Rockefeller makes a fateful decision.

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To listen to American scandal one week early and add free, join Wondry Plus in the Wondri app. Download the Wondri app in your Apple or Google Play mobile app store today. A listener note. This episode contains graphic imagery and may not be suitable for younger listeners. It's September 12, 1971 in Westchester County, New York. Inside a bedroom in his family mansion, New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller sets down his phone and rises from a desk. It's a Sunday afternoon in late summer and Rockefeller should be outside enjoying this sprawling property. Beyond the 20 bedrooms of this mansion are pristine gardens, hilltop terraces, statues, grottos, and a state that was built by his grandfather, the oil magnate John D. Rockefeller. But Nelson Rockefeller can't go outside. He's tethered to his phone to deal with an ongoing crisis. Over on the western edge of New York, inmates rose up and took control of the Attica Correctional Facility. They're demanding sweeping changes, claiming that living conditions at the prison are inhumane. And the inmates are holding prison guards hostages until their demands are met. It's now day four of the standoff, and with endless coverage from the national media, Rockefeller is under intense pressure to end the crisis. The question is, how to do it? Rockefeller just got off the phone with his advisor Robert Douglas. Douglas warned Rockefeller that the governor may be asked to visit Attica to help put an end to the uprising, but he argued it's the wrong move. It could be politically damaging. Rockefeller trusts his advisor, and the two came up with a plan to evade this imitation. Still, Rockefeller's inaction can only last so long. At some point, he's going to need to find a way to bring this crisis to a close. Rockefeller is staring out the window when his phone rings. He grabs the receiver. Yep, this is Rockefeller. Governor Rockefeller, you don't know me, but my name's Tom Wicker. I'm one of the observers over at Attica. I'm also a reporter for the New York Times. No, I don't believe we have met. But I admire your work, a great deal. Oh, thank you, sir. That means a lot coming from someone in such a high position. Well, of course. And I'm glad someone of your talent is at Attica. We've got a real situation there. How do we put this to an end? Well, sir, that's why I'm calling. On the line, we've got a few other observers, and we'd like to make a request. Come to Attica. And come right now. Rockefeller takes a deep breath. Oh, Tom, thank you for the invitation. I'm just, I'm not convinced it's the right idea. I understand, but if you came, I think you could do a lot of good here. There are lives that stay. And you don't have to meet with the prisoners themselves. Just meet with us. No, I'm sorry, but I don't see how that would help anything. It would help a great deal. The inmates, they'd see that someone important cares about what they're going through. So it would be a symbolic gesture. Yeah, but a meaningful one. Right now, the prisoners have two proposals in front of them. Commissioner Oswald is offering to make 28 meaningful changes at the prison. And we have a legal guarantee that no one will face reprisal. But those offers don't mean a thing unless the prisoners trust that they're in good faith. And if I come, it'll be a sign that the offers are serious. Yeah, that's exactly right. And that'll help convince the men to surrender. Peacefully, we have to gain their trust. Rockefeller paces the bedroom as he considers the choice in front of him. Wicker and the observers make a good argument. But Rockefeller has larger political ambitions. And he can't risk the appearance of going soft on crime. Tom, listen. Your heart's in the right place. Governor Rockefeller, please don't do this. Tom, I'm not coming. The inmates have made it clear that they won't surrender unless they get amnesty. And that's not something I can offer. So this isn't the right choice for me. Governor Rockefeller, I'm begging you. You can save people's lives. All you have to do is come to Attica and then leave. I'm sorry, but my decision is final. I do wish you all the best luck. Rockefeller hangs up the phone and exhales. This job can be brutal. Most days, he has to choose between options that are bad or very bad. Attica is one of those choices. He could never risk coming to the prison and giving off the appearance that he sympathizes with the inmates who have killed a prison guard. And while he could wait to see how the standoff will play out, that could make him look passive and weak, he could derail his larger goals, including making him to the White House. That leaves Rockefeller with only one option to take action and end this uprising with an incredible show of force. If you're into true crime, the Generation Y podcast is essential listening. We started this podcast over 10 years ago to dissect some of the craziest and most notable murders, crimes, and conspiracy theories together, and we'd love for you to join us. Follow the Generation Y podcast on Amazon Music or wherever you listen to podcasts. From undery, I'm Lindsey Graham, and this is American Scan. In September of 1971, the nation watched and suspends as the Attica prison uprising teetered on a precipice. The inmates first took control of the prison in order to secure changes in their living conditions. And by day four of the uprising, inmates and their allies were still trying to achieve these reforms. But state officials had lost their patience. They were done negotiating and instead began finalizing plans for a siege. It would bring the state government back in control of the prison, even if the invasion turned deadly. This is episode four. It's September 12, 1971, and day four of the standoff at Attica. Inmate Richard X. Clarke trudges across the prison's D yard, a piece of paper clutched to his hand. He's exhausted. These last four days have rung him dry. But he makes his way over the uneven muddy ground to the long negotiation tables on the other side of the yard. The document he holds in his hand could decide the fate of the prisoners, and the men need to see it and decide how to respond. As Clarke nears the tables, he scans the prison yard. Nearby are the guards who were taken hostage when the uprising first broke out. They're sitting on mattresses in their dirty blue uniforms. Their bodies weak with exhaustion too. Standing around are a group of several observers, including the civil rights attorney William Kungsler and the journalist Tom Wicker. When Clarke reaches the tables, he swallows hard and grabs a microphone. It's time to make an announcement. Clarke's voice booms from a nearby speaker, and the inmates look up as he explains that he has a letter from Russell Oswald, the head of New York's prisons. He has a message for the inmates. The yard goes quiet as Clarke raises the letter and begins reading it out loud. Oswald writes that he's made every effort to be fair. The inmates have been given food and water. They've been offered a promise that they won't face retaliation and that the state will institute a large number of reforms. Oswald also promises that after their uprising is over, he'll hold regular meetings with the inmates and discuss their grievances. But first, the inmates have to release the hostages. They have to relinquish their control of Attica. Clarke finishes reading the letter and looks up at the men in the yard. No one has said a word, but they don't need to. Clarke can see the fury in their eyes. They don't want to give in. Not without a guarantee of amnesty and a promise the state will institute all of the inmates suggested reforms. Oswald's letter has yet another half measure. Still, a bead of sweat trips down Clarke's face. He knows it's time to surrender. Not because he wants to, but because it's clear the state has hardened its position. It could be just a matter of hours before troopers raise their rifles and begin firing. But Clarke is well aware that he's not a king or dictator. The inmates agreed to make decisions democratically, so Clarke calls for a vote. It's time to decide whether to accept these terms and surrender or keep fighting. Clarke lays out the options. The inmates roar their rejection of Oswald's offer. They won't surrender and they won't back down. Clarke wipes the sweat from his forehead and folds up the document. His fellow inmates have spoken. They'll continue to stand up for their rights to assert their dignity and self respect. It's a courageous move. But Clarke worries that no matter the value of the gesture or the strength of their convictions, this is a terrible mistake. One that could cost them their lives. A few minutes later, inmate Frank Smith escorts several of the observers toward the prison gate. It's clear that the situation may soon grow dangerous, and as the head of security, Smith promised to protect the safety of anyone in the prison yard. That includes inmates and visitors alike. So the time has come to say goodbye to the observers. They seem to have good hearts, and they were willing to negotiate with prisoners to try to find common ground. But ultimately, the inmates remained unsatisfied, and with the threat of a siege by state troopers, it's now time for the observers to leave Attica once and for all. When they reach the gate, the observers thank Smith and promise they'll continue to fight for the inmates. The civil rights attorney William Cunsellor, then approaches Smith, his eyes red and glistening. He starts to speak, but chokes on his words. Smith can tell the Cunsellor is taking this as a personal failure. After all of his victories for the civil rights movement, Cunsellor couldn't peacefully end the standoff at Attica. So the lawyer walks away, his head lowered. And then the New York Times reporter Tom Wicker steps up to Smith. Dripping him by the forearm, Wicker tells Smith that just this morning he spoke to Governor Rockefeller. It sounds like the inmates lives are an immediate danger. So while the rest of the prisoners won't accept the state's offer, Smith should take action on his own. He could surrender himself, and maybe convince other men to do the same. It could save their lives. But Smith smiles sadly and shakes his head. The danger may be real, but the prisoners are united. They've come too far to turn back now. Wicker nods and wishes the inmates luck and then exits the yard. As Smith turns back to the negotiation area and looks out at the hundreds of inmates, his heart grows heavy. Their lives could soon be in peril. But whatever the danger, at least they'll face it together. Later that night, Frank Smith lies twisting and turning on his mattress out in the Attica prison yard. It's merely a thin, frayed cushion, and it's never been comfortable, but that's not what's keeping Smith awake. Earlier in the day, the inmates shot down an offer from Russell Oswald, the head of New York's prisons, and that was the last anyone has heard from the commissioner. Smith can only assume that police are getting ready to invade the prison. And as head of security for the inmates, he doesn't know what to do. Somehow he has to figure out a plan, a way to protect the hundreds of inmates whose lies are at risk. As Smith gays his across the yard, it's clear that he's not the only one having trouble falling asleep. Scores of inmates lie on their backs, staring up at the night sky. Others sit, huddled together, talking quietly. The over and near brick wall is another inmate, her blind. Smith and blind know each other, get along well. But tonight, blind appears deep and thawed. So Smith rises from his mattress and walks over. Before blind was transferred to Attica, he was involved in a prison uprising in New York City. Maybe he'll have some advice for Smith about the coming hours and days. When Smith reaches the brick wall, blind looks up, asking Smith how he's doing, why he's not sleeping, because it's late. Smith knows he should keep his worries to himself. He's the head of security and he needs to project strength and confidence. But suddenly, the words come spilling out. Smith tells blind that he's scared. Seems like the state is done negotiating. He can only assume that from here, the police are going to try to take Attica by force. Blind nods, with the look of a man who's seen too much in one lifetime. And quietly, he mutters it's probably true. Other hours are numbered. Smith's legs grow shaky, so he sits down next to blind. He reminds blind that the inmates lives or his responsibility. He needs to keep them safe. How should he prepare for such a one sided fight? Blind looks away and chuckles bitterly. He tells Smith that there's nothing they can do. Of course, the state officials have made their empty promises. They've said the inmates won't suffer any retribution, but those words don't mean anything. Like when Bliden was involved in his first prison rebellion, New York City's mayor and his allies made the same promise, so the inmates surrendered. But that's when the payback really started. They were brutal and violent, and the retribution was kept secret. Blind lays a hand on Smith's shoulder and says the invasion may come tomorrow. It could be tonight, but there's nothing Smith can do except pray for his life. Smith shakes his head, refusing to accept this bleak possibility. But Bliden reminds him of the facts. The inmates have embarrassed the authorities. They've held this prison for four days, and they killed William Quinn, one of Atticus guards. So when the troops finally storm the prison and they will, they're going to be hungry for revenge. But bloodbath is inevitable. There's nothing they can do to stop it. As Smith tries to wrap his head around such a violent and tragic possibility, a young Puerto Rican inmate approaches. Apparently there's a prison chaplain at the gate. The chaplain has asked if he can enter the yard and administer last rights for the inmates. Smith's while is hard. He can no longer look away from the grim truth. Bliden was right. The time has come for the inmates to say their final prayers. An hour later, New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller stands up from his desk inside his sprawling estate in Westchester County. He glances at a clock on the wall. It's 11 p.m. The night's gotten late, and it's time to go to sleep. He has some big decisions to make tomorrow, and he's going to need a clear head when he makes them. Rockefeller begins walking to the door, but then his phone rings. Yeah. Yeah, this is Rockefeller. Good evening, Governor Rockefeller. It's General Buzo here. I apologize for disturbing you so late. Oh, that's OK, Buzo. Don't worry about the time. I bet you're busy. You're organizing the armed units at Attica. Yes, sir. Yeah, that's true. We've had a lot of preparations, but I believe we're set now. We are 800 troops ready for an assault tomorrow. I'm calling you now to get your permission to proceed with the plan. Rockefeller takes a deep breath. He thought he'd have a little more time to chew this over. But now that the moment is here, he's struck by the weight of the decision. OK, Buzo. Let's run this through one more time. Of course, sir. Now, the troops, when they retake Attica, they have to behave appropriately. I can't have any of them getting carried away. The reporter's up there. A lot of cameras. Sir, I can assure you that the troops will follow a careful plan that will work to gain control of the prison yard and nothing more. We have protocols in place. All right, good. But what about the hostages? Those are our men. They can't be put in harm's way. Well, sir, the truth is the hostages have been in harm's way since day one of this thing. The best way to help them is to get the prisoners back in their cells where they belong. That's true, but we can't expose the hostages to any additional risks. And we won't, sir. Any risks we take will be calculated and necessary. Rockefeller pauses as he waves his next words. Buzo, tell me something. When all the dust settles on this thing, am I going to look like a monster? Governor Rockefeller, the only monsters are the inmates. They kill the prison guard. They refuse to listen to reason. We've done our best. You've done your best. I promise the nation will take your side. I need your authorization to proceed. OK. You have it. Call me tomorrow when the operation's done. Rockefeller hangs up the phone and rests his face in his hands. This might have been the most consequential decision of his entire career. Because if this plan goes wrong, Rockefeller may never hold public office again. But as Rockefeller turns off his desk lamp and gets ready for bed, he finally lets himself breathe a sigh of relief. It's been four long days, but the crisis at Attica is about to come to a close. The prisoners will be overwhelmed by state police. And soon enough, the world will turn its attention to some other crisis, somewhere far from Western New York. If you're into true crime, the Generation Y podcast is essential listening. We started this podcast over 10 years ago to dissect some of the craziest and most notable murders, crimes, and conspiracy theories together. And we'd love for you to join us. Generation Y is one of the longest running true crime podcasts out there, and we are still at it, unraveling a new case every week. We break down infamous cases like the Evil Genius Bank robbery, and lesser known cases like the case of Kimberly Rico. Did she actually kill her husband after they took part in a murder mystery game? We cover every angle, breaking down theories, diving deep into forensic evidence, and interviewing those close to the case. And with over 450 episodes, there's a little something for every true crime listener. Follow the Generation Y podcast on Amazon Music, or every listen to podcasts. Or you can listen ad free by joining Wundery Plus in the Wundery app. It's the morning of September 13, 1971, day five of the standoff in Attica. Dan Callahan makes his way to the entrance of the Attica Correctional Facility. Callahan is a member of the National Guard, and as he surveys the entrance to the prison, he starts to get a bad feeling about today's operation. All around him, state troopers load their weapons, and murder, and grimace, looking angry, and exhausted. One trooper has dark circles under his eyes, and as he loads his shotgun, he announces that he can't wait to use it. Nearby, a couple of other troopers nod in approval, as they continue loading their own weapons. Callahan's pulse quickens, as he stares out at these haggard and frustrated men. On just one hour, the operation will begin to retake Attica and put an end to the long uprising. But for Callahan, there's a glaring problem. The assault is going to be led by the New York State Police, not the better trained National Guard. The guardsman will only move in afterward to provide medical assistance if necessary. Callahan knows it's reckless to give that much responsibility to state policemen, especially a group like this. These troopers have been worn thin. They look like they're on the verge of mob justice when they should be focused on reestablishing order and rescuing the hostages. Callahan has to do something before it's too late. So he glances over at a beige truck where he spots his commander, a gruff man, with a thick neck. Maybe he has the authority to stop this dangerous mission. Callahan smooths his light green uniform, and walks over to his commander. He steps in front of his boss and announces that the mission can't go forward. The state troopers are left to conduct the operation the loss of life could be immense. It's foolish and dangerous, and the commander has to do something about it. Callahan's commander sets aside a clipboard and furrows his eyebrows and contempt. He reminds Callahan that he's a subordinate. It is not his place to question the order he's been given. Callahan knows he has no right to speak this way. But staying quiet is not an option. Not when consequences could be so great. So Callahan tells his commander that the state troopers shouldn't be leading the way. They're undisciplined, and look to be driven by revenge. Leaving state policemen in charge could even get the hostages killed. Callahan adds that no one should be storming Attica with shotguns. Everyone knows that the prisoners don't have firearms. All of this is a recipe for needless death and suffering. The commander clenches his jaw as he stares Callahan in the eyes. He asks what, precisely, Callahan would do to change the situation. Callahan tells his commander to go up the food chain. To speak with the major general and get him to reconsider his orders. The state troopers need to be disarmed and sent home. And if the major general won't do that, at the very least, well trained National Guardsman could accompany the troopers during the siege. That way they could ensure that the assault is conducted as safely as possible. But the commander shakes his head. He explains that Governor Rockefeller doesn't want to involve the state's National Guard. Not after last year's incident at Kent State University, when Ohio National Guardsman shot and killed four students just for protesting. After that scandal, the National Guard drew two controversial. They're not going to be used in this operation. And with that, the commander turns and walks away. Callahan is left standing alone, fuming. The governor and other politicians say they're concerned with appearances. But if this plan continues, they're going to be left with something even deadlier and more damaging than Kent State. It'll be a tragedy unlike any the nation has ever seen. Yet no one seems willing to take action to prevent it. At 9.20am, an inmate named Carlos Rocha runs a hand over his damp scout. He's standing out in the prison yard and around him, nearly all of Atticus 1300 inmates are on their feet pacing. The mood is anxious and Rocha feels jittery too. Rocha has just learned that Russell Oswald, the head of the state's prisons, offered a final proposal. Oswald told the inmates leader Richard X. Clarke that he would offer the same terms into man as he did yesterday. But this time, there was a deadline. Oswald said the prisoners had to surrender within the hour. Even with the clock ticking, the inmates voted not to give in. And that was just over an hour ago. Their deadline has passed. Now as Rocha peers through the crowds, he spots Richard X. Clarke and several other inmates walking with a group of hostages. They appear to be eight of them and the inmates are leading them to the catwalks, the narrow walkways that run on top of Atticus tunnels. The hostages are all blindfolded and some have bindings on their hands. As he stands out in the yard, watching, another inmate approaches. Man, I've got a bad feeling about this. What? I heard about the plans. Genius. It's not genius. It's dangerous. You think it's a good idea to take the hostages, just march them out, make them look like we're about to kill them? You think that's supposed to bring the other side back to the negotiating table? People respond to threats. Yeah, sure they do. But not in a good way. Look, the state gave us a deadline. Give up. You've got one hour. This is going to buy us more time. I don't know Rocha. I just don't feel good about this. I do. Look up there. Rocha points out with the sky where a small helicopter comes into view. The inmate starts to murmur, but Rocha spins around. Grinning. Guys, it's Rockefeller. The governor of New York finally came. He's going to talk with us. Here's how to get him. We're going to win this thing. You don't know that. We don't know who the hell's in that helicopter. But it's not Rockefeller. Well, who else would it be? Well, let's go see it touched out. Find out. As the helicopter gets closer, the inmate's eyes start left and right. He starts inching away, moving in the other direction. Uh, that's not the cover. Man, something's about to happen. I'm getting out of here. I'm going over the catwalk. Get somewhere safe. Rocha knows the inmate has just gotten parodly. That happens when he don't sleep for four days. He's tired, too. But he suddenly feels revived. Because if the governor has arrived, the state must be ready to make some serious offers. But suddenly, another helicopter comes into view. It's massive and dark, and it covers Rocha in its shadow. All at once, the thunderous clap of the helicopter rotor drowns out all other daytime sounds. As he glances at the helicopter door, Rocha notices a set of large, gleaming canisters. Then it all happens very fast. A white powdery substance rains down. Within seconds, it covers everything in a thick fog. Rocha can't see. He can't breathe. He staggers forward sick to his stomach, then he drops to his knees, screaming, then gurgling as he begins to vomit blood. As he collapses on the ground, Rocha closes his eyes. He always dreamed of the day he could step outside Attica as a free man, but lying in the dirt, convulsing in agony. He knows he may just die here. Up on the catwalk, a heavy set young prison guard named Mike Smith clutches himself in terror. All around him are the screams of men and bursts of gunfire. But Smith can't see any of it. He's one of the eight hostages on the catwalk, and he's still blindfolded. And even though they're above the yard, it's clear that danger is approaching quickly. Smith has to somehow get to safety. He starts waving his arms, begging to have his blindfold taken off. Suddenly, there's a yanking at his head. The blindfold comes off his eyes, and for a moment, he's blinded by the sunlight. When his eyes adjust, Smith notices an inmate standing in front of him, holding the blindfold. His name is Donald Noble. But before Smith can thank him, Noble screams to look out. Smith turns, seeing uniform state troopers racing toward them. The policemen are wearing gas masks and holding shotguns. The inmate grabs Smith's arm, trying to pull him out of the way, but it's too late. The troopers fire, and Smith, a prison guard taken hostage, feels like he's been hit in the stomach with a hammer. He falls flat on his back, stunned. Smith glances down, spotting four gaping holes in the side of his abdomen. Blood runs freely. And yet Smith realizes that he's still conscious. Thanks to the inmate Noble, the bullets didn't hit him straight on. Mustering the last of his strength, Smith looks over and sees Noble lying on a stomach, moaning, as a red pool seeps out from under him. Then he turns to meet a menacing shadow, looking up to find troopers standing over him. They stare down with shotguns raised. Smith closes his eyes. He's sure that this is the end. But before the troopers fire, a nearby correctional officer calls out that Smith is one of theirs. Troopers turn, and then point their guns at inmate Noble. Smith turns over, gasping out that Noble saved his life. The troopers can't shoot him. The officers look at Smith, and shrug, and walk off, leaving him and Noble in a growing pool of their own blood. As they walk away, it occurs to Smith that the troopers were missing their identifying emblems. No tags to indicate rank or name. No badges on their collars. Mike Smith is a prison guard, and so he knows what this means. But troopers must have removed all the identifying items before they came here today. It would allow them to kill the inmates with impunity. Smith tries to reach out to Noble to tell him that they're going to get through this, but the pain is too great. Before he can say a word, everything goes black. It's been several minutes since the beginning of the assault on Attica. An out in the yard inmate Frank Smith dashes through toxic cloud of smoke and tear gas. His ears are ringing from the repeated blast of shotguns, and in every direction men scream and sob and beg for mercy. Smith is in shock. He doesn't feel scared or sad. His instincts have taken over, and he's only focused on getting somewhere safe. Then there's a sudden blast near Smith's head, and he trips and tumbles to the ground, his face landing in the mud. As he looks up, he sees an inmate limping toward a state trooper. He has his hands up in surrender, but the trooper just lifts his shotgun and fires. Seeing this, Smith manages to get up and start running in the opposite direction. He nearly trips over an elderly black inmate who's crawling through the mud, searching for his glasses. Smith nearly stops to help him. But before he can, another trooper emerges from the smoke and heads straight for the old man, stepping on the inmate's back with a muddy boot. Then he pumps his shotgun and pulls the trigger. Smith turns and runs. The world is strange and disorienting blur. He sees the dead body of one of the inmate's leaders, a brilliant young black man. The negotiating tables are now riddled with bullet holes and surrounded by bodies and pools of blood. Then, all at once, it becomes too much to bear. Smith collapses to the ground. He shuts his eyes and waits for death to come. When someone does approach, Smith opens his eyes slowly, expecting to see a shotgun. But instead, he sees Richard X. Clark, the inmate's leader. Clark is bloody and battered, but alive. As shotgun blasts continued to thunder in the yard, Clark reaches out a hand and with a tortured grimace, he helps Smith to his feet. Clark tells his head of security that they probably won't survive today. But that doesn't mean they shouldn't try. They have to keep fighting. Smith smiles as tears start to well in his eyes. With Clark stumbles and Smith leaps forward to catch his friend. Smith is muscular and still has his strength. He props up Clark together, the two men stagger forward. They move through a curtain of smoke, past lifeless bodies and men crying out in anguish. And when they emerge in the clearing, they find a line of state troopers, boarded them to put up their hands. It's 138 pm on September 13, 1971, and just hours after the storming of Attica. In his estate in Westchester County, New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller stands alone in his study, gazing at his bookshelf. It's filled with leather bound history books, telling the stories of great nations and the great men who led them. Rockefeller hopes that someday he'll be remembered in books like these. But at the meantime, he has a lot of work to do. Attica was retaken this morning, and men were killed. But the inmates weren't the only ones who died. Prison guards who were taken hostages also were casualties of the siege. Once these facts become public knowledge, there's bound to be controversy. It could even become a national scandal and derail Rockefeller's lifelong plans to become president. Rockefeller needs to prevent any bad press from Attica. At the same time, he needs to maintain the support of his Republican party. And that's why he feels a bit anxious, as he picks up the phone and is greeted by a familiar and gruff voice. Nelson is Dick Nixon. Rockefeller loses his breath. As governor, he's used to dealing with people in power. But there's nothing like talking to the president of the United States. Mr. President, good afternoon. Well, Nelson, I was just briefed on Attica. You did a fine job. And the White House is behind you 100%. Well, thank you, Mr. President. That means a lot to me. I know you've had a hard day, but I want you to know that I just back you to the Hilt. The courage you showed and the judgment and not granting amnesty. It was right. I don't care what they say. You did the right thing. Mr. President, I can't tell you how relieved I am. As you're well aware, being an executive means making very hard choices. Some people say we got too tough. But we tried to negotiate at first. We were generous and fair. It was only after we exhausted every option that we got tough. It was the only choice we had. You're absolutely right. Rockefeller takes a deep breath before he continues. He's aware that what he must do now is a dangerous thing. He has to lie to the president. There's no other option if he wants to keep this story from spinning out of control. Mr. President, I sent the troops in when they were in the process of murdering the guards. We had to stop the inmates before we lost any more lives. My God. They'd already killed the hostages. You can prove that, can't you? Of course we can. Now it's a Catholic hospital that's dealing with the disease, not a public institution, so we don't have control of their operations. But I'll make sure that the press gets the right set of facts. Well good. We don't want people getting the wrong ideas about what happened today. Sir, this is an easy story to sell. What it all comes down to is that the whole thing was led by the blacks. The public will take our side. Nelson, you've got to find those for politics. Maybe someday you'll take my job. It would be a pleasure, sir. But only after you finish your second term. A moment later, President Nixon hangs up and Rockefeller rises from his desk with renewed feeling of confidence. For the last four days, he'd been anxious and unable to sleep. He couldn't see a good path out of the crisis at Attica. But he made his move. And even though it didn't go exactly as planned, it was still a success. The prisoners are back in their cells. The media is finally leaving Attica. And Rockefeller appears to be on track to continue rising as one of the most celebrated leaders in the country. It's May, 1997 in a federal courthouse in Buffalo, New York. Frank Smith walked through a courtroom. His large shoulder is slumped as he makes his way to the witness stand. He can feel the twelve jurors watching him, judging him, wondering what he's about to say. His attendance here today has him shaken and nervous in a way he hasn't felt in years. Smith, the former inmate, is now 64 years old. It's been more than a quarter century since Attica was retaken and Smith lost his role as the inmate's head of security. The while he lost his title and his now a free man, Smith never stopped fighting. Over the decades he continued to push for his day in court. He believes that the state of New York owes him restitution for everything he endured when Attica was retaken. And now it's his time to speak to make his case. But as he takes a seat in the witness box, Smith isn't sure he has the strength to do it. He's afraid that if he recounts what happens to him, he'll lose control of his emotions. Maybe even break down. Still Smith remembers something he told Tom Wicker, the New York Times journalist, right before the siege of Attica. Smith said they'd come too far to come back. They couldn't surrender. Smith realizes that now, even twenty five years later, he's still facing the same choice. He can give up or he can keep on fighting. So he looked at the jury and begins telling them about September 13, 1971. The day the Attica rebellion was crushed. Smith recounts the unvarnished truth. How after he surrendered in the Attica yard, the troopers made him strip naked at gunpoint, how he was then ordered to lie face down in the mud with other captive inmates and was then beaten mercilessly. Smith tells the jury that after the beating he thought the troopers were done hurting him. They were just getting started. Soon they had Smith lie on a table and one of the troopers shoved a football under his chin. The trooper threatened that if Smith let the football drop from under his chin, he would be shot. The other police then did everything they could to try and make him drop the football. They struck his genitals. They spit on him. They dropped lit cigarettes on his naked body. For six straight hours, they tortured him and watched him struggle. But Smith never let that football go. And even after that, it didn't stop. The state policeman got bored so ordered Smith to stand up. But his legs were numb and he collapsed onto the ground. Troopers then leaped on him with ax handles and batons and beat him again while screaming racial slurs. The torture went on for weeks and Smith was just one of many Attica survivors who were subjected to it. As Smith looks out at the courtroom, he can see that the jury is horrified. With then admits that his injuries have never fully healed. To this day, he can only partially raise his right arm. There are still visible burn marks all over his body. Smith pauses, blinking. And then he begins to cry. He apologizes to the jury, but he can't stop himself. The tears flow down his cheeks and he tells the room that he can't understand how anyone could treat another human being so brutally. Then Smith falls silent. He has nothing more to say. But when he looks up, he sees that several of the jurors are wiping tears from their own eyes. He appreciates their sympathy. But that's not the reason he came here. And he doesn't need money from a settlement. What Smith needed was to be heard for the truth to come out. As he leaves the witness stand, Smith remembers his old friend Richard X Clark. He'll be 51 in a couple of months. And like Smith, he survived the siege at Attica. Clark was always courageous, wise, a natural leader. On the first day of the uprising, Clark taught Smith a lesson that he'll never forget. He was involved in something bigger than himself. That was true then. And it's true now. In 1997, Frank Smith was awarded $4 million in damages after suing in federal court for his suffering at Attica. But just two years later, the decision was overturned by an appellate court. Still Smith and the other former inmates would continue their fight. But when they won another trial, Smith was awarded only $125,000, a fraction of the original settlement. Richard X Clark was released for Madoka in 1972. He went on to write a memoir and worked as a counselor at a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center. In 1974, Richard Nixon resigned as president and Gerald Ford took over as the commander in chief. That left an opening for the vice presidency. Nelson Rockefeller was selected for the position and left Albany for Washington, DC. It's been decades since the storm in Attica. And only now are the full truth submerging. The death toll is staggering. During the invasion, 29 inmates were killed. And hostages also died in the siege, killed by state troopers who fired their weapons indiscriminately. And although the death count was already high, the suffering didn't stop there. Attica's surviving inmates were subjected to violent and sadistic punishments. They were beaten, tortured, and sexually assaulted. These horrifying facts had remained hidden for decades. New York State officials realized that the state policemen were responsible for unspeakable acts of violence, including the deaths of the hostages. And so the officials worked to conceal the truth. These officials, including Governor Nelson Rockefeller, falsely claimed that the hostages were murdered by the inmates. Only decades later was the cover up finally exposed, with the families of slain prison workers awarded a $12 million settlement. The United States now has the largest prison population in the world. And we incarcerate a larger percentage of our population than any other country. But those in prison don't reflect the nature of our country. Black Americans are incarcerated at a rate nearly six times greater than white Americans. And despite decades of lawsuits and advocacy, in many cases, prison conditions have not improved. On the 30th anniversary of the Attica uprising, Frank Smith discussed the continued need for prison reform, education, and racial justice. Smith said that the people need to see that they are part of the problem and part of the solution. Attica is all of us. Next on American scandal, I speak with Heather Ann Thompson, a historian who won the Pulitzer Prize for her book Blood in the Water, which tells the story of the Attica prison uprising. We'll discuss the troubling aftermath of the standoff at Attica, including lies told by the state government of New York. We'll also look at the causes of mass incarceration in the United States and the urgent need to fix a broken system. From Wondry, this is episode four of the Attica Prison Uprising for American Scandal. If you like our show, please give us a five star rating and leave a review and be sure to tell your friends. I also have two other podcasts you might like, American History Tellers and Business Movers. A quick note about our reenactments. In most cases, we can't know exactly what was said, but all our dramatizations are based on historical research. If you'd like to learn more about the Attica Prison Uprising, we recommend the book Blood in the Water by Heather Ann Thompson. American Scandal is hosted, edited, and executed produced by me, Lindsey Graham for airship, audio editing by Molly Bach, sound design by Derek Barons, music by Lindsey Graham. This episode is written by Hannibal DS, edited by Christina Malzberg. Our senior producer is Gabe Riven, executive producers, our Stephanie Jen's, Jenny Lauer Beckman and her nonmopez for wandering.