Big Black Stand at Attica – Frank “Big Black” Smith, Jared Reinmuth & Ameziane (Archaia)

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History is written by the victors. At least it was until the advent of the age of communication when anything and everything became televised, serialised and shared in print and later, on social media.  In less than a hundred years, everybody had a voice, dissent became a populist ideal and the belief in the truth waned in much the same fashion as mainstream faith and trust in any, and all, offices of power and government did. The only version of events that continued to have any validity was the truth that was shared by those who were there, who experienced, and lived through, it. 

The Attica Prison Uprising of September 1971 continues to be the worst loss of life in a siege scenario in the recorded history of the US Penal system, and Frank “Big Black” Smith was there. He was a prisoner in Attica, he was a central figure in the uprising which culminated in the deaths of thirty nine men, prisoners and hostages alike, at the hands of New York State Troopers. This is his story.

It’s a documented fact that prior to the uprising, the men incarcerated at Attica were treated in an almost subhuman manner, held captive by an inherently racist system that sought to demean and denigrate rather than rehabilitate them. This was the spark that lit the touch paper that led to the riot and eventually to Attica falling into the hands of the inmates.

Smith’s tale of the tense, fear driven atmosphere and the breakdown of communication on both sides that resulted in the massacre, the political panic and attempted cover-up and his appalling torture and treatment at the hands of the prison guards in the aftermath is far from an easy read.  It’s brutal, barbaric, paints a picture of a nation divided by race and opportunity and uses Smith’s story as a blunt club to batter the reader into submission. And it will shatter your heart and make you question the effectiveness and fairness of jurisprudence and the way in which society punished, and continues to punish, offenders.

This is Smith’s story. It’s one man’s account, backed up by historical fact, of the horrific abuse that he suffered for being part of something much larger than himself, something that dared to question, stand up to, and eventually change, the status quo. Frank Smith was part of history whether he wanted to be or not. He doesn’t deny that he deserved to be in prison or what he did to put him where he was when fate took over. That, much like the events at Attica, is well documented.

Is Stand at Attica slanted or biased in any way? Possibly, because Smith can only tell his story as he experienced it. But as his tale is closer to adopting a middle ground position rather than blatantly taking one side or the other, it’s position makes this shameful indictment of humanity and the way in which we treat the members of our species according to the popular constraints of society eminently believable. History may well be written by the victors, but even though what happened inside its walls changed the world for the better, there were no victors at Attica.  Stand at Attica documents who we were, but it doesn’t mean that it is who we have to be. That choice is one that we all have to make for ourselves.  We can either learn from the past, or be condemned to repeat it. Thoroughly recommended… Tim Cundle  

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