Fifty years ago, nearly 1,300 men would stand together in this nation’s most historic uprising against brutal prison conditions at the Attica State Correctional Facility in upstate New York. The night before, however, many of those same men were so upset they could barely speak or sleep.
Mere minutes before it was time for lights out on September 8, 1971, four correction officers had come to one of the tiers of A block to drag a 23-year-old named Larry Dewer out of his cell and take him off to segregation—the dreaded HBZ Block—for an earlier infraction. Suddenly, though, from his cell came the horrible sounds of screaming, furniture breaking, and glass shattering. Unable to see what was going on, and terrified for their friend’s safety, the other men in the nearby cells began banging on their bars and demanding that the COs “Leave that kid alone!” But then, almost as soon as there was chaos, all was quiet. And, as the men looked on in horror, the four guards walked past them carrying Dewer’s utterly limp body. To a man, they feared he was dead, or soon would be.