When Wicker was asked to travel upstate to the prison, he really did not know what he was in for, and was more following a newsman’s instincts to get the story than anything else. He came away profoundly shaken by the entire experience.
Besides Wicker, observers included James Ingram of the Michigan Chronicle, state senator John Dunne, state representative Arthur Eve, and civil rights lawyer William Kunstler, among others. Their roles increasingly became to relay the prisoner’s demands to the staff, and the officials’ reactions back. Over the course of four days, things hardened considerably. At one point, Wicker wondered which side of the fence he was safer on.
The main points of contention were that the prisoners wanted amnesty for their actions, and prison Superintendent Vincent Mancusi removed. They also wanted an audience with Governor Rockefeller. None of these demands were going to be met, although to avoid the inevitable bloodshed, Mancusi (privately) offered to resign.
The situation rapidly deteriorated between both sides. The state was simply not prepared to give in to what it considered precedent-setting demands. The issue of amnesty was never seriously considered. And when Correctional Officer William Quinn died of injuries sustained from the initial uprising, the handwriting was on the wall.
With 28 hostages, the rioters are convinced that they have the upper hand. In fact, in the opening stages of the situation, Wicker sees a strange euphoria among them. They cannot possibly know the types of pressure that the Governor on down are feeling to retake the prison. As he sees first-hand, Nixon’s “Silent Majority” are not silent at all about the situation, and want to see law and order enforced immediately. As it slowly dawns on Wicker, the lives of the hostages are more and more being seen as expendable in the cause of taking back the prison.
His descriptions of the endless oratories on both sides are mind-numbing. When I say “both sides” it is not the two sides one would think. The officials are adamant, and not making any speeches. The rhetoric is coming from inside the yard where the hostages and rioters are penned, and inside the small conference room between the observers. Wicker and company are seen as hostile by both sides. Although none of the messengers are literally killed, the mood is ugly towards them.