Marking 50 years since the beginning of the Attica prison uprising

Local News

ATTICA, N.Y. (WIVB) — Thursday marks 50 years since the start of the Attica prison uprising. By the time it was over, dozens were dead and people were demanding answers.

“It is very hard to wrap your head around 50 years,” said Deanne Quinn Miller.

It began on September 9, 1971, when inmates at Attica rioted and demanded better prisoners’ rights. 43 inmates and workers would die, most of them when four days later, state authorities retook the prison during an assault.

The state commission organized to investigate it all noted no safeguards were developed to avoid shooting hostages and unresisting inmates. But by the time that happened, guard Billy Quinn was already dead, having been assaulted when the riot began he was 28.

“Who is Billy? That’s exactly what I didn’t know,” Miller said.

Billy Quinn is Deanne Quinn Miller’s father, but that was about all she knew about him.

She was only 5-years-old when he died.

“I got limited knowledge from my family. My grandparents, his parents, once my dad was killed in the riot, they just literally stopped talking about him. I think it was their way of dealing with his death. I mean literally stopped talking about him. Like he didn’t even exist,” Miller said.

“I was never really comfortable asking my mom because I could tell how sad it made her when I asked questions about my dad.”

Department of Corrections and Community Supervision officials insist Attica in 2021 is markedly different from Attica in 1971.

“…(T)he department has made significant changes, at Attica and at its facilities across the state, they say, to more humanely supervise and prepare incarcerated individuals for a successful release back to the community.”

DOCCS specifically noted, among other things, there are 600 fewer inmates in Attica, that the prison has nearly 1,900 cameras to protect them and staff, and that health care is delivered at the community standard.

Miller will be at Attica Monday along with members of the group Forgotten Victims of Attica. The acting commissioner of DOCCS will be here, and Miller is also asking Governor Kathy Hochul to show up.

“I think the one thing I would like to say I would like, is an apology,” added Miller.

An apology that miller says acknowledges the toll this has taken on state workers, their families and others.

In her quest to learn more about her father, and how he died, miller several unlikely sources, including inmates. She’s chronicled her journey in a book: “The Prison Guard’s Daughter.”

It was released this week. Veteran journalist Gary Craig helped her write it.

“I’ve said that if I was going to help anybody write a book and tell their story, I wanted it to be Dee because she and the story are both so special and remarkable,” said Gary Craig.

Miller still hopes there is yet another chapter to that story.

“You would think that an apology is the easiest thing to do. It doesn’t cost anything. What you give to people when you apologize is a sense of peace and maybe a little bit of, I don’t know about forgiveness, but it just gives you a feeling that you can let down your guard a little bit and not always be so mad,” Miller said.

Chris Horvatits is an award-winning reporter who joined the News 4 team in December 2017. See more of his work here.

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