Narratives From the 1971 Attica Prison Riot

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Book examines the Attica Prison uprising of 1971. Specifically, it compares and contrasts five published accounts which were authored by individuals personally involved in the tragedy. After providing a brief history of prison rioting in the United States and reviewing the context of the Attica incident itself, a content analysis of the Attica stories is provided. The analysis reveals four dominant themes: military metaphors, racial friction, the underdog, and attributing responsibility. Suggests that prison riots are largely the result of reciprocally corrosive interchanges between those who live and work within a prison facility.


“ ... From September 9 to 12, 1971, inmates of the Attica Correctional Facility took control of the prison. Holding some forty guards hostage, the prisoners presented the authorities with a list of demands that sought better living conditions as well as improved educational and vocational opportunities. After four tense days of negotiations, the uprising ended when several hundred agents of the state stormed the facility and placed it back in the hands of the authorities. Thirty-nine men died in the recapture of the prison ... This study on the Attica prison uprising provides a fascinating examination of what happened during those fateful days in 1971. Based on innovative insights from the sociology of narrative analysis, the author examines five different first-hand accounts of the prison riot, each of which provides a unique insider’s view of the pattern and dynamics of the uprising ... In many ways, the events of Attica are still with us today. Attica has become a metaphor that is now part of our collective consciousness ... Yet a continued need to investigate the conditions of our prisons today is an important part of the legacy of Attica ... Thanks to the penetrating work of the author, the events of Attica may affect us today in a way that is both meaningful and revealing.” – (from the Foreword) Mathieu Deflem, Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of South Carolina

“In a prolonged era of ever-increasing incarceration rates, it should come as no surprise that prison riots have remained a problem since the 1960s. Surprisingly, however, sociologists have tended to ignore this phenomenon and, as a result, we know relatively little about it. It is in this context that we can appreciate the significance the author’s book on the 1971 Attica prison riot. It is, to my knowledge, one of the few serious academic studies of this event ... This is a fine example of how sociologists go about doing narrative analysis ... While methodologically and analytically rigorous, this book remains accessible to readers not well versed in either sociology or narrative analysis. It is that rare book that provides an interesting and educational reading for students, academics, and practitioners. Anyone interest in the sociology of corrections would find this book useful. I would also recommend it to anyone interested in criminology, violence, and narrative sociology.” – J. William Spencer, Associate Professor of Sociology, Purdue University

“In this book, the author examines the 1971 Attica prison riot through the eyes of several men who played a part in the tragedy. While the book presents a thorough review of the Attica uprising, it also contributes to current issues in corrections ... The author’s analysis of the Attica narratives elucidates how each [contributor] manipulates common themes to create a unique version of the riot ... The author’s interactionist model of prison riots makes an important contribution to the literature. It is recommended reading for anyone who wants to learn more about the Attica prison riot of 1971, and for those interested in exploring new approaches to prison disturbances.” – Clemens Bartollas, Professor of Sociology, University of Northern Iowa

Table of Contents

Foreword by Mathieu Deflem
1. Prison Riots in Context
2. Riot Theories and Narrative Sociology
3. Writing about Rebellion
4. Four Narrative Themes
5. Riot Stories
6. Social Context and the Attica Story

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