The biggest secrets about what happened at Attica in 1971 are still kept hidden.

In 1971, a thousand inmates in an Attica, New York, prison took a stand. Their message continues today.

There's not much around the town of Attica except for tiny rivers, hills, and woods.

There is, however, a prison that held 2,200 inmates in 1971, mostly African-American and Hispanic. The guards were all white.


Aerial view of Attica Correctional Facility. Image from New York State Library.

On Sept. 9, 1971, a thousand inmates took over the prison and held it for four days — until the state governor used 600 state troopers and members of the National Guard to put the action down with guns blazing. When it was over, 10 guards and 29 prisoners were dead.

What happened during and after those four days is often misrepresented by traditional media and by the prison system itself.

What Attica is actually about is much more interesting — and, dare I say it, radical — than the standard narrative.

While the full story won't be told until next September, when historian Heather Ann Thompson's "Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy" comes out with Pantheon Books, here is what is already very clear: Attica's prisoners had every reason to rebel.


Image via The Nation.

Inmates of the Attica prison were living in deplorable conditions, and no one would help them.

Horrid prison living conditions, rampant abuse by guards — especially acute for the African-American and Hispanic prisoners — and the restriction of political rights such as the right to read what they wanted were the key elements that had the prisoners angry.

The inmates wrote to Department of Corrections Commissioner Russell Oswald multiple times. They also tried to gain the interest of a state senator to no avail. During the 1960s and early 1970s, right alongside movements by African-Americans to gain equality and respect in cities and workplaces around the country, similar movements were happening in prisons.

However, the people who could have actually paid attention to the concerns of inmates at Attica instead ignored their grievances, thinking it was simply agitators who would quiet down, soon enough.

This was a grave mistake.

Image via The Nation.

The day the guards lost control of Attica, things had come to a boil.

On Sept. 9, guards decided to lock prisoners back in their cells after breakfast instead of them getting their usual recreational time. Why is unclear — some report an altercation between a white and black inmate, some say a guard was harassing a single inmate by keeping him in his cell rather than letting him eat, which angered his friends. It doesn't really matter; what we do know is the place exploded.

Eventually, about 40 prison guards and civilians were taken hostage by inmates. And then, during the next four days, the leaders of the inmate movement attempted to negotiate with the state and governor.

The demands of the prisoners were pretty straightforward.

The original five were called the "Declaration and 5 Demands of Attica." They included such things as these:

"1. We want complete amnesty, meaning freedom from all and any physical, mental and legal reprisals.

2. We want now, speedy and safe transportation out of confinement to a non-imperialistic country.

3. We demand that the Federal Government intervene, so that we will be under direct Federal Jurisdiction.

4. We want the Governor and the Judiciary, namely Constance B. Motley, to guarantee that there will be no reprisals and we want all factions of the media to articulate this."





The 5th item was a list of people they wanted to come and negotiate for them, and then it ended with this:

"We guarantee the safe passage of all people to and from this institution. We invite all the people to come here and witness this degradation so that they can better know how to bring this degradation to an end. This is what we want."

Image via The Nation.

They later added "The 15 Practical Demands," asking for several more things that sound an awful lot like basic rights.

They included the right to legal representation at parole hearings (which they did not have), a change in medical staff to eliminate the racist and incompetent doctors that were there at the time, an end to denying prisoners the right to read political newspapers and books, the right of prisoners to form labor unions, an end to physical and mental brutality at the hands of prison staff, and much more.

Even things like adequate food and access to regular showers (and even soap!) were demanded.

The primary sticking point for the state was the first in the five original demands, which included "freedom from physical, mental, and legal reprisals."

Given that physical and mental abuse of prisoners was a key element of how the system at Attica functioned, there was no way that would ever be accepted by the prison or state officials.

That sticking point — amnesty — ended negotiations for the state of New York. On the morning of Sept. 13, 1971, Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller sent in 600 state troopers and National Guardsmen, guns blazing.


Image via The Nation.

Then, the National Guard dropped tear gas — and still, the guns were firing. In total, 4,500 rounds of ammunition were expended. As the prisoners' attorney, Elizabeth Fink, put it:

“Absolutely every procedure established on any kind of armed assault was intentionally not followed at Attica, because what was wanted was a massacre. That's what they wanted … and that's what they got."

The gunfire cut through hostages and prisoners alike. When it was all over minutes later, 10 hostages (mostly prison guards) and 29 inmates were dead. 89 others were wounded.

All but three of the inmates and one of the hostages who died did so at the hands of the state troopers — not the inmates.

Image via The Nation.

All clues point to the fact that the governor wanted a massacre.

Gov. Rockefeller was planning to run against Nixon in the primaries, and he'd constantly been fighting a charge that he was a "hopeless liberal." He desperately wanted to show that he was not soft on crime, so he refused to give an inch at Attica.

In fact, afterward, Rockefeller was so boastful about how it all went down, he told Nixon on the phone immediately following the incident that "They (the troopers) did a fabulous job. It really was a beautiful operation." This was when he assumed that the dead were "only" prisoners.

Lastly, because one of the guards had been killed by some rogue prisoners during the first days of the uprising, state troopers wanted retribution.

I spoke with professor Heather Ann Thompson of the University of Michigan.

Thompson has been writing her definitive history of the Attica uprising for the last 10 years.

“One of the reasons this has taken 10 years to write has everything to do with the fact that the official records are not accessible to the public," she told me.

Why would that be? I asked.

"There is a dual legacy from Attica." She continued. "On the one hand, and after a brief moment of implementing some pretty important reforms, corrections officials used Attica to argue that prisoners needed to be clamped down on even more. And, indeed, because they told so many lies about what had happened at Attica, many ordinary Americans bought this. But the other crucially important legacy of Attica was that prisoners never stopped resisting that kind of draconian treatment."

“Frankly," she said, "what Attica shows is that there's a very long history of covering up for police misconduct. And that misconduct includes the abuse and killing of our nation's most disenfranchised and marginalized citizens. It also speaks to the lengths that officials will go to not take responsibility for their actions."


A memorial to the guards and inmates killed during the uprising stands at Attica State Prison. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Learning the real story of what happened at Attica is ongoing.

Although the state of New York has worked hard to keep Attica's history hidden, it has not succeeded entirely. While many of the stories by prisoners themselves were hidden or their accounts were purposefully destroyed, some are coming out now.

When portions of a sealed report called "The Meyer Report" were released this year, it contained a lot of the abuse and denial of medical treatment that occurred before and after the uprising. It's been sealed since the early 1970s, and there is a good deal that is still sealed — for now.

As more people clamor for the release of the full report with other documentation coming to light from Attica's prisoners and guards — and with Thompson's soon-to-be-released book — perhaps one day we will see the full real story.

The ghosts of Attica are still with us today.

When police actions end in the deaths of African-Americans, such as on the streets of Ferguson or New York City or Cleveland, and the official story immediately starts to change until nobody really knows what happened, Attica serves as a lesson to not let those official narratives be the only ones.

Seeking the truth before passing judgment on events like Attica that happen in our lives is something I will always strive to do.

We can respect the legacy of Attica by attempting to do the same. In the following video from The Nation, listen to the first-hand stories of prisoners and guards and explore their perspective.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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via US Secretary of Defense / Flickr and The Today Show

As the nation braces itself for the verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial, President Biden has embraced the family of George Floyd at what has to be an incredibly stressful time.

Following closing arguments in the Chauvin trial on Monday, Judge Peter Cahill has sent jurors to deliberate. The verdict is expected to come in the next few days.

"He was just calling," George's brother, Philonise Floyd, said about the president. "He knows how it is to lose a family member, and he knows the process of what we're going through. So he was just letting us know that he was praying for us, hoping that everything will come out to be OK."

Biden lost his wife and one-year-old daughter in a tragic car accident in 1972 and his son Beau to cancer in 2015.

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2020 was difficult (to say the least). The year was full of life changes, losses, and lessons as we learned to navigate the "new normal." You may have questions about what the changes and challenges of 2020 mean for your taxes. That's where TurboTax Live comes in, making it easy to connect with real tax experts to help with your taxes – or even do them for you, start to finish.

Not only has TurboTax Live helped millions of people get their taxes done right, but this year they've also celebrated people who uplifted their communities during a difficult time by surprising them with "little lifts" to help out even more.

Here are a few of their stories:


Julz, hairdresser and salon owner

"As a hairdresser and salon owner, 2020 was extremely challenging," says Julz. "Being a hairdresser has historically been a recession-proof industry, but we've never faced global shut down due to health risk, or pandemic, not in my lifetime. And for the first time, hairdressers didn't have job security."

Julz had to shut down her salon and go on unemployment benefits for the first time. She also had to figure out how she was going to support herself, her staff and her business during this difficult time. But many other beauty industry professionals didn't have access to the resources they needed, so Julz decided to help.

"My business partner and I began teaching basic financial literacy to other beauty industry professionals," she says. "Transitioning our business from behind the chair to an online academy was a challenge we tackled head-on so that we could move hairdressers into this new space of education, and create a more accessible curriculum to better serve our industry.

Julz connected with a TurboTax Live expert who helped her understand how unemployment affected her taxes and gave her guidance on filing quarterly estimated taxes for her small business. "I was terrified to sit at a computer and tackle this mess of receipts," Julz says, so "it was great to have some virtual handholding to walk me through each question."

In addition to giving Julz the personalized tax advice she needed, TurboTax Live surprised her with a "little lift" that empowered her to help even more beauty professionals. "When my tax expert Diana surprised me with a little lift, I was moved to tears," says Julz. "With that little lift, I was able to establish a scholarship fund to help get other hairdressers the education they deserve."


Alana, new mom

Alana welcomed her first child in 2020. "I think my biggest challenge was figuring out how to be a mom, with no guidance," she says. "My original plan was to have my mom by my side, teaching me the ropes, but because of COVID, she wasn't able to come out here."

She was also without a job for most of 2020 and struggled to find something new.

So, Alana took it as a sign: she decided to launch her own business so she could support her new baby, and that's exactly what she did. She started a feel-good company that specializes in creating affirmation card decks — and she's currently in the process of starting a second, video-editing business.

TurboTax Live answered Alana's questions about her taxes and gave her some much-needed advice as she prepared to launch her businesses. Thanks to their "little lift," they provided her with a little emotional support too.

"I got my mom a plane ticket to finally [have her] meet [my daughter] for her first birthday," Alana says. "I was also able to get a new computer," which helped her invest in her new business and work on her video editing skills. "It's helped my family and me so much," she says.


Michael, science teacher

When schools shut down across the country last year, Michael had to learn how to adapt to a virtual classroom.

"As a teacher, I had to completely revamp everything," he says, so that he could keep his students engaged while teaching online. "At the beginning, it was a nightmare because I had no idea. I had to go from A-Z within a couple of weeks."

Michael's TurboTax Live expert answered his questions about how working from home affected his taxes and helped him uncover surprising tax deductions. To top it all off, his expert surprised him with brand new science equipment and supplies, which allowed him to create an entire line of classes on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. "Now I can truly potentially reach millions of children with my lessons," he says. "I would never have taken that leap if not for the little lift from TurboTax Live."



Ricky, motivational youth speaker

As a motivational speaker, Ricky was used to doing his job in person, but, he says, "when COVID-19 hit, it altered my ability to travel and visit schools in person [because] schools moved to fully virtual or hybrid models."

He knew he had to pivot — so he began offering small virtual group workshops for student leadership groups at middle and high schools.

"This allowed me to work with student leaders to plan how they would continue making a positive impact on their school community," he says. He wasn't sure how being remote would affect his taxes, but TurboTax Live Self-Employed gave him the advice and answers that he needed to keep more money in his pocket at tax time — and the little lift he received from them has helped him serve even more students.

"[It] has been a major blessing," he says "There will be multiple schools and student groups from across the country that I can hold leadership workshops with to empower them with the tools to be inspirational leaders in their school, community, and world."

Plus, he says, it was great knowing he had an expert to help him figure out how being remote affected his taxes. "I felt confident and assured in the process of filing my taxes knowing I had an expert working with me, says Ricky. "There were things my expert knew that I would not have considered when filing on my own."

Filing your taxes doesn't have to be intimidating, especially after a year like 2020. TurboTax Live experts can give you the "little lift" you need to get your taxes done. File with the help of an expert or let an expert file for you! Go to TurboTax Live to get started.