Legends of “corruption, sex, [and] blatant theft” that surround NYC’s maximum security prison, Attica Correctional Facility, are confirmed by PAC Member Robert Cepeda during a temporary stay at the facility. This chilling account exposes the truth behind the rumors about ever-present conditions, which – in 1971 – may have led to the prison’s notorious riot.
Warning: The following letter discusses topics such as physical, emotional, verbal and sexual abuse, and has not been edited in any way. Proceed with caution if you may be triggered by these topics.
“Christmas in Attica,”
by Robert “Rabi” Cepeda.
Back in the 1970’s there was a prison riot at Attica in New York State that left over 30 people dead. Guards and prisoners. The riot was the result of years of abuse by guards and horrific conditions that had finally reached a boiling point.
In the aftermath, both the Governor and the Commissioner of the department of corrections vowed to make changes to improve the conditions of Attica and all prisons in the state of New York. Forty years later, though many changes have indeed been implemented throughout the system, Attica itself seems to be stuck in a time zone. Indeed things may have actually gotten worse.
Over the last eight years of my incarceration I have heard tales of the madness that goes in Attica. Rampant corruption, sex, blatant theft of property by both guards and civilian employees and brutal beatings leaving prisoners maimed, disfigure and in some cases – dead.
I recently spent Christmas and New Years in Attica’s general population as a hold-over on my way to another facility. I was there a total of three weeks. Not long by prison standards but in that time I saw enough abuse, intimidation and beatings to confirm the truth of all that I heard.
The guards (male and female) always carry their nightsticks in their hands at all times. They routinely employ scare tactics and intimidation and one can see the results in the faces of the prisoners. There is a defeatist attitude that is frightening. Any attempts to alert outside authorities like the heads in Albany or the Inspector General of these abuses are quickly squashed as the officers checked all outgoing mail and may retaliate against the writer.
Gay prisoners and transgenders are often singled out for extra abuse. Some have even been sexually assaulted and there are several lawsuits pending to that fact. More attention needs to be given to prisons like Attica which continue to employ methods to demoralize the prison population leading to men who will one day be released and come home much worse than ever. The anger that is building from the abuse at the hands of the guards will either one day lead to another riot or explode on their family and loved ones. Let’s work to prevent both.
The Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP) works to guarantee that all people are free to self-determine gender identity and expression, regardless of income or race, and without facing harassment, discrimination or violence.
This blog, which features letters from our Prisoner Advisory Committee (PAC) members, is just one way we overcome the enormous state-created barriers to communication and political participation for the people who are most affected by the prison system.