they are troopers, you know, and some people do that kind of thing; someone does the same stuff in Vietnam. I'm sure that if they were just called up and told to come out to the p · that "We're going to storm it," f people would have been killed. I'm sure the four day delay had a lot to do with how many people got hurt. I don 't know who to pin the blame on for the whole thing. Somebody's wrong though for that whole thing. Somebody made a mistake. You really can't blame the individual guys who shot because those guys are programmed for that. They go to school to learn how to do that kind of stuff. That's the kind of stuff they're always supposed to be there for. Probably the blame goes all the way up the ladder to Rockefeller. STRAIT : It seems that there was prob- ali.yan element of retaliation involved on the part of the guards. Having worked and been around with the prisoners for a long time they possibly had a sort of re- venge out for individual prisoners. JOHN : That's possible, but I'm sure that when something happens at that place, the guards get their licks in. They don't have to wait for retaliation. It seems that as long as there are guards with that frame of mind and who are capable of doing that kind of thing, nothing will ever change . There was talk about personal proper- ty of the prisoners being damaged, and the times I went into the cellbl 1 always saw guards taking everything out of the cells: mattresses, books, desks, everything. They just threw it out into the hallway. Bl LL : My most lasting impression is that that situation was believable. It was a real thing. And to see how people at one point can hold life at one plateau and at another condemn it for existing on another plateau... You have to understand that when a trooper fires his weapon, for whatever reason, he fired . It was a conscious act. An overt act. He went through some psychological process of thought before pulling the trigger. And it's that process that scares me. Because I can extrapolate that whole situation into a wider spec- trum. And that is the frightening thing. JOHN: The big thing has been the talk of reform - which is good. But I don't think anything has happened to make it any better. I think there 's going to be more trouble. I hope it doesn't, but if it does, I hope that it gets settled in a different way than it did. If there's anything that has to be changed, it's those guards. Those pA who are taking care of the prisons. _,~ guys are fucked up.
BILL: I think the public was mis- lead the day of the siege and the follow- ing days. The newspeople tried to center on what actually took place there by try- ing to piece together the little they were told by officials. One was lead to believe by the reports that guardsmm were in- volved in the siege itself. But that wasn't the case. In fact , If it weren't for the men in my particular company, many more people would have died. I think many more have died since then but no one ever hears about it. And still today· no one has attempted to cite or thank the medics who saved so many lives. JOHN: I got a little medal from the state . STRAIT : That's kind of surprising recause so little is· heard about what went on there - even now - and so few people have been acknowledged for their -actions - either positive or negative. JOHN: Well , there have been a lot of accusations made about the behavior of the police and the behavior of the prison people and also the prisoners themselves. There has been no denying or confirming anything, supposedly because they don't want the information biasing any possible leagl actions or juries. They aren 't saying anything. They want all the evidences brought out in the trial. Russell Oswald has never said yes or no to the questio on of whether there was any bullshit going on. The reports that came out of there that day were so mis- leading. ·People started forming opinions immediately. STRAIT: You mentioned that the prison guards had death and kill in their eyes. How did the inmates themselves seem 7 01 LL : They were scared. In fact , it was because of their attitude that I knew that the guards meant what they: said. The prisoners who were conscious didn't move an eye . I got the impression that the prisoners didn't even trust the guards- men. But I do ·think that the prisoners could sense that we were trying to help them out, even though we couldn't ver- balize it. JOHN : I don't think that the prisoners in the cellblock ever really thought that anybody would do what they did - actual - ly storm the place like they did . While we were sitting around the armory waiting for a call, we never thought it'd really happen. STRAIT : Was there any talk among the state troopers about what they saw or what they were supposed to be doing - their orders 7 JOHN: No. There wasn 't any . In fact, there's a trooper who is in our guard unit and he was with the troopers that day and to this day hP won't mention it. He's probably under ne sort of orders. Just like we are - only there's no way to con- trol us.
A week after the siege , a trooper investigator came around to all the guards and he asked : "You didn't see anything, did you? " And it wouldn't have done any good to say you did. But everyone knew it went on. I don't think that there's any one person who doesn't believe that the brutality was unnecessary. Bl LL : The psychology behind using tear and pepper gasses is two-fold. One, to dis- orient whatever group of people you are trying to quell, and , two, to get them in such a position that you can manipulate them. So when they gassed the place, the troopers and the guards could have walked in there and handcuffed everyone of the prisoners and carried them out. No one had to be physically beaten or shot at. Jo H N: It was like cowboys and Indians. One trooper was telling me that he saw a prisoner with a hostage with a knife across his throat like pirates do and that he shot the prisoner just as he was drawing the knife across the hostage 's throat - so there was a little blood. Then the prisoner fell dead. And the trooper was telling how great a shot he was. Some of the troopers were really cold about it , you know, like it was their business and a few were just real down about it. I know of this one guy who was just sitting there through the whole thing thinking about it. He seemed like the most human guy there. The prison guards though - man , they're bad. Bl LL : I think that's the one feeling that I have been left with : the total disregard for life . You know, they weren't even questioning whether or not prisoners have human rights or legal rights. Their biological rights to live weren't even respected at all . To bring one's self down to that level is something very hard to understand. But, obviously it was easy for enough people to do it. STRAIT: Probably the thing you men - tioned refOl'e about the detachment you felt, John, with the gas mask is much the same kind of detachment from humanity that a trooper or prison guard would feel in that situation with a shotgun in his hand and a badge on his shirt. JOHN : There weren't any badges. STRAIT: No? Well, the badge was in their heads anyway, or in their hearts. JOHN : That day no troopers or guards or anyone had badges on and the troopers had removed their name tags. It struck me as beiqg strange . But now that I think about it, it seems like an obvious thing to do.. You know, I try to understand it from a trooper's point of view. I'm not very successful at it. But they are troopers and they're not like me and I'm not like them and I'm sure they don't think about things the way I do. There were a lot of those guys who were real pigs. But aqain,
STRAIT 23 MARCH I 972
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