Attica anniversary helps ease pain for some
September 20, 2016
As published by Democrat & Chronicle on September 13, 2016.
For years, Kent Monteleone bubbled with a silent anger, having lost his father in the Attica prison uprising when he was only 7 years old.
He carried that anger for years. He, his mother and his siblings rarely talked about the riot or the death of his father, John Monteleone, who was one of the 10 prison employee hostages fatally shot during the State Police retaking of the prison on Sept. 13, 1971.
“Nobody ever talked about it,” Monteleone, now 52, said at a ceremony Tuesday at the maximum-security prison in Wyoming County.
However, Monteleone said, after a group called the Forgotten Victims of Attica was formed 16 years ago, he met others like himself — the children of slain hostages who too had bottled up the anguish for years. He discovered that one close friend from high school was the daughter of a hostage; he’d never known this before.
Now, Monteleone said Tuesday, he talks openly with others about the loss of his father in the nation’s deadliest prison riot. “It brings me great peace,” he said.
The Forgotten Victims of Attica consists of prison employees who survived the Attica riot, their families, and the families of those who died there. Formed in 2000, the group maintained that the state had allowed prison conditions to reach a boiling point in 1971 and had duped widows into accepting worker compensation payments, thus legally precluding them from suing the state.
The group made five demands of the state: restitution, counseling for those who wanted it, the use of prison grounds for an annual remembrance on Sept. 13, an apology, and the unsealing of all riot-related records.
But, while much of the Forgotten Victim’s focus has been on its lobbying with state officials, its camaraderie has also helped members like Kent Monteleone find an inner resolution with the pain that befell the families.
” I had thought I was the only one who had the feelings I had,” Monteleone said.
Prisoners seized control of the prison on Sept. 9, 1971. On Sept. 13, state troopers rushed into the prison after tear gas had been dumped from helicopters into the Attica grounds. The armed retaking of the prison left 29 inmates and 10 hostages fatally shot; three inmates and a prison guard were killed by inmates in the days before the retaking.
Tuesday brought good news to the Forgotten Victims, as state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced that his office and the New York State Archives were making available online extensive riot-related documents that previously would have required Freedom of Information requests for public access.
“The creation of this website enables us to shed light on the Attica uprising, one of the darkest chapters of our state’s history,” Schneiderman said in a statement.
There are still records under seal that a state Supreme Court justice has ruled cannot be released because they are protected by grand jury secrecy.
The Forgotten Victims received $12 million in restitution, and the promise of counseling and the annual ceremony. The only demands remaining were the opening of the records and the apology.
The state continues to balk at a formal apology.
“If New York state ever owed an apology to anyone, it is to you Forgotten Victims,” said Malcolm Bell, who was a state-appointed prosecutor tasked with investigating Attica-related crimes in the riot’s aftermath.
Bell, a speaker at Tuesday’s remembrance, maintained that state officials derailed his investigation into possible crimes, including murder, committed by State Police who stormed the prison on Sept. 13, 1971. The state’s actions in 1971 clearly warrant an apology, he said.
Said Bell, “For Gov. Cuomo, who currently speaks for the state, I have one word: Apologize.”