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Author Topic: Maximum Security: Attica - Part One  (Read 3281 times)
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« on: December 22, 2006, 11:36:29 AM »

                                                                                                            Maximum Security: Attica!

                                                                                                                           Part One

Author's note: When this author first began his many years of ministry in the town of Attica, New York, the location of one of the most horrific prison rebellions in America's history, he possessed an extremely negative mindset regarding prison ministry. It required a work of God in his heart to change that mindset.
Alone, I began the long stroll down the main corridor of the Attica Correctional Facility. Intermittently, my progress was blocked by a series of security gates, some controlled by turnkeys, others by officers protected inside barred, bulletproof, glass cages. Heavily, each gate opened to my approach, closing behind me with an ominous metallic clang.

As I turned into adjoining passages, at times, unguarded inmates walked toward me. Invariably, each edged the far wall to put as much distance between us as possible. All passed silently, not regarding my naive salutations.

"Oh, well, the Lord is with me! He'll protect me!" I thought. But, I was unconvinced.

The previous week, for the first time, I made this trek in the company of a watch lieutenant. "Remember the way, Reverend!" he exhorted, "After this, you'll be alone!" Undeniably, I felt alone!

Arriving at my destination, I turned into a spacious room. Waiting expectantly, a small cadre of unguarded inmates formed the nucleus of the only inmate organized Bible study group at the facility - the reason for my being there.

I first heard of the Attica Correctional Facility in September of 1971, during the infamous bloody uprising that claimed forty-three lives. Never - even by the widest stretch of my imagination - would I have encompassed the thought that, one year later, my wife, Maria and I would be asked by our New York District superintendent to minister in Attica township or that, with our two young sons, we would be residing a mile from the facility.

Bitter hurt still permeated the town. And, as our congregation grew, the families of several facility employees began attending services. Other new families lived in very close proximity to the prison, at least three on a street bordering the highly publicized facility recreation yard, where much bloodshed occurred. There, assigned inmate executioners guarded hostages. From a high hill behind their homes, these families observed directly into the yard.  The gruesome scenes described to me strengthened an already unfavorable view of prison ministry.

Despite the negative impact of the uprising, several persons from our congregation began visiting inmates. I never inquired, but perhaps this fact impelled the warden to request that I visit the Protestant chaplainís office a few weeks previous to that lonely stroll. After a cordial welcome, the chaplain asked, "Reverend, would you be willing to oversee a three-hour Bible study each Friday night, from six till nine? Security will want you here an hour before."

He explained that several inmates had organized and were promoting a Bible study class. But without a qualified civilian sponsor, they could not assemble. "Will you sponsor them?" he asked.

I had never set foot on the grounds of a maximum-security prison before. Nor, had I inclination to do so; much less this one, so recently devastated by one of the nation's bloodiest prison uprisings, during which hostages were taken and many lives lost. Apparently lacking the fortitude of martyrs, I was apprehensive about being alone with inmates, even those claiming salvation. Indeed, it had taken time for the family to become acclimated to living near the prison facility, though we no longer thought anything of it. But our first night's sleep in Attica had been disrupted by the wail of a loud siren. Marie and I jumped from bed fearful that a prison break occurred. Instead we learned the fire department alarm on the next street had sounded. Eventually, though, we accepted living near hundreds of high-risk inmates walled up in a high security facility -- as long as they remained inside the walls, and we were outside

                                                                                                                Continued in Part Two

                                                                                                             © Joseph Perrello (Josprel)

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