Sunday, September 5, 2021

Stuck Between The Good Guys And The Bad Guys

 "Maybe there's only one revolution, since the beginning, the good guys versus the bad guys. Question is, who are the good guys?"

- Bill Dolworth /'The Professionals' (1966)

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NY State Attica Prison

Day time bill-paying job. Sometime around '89-'90 we were tasked with meeting the authorities at New York State's maximum security Attica Prison with regard to planned structural repair and renovation to an area of the main lockdown. We were cautioned ahead of our visit that our scheduled access could be delayed or possibly cancelled because of some current inmate discontent. In 1971, Attica Prison had been the scene of the "bloodiest prison riot in United States history" (aka: the Attica Massacre). Aftermath the riot had become highly controversial with the majority of the violence attributed to the tactics of the prison guards and law enforcement involved in quelling the uprising. The revolt in the first place was motivated by poor prison living conditions and treatment of inmates. We were actually pretty familiar with the riot, having used the uprising as subject to an assigned "current events" report back in high school.

Immediately upon arrival our team of three was informed that inmate morale was at lower than the usual low. The majority of the population was staging a worker strike attributed to poor prison living conditions and treatment of inmates. The small number of inmate non-participants were being subject to harassment and beatings. Everyone had to be on the lookout for flying molotov cocktail-esque combination urine and feces concoctions. Subsequently, the entire lockdown was on lockdown. After about a half-hour conference amongst security, it was decided to go ahead and let us proceed. We were assigned two prison guards, each armed with shotgun and sidearm. Didn't appear to be the most competent.  We were screened for weapons, meaning we didn't get any ("f*k that" we each thought). 

We were led for probably ten minutes through narrow corridors separated by "KEEP LOCKED AT ALL TIME!" doors then down a dimly lit winding stairwell. Railings and landings secured by chain link fencing so no one could be pitched overboard. It's a bet that the need preceded the application. Another dimly lit corridor. Eventually we arrive at our destination, a basement level mechanical dungeon somewhere deep within the bowels of the prison. The dripping foundation walls purpose to our visit only adding to the dank ambiance.

About a half hour into our business and all of the sudden the insufficient pendant light fixtures flicker and dim then go dark for several suspenseful seconds, then back on. We're lookin' baffled at each other, then all glance double baffled over to the guards. They're lookin' back at us triple baffled. One guard (joking?) comments "Don't worry until you see us running"...!?. The other heads over to "Check upstairs" via a nearby wall intercom - which he finds doesn't work.

Considering that we're unarmed our only resort is Naked Kill*. Between the three of us we have at best a 3/4 drive long handle ratchet wrench, a 3/4 drive long handle breaker bar and a couple screw drivers - couple makeshift clubs and "shivs".

Don't know what our "security" was thinkin', but from then on out, if any real trouble would have broke out we knew where we were gonna' first get two shotguns, two sidearms and spare ammo.

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We really didn't wanna' meet any of these guys (unarmed)

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Small collection of confiscated prison "shanks" 

*Ref.: 'Shibumi' (Trevanian/1979) - Hoda Korosu (Naked Kill): A martial arts discipline that trains in the use of ordinary things as instruments of death. Brilliant novel by the same guy who wrote 'The Eiger Sanction'. Been a while, but do recall that the hero, assassin Nicholai Hel, cut one guys' throat with a credit card. Always thought that would make a good American Express commercial - "Don't leave home without it".

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