LETTERS FROM ATTICA by Samuel Melville


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While the prison letters of Sam (""Mad Bomber"") Melville lack the impassioned rhetorical brilliance of Eldridge Cleaver or Soledad Brother, George Jackson, they are nonetheless remarkable documents. But for his martyr-death during the Attica Massacre, the mainstream of the Movement would certainly have characterized him as some variant infantile leftist, Weatherman-oriented and unstable. An appended profile by Jane Alpert (Melville's girlfriend who jumped bail for bombing conspiracy charges) depicts him as an anxiety-ridden, angry loner, short on political sagacity, grappling uneasily with his ""male chauvinism,"" naive and reckless. A series of badly planned bombings (United Fruit, Chase Manhattan, Standard Oil, an army headquarters, etc.), brought him to Attica via the Tombs and Sing Sing. ""The architecture is best described as expedient Byzantine. The population is predominantly tacit porcine"" he wrote in his first impressions of the prison. Later he termed it ""the American Auschwitz known as Attica"" in the one-man underground newspaper, Iced Pig, which he hand-wrote for three issues prior to his death. The letters -- to his eight year-old son Jocko, his former wife, friends, his attorney -- progress from initial disoriented despair to a newfound sense of fraternity with black inmates (""and when I emerge to whatever sunlight is left I will not be a honky anymore"") and an involvement with the organized resistance which became the Attica Liberation Front. His reports on the increased repression and brutalization of prisoners as solidarity grew before the rebellion deserve the attention of Rockefeller's investigating commissions; so too his desperate pleas for books withheld -- from Lenin to Kate Millett to the Oxford Unabridged Dictionary. An introductory essay by William Kunstler and an appended list of twenty-seven prisoner demands are included. Melville's leadership role during the uprising is enough to guarantee this volume intrinsic interest quite apart from its merits as a psychosocial portrait of a gentle and highly articulate terrorist.

Pub Date: Jan. 31st, 1971
Publisher: Morrow