ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — When attacked and killed by inmates, Corrections Officer William Quinn became the first person to die in the Attica Prison Riot in 1971.
50 years later, his daughter, Deanne Quinn Miller, who was 5-years-old during the uprising, wrote about her experience and efforts on behalf of other family of corrections officers who died at Attica.
The book is called The Prison Guard’s Daughter.
Gary Craig, a reporter with the Democrat & Chronicle, helped to bring to life Miller’s story — a story that also includes the development of her relationship with inmates and their families.
Miller sat down with Adam Chodak to talk about her book and to give her reaction to the Oscar-nominated documentary ‘Attica.’
Adam Chodak: What do you find yourself thinking about most when it comes to the Attica incident?
Dee Miller: I think the apology always comes to mind because when we started out, we were asking for this five point plan for justice and although we’ve got the other four pieces of it, the fifth, this still left undone and it’s probably just as important to me now, if not more.
Watch The Full Interview Here:
AC: For people who don’t know what happened to your father during the uprising, would you mind providing a summary?
DM: So my father was working vacation relief, which is essentially a position that you go in and you fill in where people are on vacation and you do it for several maybe weeks at a time. My father enjoyed working that because he got to kind of move around the prison and, and meet other people and other corrections officers and so on. So he had been on vacation relief that day and he was working right in the central hub, which is called Times Square. And basically his job was to key the gates and allow one gate of inmates to come through with the corrections officers. They stay in the center, he keys the other gate and they move on. He had all the keys to the central hub. So there was four coming in. They would call them tunnels, but they really weren’t underground. They were above ground and catwalks above. So my father was working that day. And of course there was the incident before the night before that kind of led to this. And what happened is there was a spontaneous eruption in a tunnel. So my father could see what was happening. He locked some of the other corrections officers that he was working with into the other gates for safety while other corrections officers were coming, when they had heard that something was going on in a tunnel. And what ended up happening is that the corrections officers that were in a tunnel with those inmates were beaten severely, unconscious, so that their keys were removed. And that gave them access to the back part of the prison. By the time that they went back there, got a few hostages, picked up baseball bats and weapons, then they were going to come back through and they were pushing on the gate. And at this time there was at least about 80 inmates in that particular section, they were pushing on a gate and in terms of when the prison was built, there was a piece of metal that ascends into the ceiling and essentially it was made too short. So they butt welded it, which apparently is a type of weld that is not very strong. And with the inmates pushing on it with 40 years of paint over top of it, it just broke. And when the gate came down, that’s what left my father defenseless. They beat him severely. An autopsy shows that it was most likely a two by four. He sustained two open skull fractures and was just essentially left in the middle of Times Square to die. As inmates were just running a muck and obviously with his keys and access that he had to the rest of the prison. That’s how the inmates gained access to all the other quarters.
AC: What inspired you to write the book after all these years?
DM: I think my inspiration was Gary Craig saying to me, I kind of think it’s now or never. And we had discussed writing a book 10 years ago and I just wasn’t in the right place. And then with the lockdown of COVID and everything that was kind of going on, my work was a little bit slow and so was his, so we reached out, we sent out a couple chapters to some companies and we got some bites back quite quickly. All of the them have very short deadlines because of trying to get it produced in time for the anniversary. So essentially we were given about five and a half weeks to write it with two weeks worth of revisions.
AC: You’ve been an advocate for the families of other inmates who died that day. At the same time, one of the more special developments for you is your relationship with other inmates and the families of them.
DM: Absolutely. I think that initially was a piece of my life that probably would never have happened had I not decided kind of the path that I wanted to take on this, which was to listen to whoever had knowledge of my father and whoever it was, if it was an inmate or if it was a correction officer or whatever it was, I was going to listen to it. And I found some amazing stories and I found some amazing people and I found families that were just like mine, kind of left in the aftermath of Attica after their loved one was injured, during the rehousing. So you kind of find out that your families are not so different, even though you’re kind of from two different sides, if you will, the inmate side versus the corrections employees.
AC: Did that take any forgiveness on your part or any type of acceptance?
DM: Yeah, I think it did, especially for those that I was meeting because I went to Harlem to meet Richard Clark. Richard Clark ended up being one of the inmates who helped my dad get out of the Times Square area when he was injured. It had never occurred to me that the administration of the prison didn’t go rushing in to grab one of their own when indeed that’s not what happened. And so I’m hearing stories about this inmate who is Muslim and is bringing his other Muslim brothers in and they pick up my dad on a mattress and they carry him out to the administration building, which is extraordinary to me. But they knew my dad as well. And that I was not going to just, that’s a story that I just wasn’t gonna let go. I didn’t care if it was inmates that had taken my dad up there. I wanted to hear the story right from Richard and I did.
AC: What do you think about the documentary that was nominated for an Oscar? Attica has always been a popular topic, but this movie I think took it to a different level.
DM: I think it took it to a different level as well. I think the movie is very good. I think the information the most part is very good. I would’ve loved to have seen more about our families in it, the corrections officers that were involved in it. I think it would’ve made it a bit more even, although I think it’s essentially a very good movie
AC: When it comes to the role of the state and how it was handled. When you think back, is that the most egregious thing to you? The decision to go in, like they did.
DM: I think that was egregious. That’s one of a few things that I think of, but I also think of the abysmal treatment of the families in the aftermath of that retaking, but the retaking probably is at the top.
AC: Yeah. And the murder of your father.
AC: They talk about the conditions within the prison, through your investigation, through your research, what did you discover about
DM: I discovered the same thing, pretty much that’s on all the movies and all the books. The first 28 demands that they wanted in the manifesto were very much humanitarian in nature. And I think things that to us today would just be a no-brainer, but prisons were very different in the seventies. I personally had no issues with the manifesto until they added amnesty and travel to an imperialistic country, which were the two that they added on.
AC: What do you hope people take away from your book who read it?
DM: I hope they take away another perspective. No other book about Attica has been written by a survivor. All the books on Attica have been written by historians that certainly can tell a good story, but they haven’t lived it. I have lived Attica my entire life. My name is what it is and it will be forever tied to Attica. And I hope they enjoy it, tthey can understand what one person’s evolution has been and can appreciate that.
AC: What do you mean by evolution?
DM: It was an evolution. It was for me a change in the way that I was brought up to think. They were conscious decisions I had to, every time I gained a new piece of information, I had to think about it and decide how it was going to sit with me, especially if it was something that I just had absolutely no knowledge of. And a lot of it, like I said, came from the inmates or came from the way that something was done that I didn’t know anything about. And so either you can choose to take that and find a place for it in your own story or you can just deny it and say, no, that didn’t happen and just continue to live in a very small box with this very small idea of what it was, but I didn’t feel comfortable there. And so for me, it was an evolution and every time I got something, I had to kind of process it, if you will, and decide what I was going to do with it.
AC: It seems like more people could benefit from that approach these days.
AC: The last thing that I just thought of is your book while offering a different perspective, you’re saying it’s a different perspective from a person who has taken in and absorbed other perspectives, correct?
DM: Absolutely. And I had a perspective. I had a perspective when I was a child and then it changed a little bit as I was, you know, a high schooler. And then it changed a whole lot when I went to college and even more as I got older and I adopted other people’s perspectives and other people’s stories as I went along, especially, I think, when I heard some of the other corrections officers, particularly Michael Smith talk about his perception of Attica and what he saw it to be. And it was the one that was matching in my head, but I really hadn’t said it out loud. And then I listened to Mike Smith speak one night and I thought, that’s the truth. That’s what happened at Attica. It was a combination of politics because Attica is certainly political at its heart. The injustice of it all and I think the truth of really what happened there, and there are plenty of people to this day that have a completely different thought of what the truth is than what I do, completely. You know, people who deny facts, choose to stay in that small box. And that works for them because if they had to look at the bigger picture or look at the atrocities that of that was done to people maybe that they knew or that, um, the people it was done by, they knew it would be unacceptable for them. They would be able to accept that. But there is a lot to be said about reconciling and evolution.