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A Beautiful Soul

By       Message Suzana Megles     Permalink

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I do not cry as easily as my sister Anna, but today I cried when I read the story of Elizabeth Fink -- one of 10 people profiled on the New York Times in the article --"The Lives They Lived." This may not sound much like something in keeping with the joys of Christmas but I think it is. If you have not read her story yet, I think you will agree because to me she personified love and caring. And isn't that what Christmas really
is about -- to share the love of God who became incarnate on the first Christmas day so long ago in Bethlehem?
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I felt sorry looking at her picture though because she really looked more like a man to me than a woman, but certainly my pity was misguided. Beneath those simple trappings beat the heart of a loving and caring woman. Her heart was quite simply made of gold.
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She began her career in law in 1974. I knew she had spunk when I read that she had driven 400 miles from Brooklyn to Buffalo to begin her new job at Attica Brothers Legal Defense. Driving for me has always been challenging but at 29 to go so far alone made me realize this lady had spunk. The job offered room and board but no pay. She realized
that she could only give it two weeks because obviously she would later need a salary.

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I think everybody who was an adult in 1974 had heard about the prison revolt in the Attica prison. In September of 1971 the frustration of poor prison conditions forced nearly one thousand prisoners to revolt. They took several dozen staff members and civilian contractors and held them hostage. Their demands seemed reasonable -- better medical care, less
solitary confinement, and more fresh fruit were on the list.
Sadly, the reprisal ordered by then Gov. Nelson Rockefeller produced 4 days of horror. Tear gas from helicopters spewed the prisoners. The National Guard opened fire on the unarmed prisoners and in less than six minutes 33 inmates and 10 hostages were dead. The word "bloodbath" aptly describes the situation. Could a meeting with the leaders of the revolt
have produced a kinder, better outcome? I would think so.

Sadly "Big Black" (Frank Smith) who was now the director of the Attica Brothers Legal Defense had been one of the prisoners who would be beaten and tortured for his part in the prisoner revolt. Retribution by prison officials was swift and cruel. He was beaten and tortured for 6 hours. It was hard to read what prison officials did to him. "He was forced to lie naked on
a table while vengeful law-enforcement officers insulted him with racial slurs, hit his genitals and burned him with cigarettes. They put a football beneath his chin and told him that if he let it drop, he would be killed." For years afterward he would cry remembering that torture and realizing how disappointed he was in the world and in people.

God bless Elizabeth Fink. When she heard Big Frank's story and the story of other inmates experiencing similar torments her plan for a two week stay was abandoned and she then would spend 26 years of her life trying to bring some sort of justice for the inmates who had suffered so terribly at
Atticus. She became lead counsel for a $2.8 billion civil suit filed in 1974 against the State of New York on behalf of more than 1200 victims of Attica. I believe the amount to be too large, and after all- it was the prisoners who had been guilty of initiating what turned out to be a very bloody revolt.

I don't know if she won that case. In reality, I covered what was most important to me -- the great concern she had for the prisoners who were so ill treated after the up rising. Should they have been punished? Of course, but certainly wnot the way they were. Do I justify the rebellion?
This is also hard to answer, but it seems to me that if they had made known by peaceful means what they felt were justly due them and these concerns were not addressed- I wonder what would you and I have done in a similar situation? I think things would have been different had their been
a meeting of the prisoners and the warden re their "demands." And then perhaps they should have realized that as prisoners why would they expect these "rights?" The issue is complicated. Though you and I may well be torn, obviously Elizabeth Fink wasn't. I admire her for dedicating 26 years of her life in an effort to address the whole Atticus uprising business.
She died in September of this year. She was 70 years old. God bless her for her compassionate heart. I believe that today prisoners do get less solitary confinement, more fresh fruit, and better medical care. It is sad that a horrific prison rebellion may have led to these common sense reforms.

 

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I have been concerned about animal suffering ever since
I received my first puppy Peaches in 1975. She made me take a good look at the animal kingdom and I was shocked to see how badly we treat so many animals. At 77, I've been a vegan for the (more...)
 

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