Guest Author - Vance R. Rowe
Attica Correctional Facility was built in 1931, in the town of Attica, New York, and was one of the most expensive prisons ever built around that time. The wall around he prison is thirty feet tall and two feet thick and he prison seemed virtually escape proof. However, one man did escape. A man named Joseph Sullivan.
Joseph Sullivan was a reputed hitman for the Genovese Crime Family and was arrested for his crimes of murder and was sent to the Attica Correctional Facility. Known by the nickname of Mad Dog. it is estimated that he killed more than twenty people over his career as a hit man. The nickname Mad Dog was given to him by fellow inmates because he had a saliva gland disorder. Joseph Sullivan was convicted of manslaughter in 1967 and was sentenced to a term of 20 to 30 years, and was placed in Attica to serve his term. In early 1971, he escaped from the prison, apparently by somehow scaling the 30-foot wall. Sullivan had said this is how he escaped the correctional facility.
An account by another inmate said that Joseph Sullivan escaped by hiding in a flour sack, along a bunch that were leaving the prison. Sullivan said he had scaled the wall and climbed into a car that was waiting for him in the prison parking lot. He was re-captured a few weeks later while walking the streets of Greenwich Village in New York City. It was reported that Sullivan was carrying a sawed-off shotgun when he was caught.
Also in 1971, the infamous prison riot happened at Attica. The inmates were tired of living under harsh conditions including spending most of their days in cells and having to share cells with another inmate, that was built to hold only one inmate. The overcrowding was another reason for the protests. The inmates had started out with peaceful sit-down protests and demanded to talk to with the Commissioner of Correctional Services. They were tired of the way they were being treated by both harsh prison conditions and their treatment from the guards, who ruled with a heavy glove at the time.
When the peaceful protest bore no fruit, the inmates began to riot the next day. One guard was killed right away during the hostile takeover and then a couple of inmates were killed by other prisoners. Other guards and civilian employees were taken hostage by the prisoners. A few days later, New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller gave the okay for the New York State Police to forcefully take the prison back. When it was all said and done, 90 people were injured, most of them the inmates themselves and twenty-nine of them were killed along with ten hostages during the hostile takeover.
Attica Correctional Facility is one of the most infamous prisons in the country and has had some infamous inmates such as David Berkowitz, the Son of Sam serial killer that terrorized he people of New York City in 1977. John Lennon’s murderer, Mark David Chapman was held there before being transferred to another prison.
Other prisoners of note include Willie Sutton who robbed 100 banks from the late 1920’s until his capture in 1952 and a “mad bomber” named Sam Melville who was a part of a left wing organization called the Weather Underground. The Weather Underground was formed on the Ann Arbor campus of the University of Michigan and was formed to overthrow the United States Government. Sam Melville was killed by New York State Troopers during the 1971 prison riot.