By Katelyn Oswalt ’24
On October 26th, the Department of Sociology sponsored Attica Untold: Seeking Justice for the Attica Prison Uprising, an event that is part of a larger series of talks on Crime, Victimization, and Justice.
The event featured Deanne Quinn Miller, author of The Prison Guard’s Daughter and Gary Craig, a journalist who covered the aftermath of the Attica Prison uprising. Miller’s father, Billy Quinn, died because of an injury sustained due to the actions of inmates during the Attica Prison uprising. Although Miller was five years old at the time, she has had deep psychological impacts from the loss, and has dedicated herself to gaining justice for those impacted by Attica.
Numerous members of the HWS community attended the event, including Director of CCESL Katie Flowers and President Joyce P. Jacobsen, in addition to many students. One student in attendance was Christi Ashenden, a member of the Classes of 2024, studying Sociology and Educational Studies. She reflected on her decision to attend the event by saying, “I decided to come to this event… because the Attica Prison Rebellion was such a significant event in history, our own state’s history, yet I had never heard of it prior to the advertisement of this event.”
Miller began the event by describing her life as a child in Attica, and by providing context for the Attica Prison uprising. She then went on to describe the events of the day from her perspective as a first-grade student. She admitted that many events are hard to remember, as she was so young when it happened, so she uses her mother’s perspective to tell her story. Following the death, she transitioned to discussing the initial aftermath. Miller suffered physical symptoms such as stomach pains due to anxiety following the death of her father. Perhaps the most shocking event following the death was the revelation that her mother was pregnant with her father’s child following the death. Soon, Miller’s life would be uprooted, as her mother remarried, and she gained a stepsibling. This contributed to Miller’s distress.
The latter half of Miller’s talk focused on her mission to find justice for her father’s death. She began this journey by doing large amounts of research about Attica in high school and college, as she realized that her family had a “black and white” view of what occurred at the prison. She described the journey that her and fellow victims’ families took to receive reparations and an apology from the State of New York. While the group of the victims’ families was able to gain $12 million in reparations, they still have not received a formal apology from the State of New York. Despite this, Miller is hopeful that Governor Kathy Hochul will issue an apology, as she is from Western New York.
The talk focused on the perspective of the corrections officers, rather than the prisoners, which is a unique viewpoint when tackling Attica. As a sociology student, Ashenden described encountering this perspective by saying, “When we talk about the prison system in sociology, we often talk about prisoners and their experiences. Prisoners’ rights are at the crux of the rebellion, but this talk focused on the experience of correctional officers– a perspective we don’t often hear.” Ashenden went on to describe the complexities of this event by saying, “It was challenging to listen to this story and understand that prisoners’ rights were not being respected but also that the measures that they ultimately took to make their concerns known led to several unrighteous deaths.”
Despite this, Ashenden agreed that Miller’s story was remarkable, as she was able to advocate for herself and the fellow victims’ families. She reflected on Miller’s experience by saying, “The most interesting part of the event was hearing how Miller was able to fight for compensation for her loss and bring justice to the families who lost loved ones to the Attica Prison Rebellion… It is outstanding to see how Miller has channeled her grief into a career of fighting for what she
believes is right.”
When asked by The Herald if she would recommend this event, Ashenden replied, “Yes, I would totally recommend that others attend a similar event or read The Prison Guard’s Daughter: My Journey Through the Ashes of Attica! Deanne Quinn Miller has a lot to say about the criminal justice system and how it affects all of us!” Those who are interested in talks similar to Attica Untold: Seeking Justice for the Attica Prison Uprising, should be on the lookout for future events held by the Department of Sociology in the series of talks on Crime, Victimization, and Justice.