is about -- to share the love of God who became incarnate on the first
Christmas day so long ago in Bethlehem?
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.
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
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
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.