Tapestries: Interwoven voices of local and global identities


The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971, in which prisoners held control of the facility for four days, ended with an assault on the prisoners gathered in D yard. When the tear gas cleared, 29 prisoners and 10 of the guards they had taken hostage were dead, and 128 more men were wounded—all at the hand of the state. The retaking was historically significant not only for the magnitude of the bloodshed but for the cover-up that followed. Investigations were stymied; what investigators ultimately did discover was redacted or sealed. In this paper I examine the Attica Uprising through a lens of prison abolition and explore it as a tool of critical pedagogy. Depending heavily on Heather Ann Thompson’s recent revelations about the Attica Uprising, I retell the history of the uprising guided by Paulo Freire’s pedagogy for liberation. I conclude that such a critical retelling can teach us several lessons about solidarity and social movements in a divided society.

Author Biography

Dylan Martin Bontrager '18 is a graduating senior American Studies/Educational Studies double major at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota. His interest in the Attica Uprising arose from a final research project for Professor Karin Aguilar-San Juan’s course Critical Prison Studies. He and his classmates spent the fall of 2016 studying the dehumanization and violence that occurs in prisons. Dylan’s interest in collective actions in prisons led him to write a review of the Attica Uprising. Two semesters later, after studying and enacting critical pedagogies like those of Paulo Freire, Dylan found himself considering Attica again. That interim work led Dylan to question what meaning Attica holds, not only in prisons and movements seeking to dismantle them, but in broader society, particularly in classrooms and in social movements outside of prisons. Dylan’s passion for pedagogy and cultivating social change have led him towards work with youth within and outside of public education systems. He plans to return to school in the next several years to become a high school social studies teacher.



I would like to offer my thanks to the numerous people who supported me through this project. First, to Professor Karin Aguilar-San Juan for her introductory courses on Critical Prison Studies. Without you I would never have begun this project. Next, to Professor Duchess Harris and my classmates, Sarah Nemetz, Ellie Benson, Libby Eggert, Ayaan Natala, and Victoria Guillemard. You’ve seen this paper through from the meandering composition it was at the beginning of the semester to the interdisciplinary work it has become. To Alexis Pauline Gumbs, thank you for your insights and guidance in the final weeks of revision. They made us think differently about the same six papers that we had been reading over and over. To Professors Brian Lozenski and Ruthanne Kurth-Schai, your pedagogies have informed my own. I’ve absorbed so many valuable lessons just from being around you, not to mention the wisdom and compassion that come tumbling out every time you open your mouths. To Giulia, Louis, and Liz, your friendship and community this year have been a huge support. You’ve lifted me up when I’ve been at my worst, without ever knowing it. To my mother, your perpetual interest in my writing, both in and out of school, has made me the writer I am today. Thank you for your support through so many years. To Sarah, your presence has made the last several years all the fuller. Thank you for your patience and support this semester as I’ve undertaken not one but two capstone projects!

-Dylan Martin Bontrager, April 10, 2018