A prominent author who exposed malfeasance by New York prison authorities in the notorious 1971 Attica uprising has taken New York’s correctional officials to court after they banned her book.
Last September, SQ News reviewed Heather Ann Thompson’s Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971.
The review said Thompson did “a superb job” in uncovering how an uprising and work stoppage turned into a hostage situation. Thompson’s investigation delved into the negotiations, their breakdown and the subsequent impasse.
Blood in the Water describes in detail how the incarcerated men suffered from the actions of law enforcement and state officials, including then-New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller and U.S. President Richard Nixon. The author accused officials of cover-ups and feeding misinformation to the media.
Shortly after Blood in the Water published in 2 016, Thompson visited San Quentin’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. She discussed with SPJ members the nearly 13 years it took to research and write the book. The Attica uprising was influenced by the 1971 death at San Quentin of activist George Jackson who died of gunshot wounds in what California authorities said was an escape attempt.
The New York Department of Corrections banned Blood in the Water from the state’s penal institutions, according to the Associated Press. Thompson responded to the ban last March with a lawsuit naming as defendants New York’s acting commissioner of prisons and “a second official with decision-making authority regarding censorship determinations.”
Thompson told the AP, “People have a right to read, and people have a right to history. We also have a right to have our books read. It’s a shame we live in a country where we censor people and ideas.”
New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman added, the state “cannot censor an important historical text like Blood in the Water just because it doesn’t like the content.”
New York prison officials have banned other publications with incarceration themes. This includes San Quentin News.
G. Erwin, serving time in The Orleans Correctional Facility in Albion, NY, was denied the February 2015 edition of SQ News a year before Blood in the Water was published.
NY prison officials determined that SQ News is a “publication which advocates and presents a clear and immediate risk of lawlessness, violence, anarchy or rebellion,” according to a “Sender Disapproval Notice” that came with the returned newspaper.
The notice did not say which article prompted the disapproval notice.
The edition, however, contained an article that found systematic abuse of adolescents in New York City’s notorious Rikers Island. The U.S. Justice Department finding also cited steps that Rikers Island corrections officials took to solve the problems.
Editor’s note: Safety and security concerns are part of the publishing process for every SQ News edition. The administrative security concerns for all SQ News content are made by San Quentin’s Public Information Officer and approved by the OPEC, located in the California Department of Corrections headquarters in Sacramento, CA.