One of my favorite times of the day is the early morning hour…just around 5am when the cell doors are unlocked. Cleaning time, showers, getting ready for work, and the early morning news on the common-area TVs.As a former professional journalist, I like to think of myself as a discerning viewer.
One my favorite games: Viewing the raw footage early, and then catching the edited form later. At times the differences are quite remarkable. Such as one morning during the final assault by the ATF and FBI on the Waco Compound.
The early news showed the para-military gov’t agents surrounding the compound shouting with glee, high-fiving each other as the main building burned. There were descriptions of survivors being gunned down as they tried to escape the flames. Later in the day, all that was edited out.
The most extreme example of news control I’ve witnessed is the October Rebellion of 1995. The largest mass-prison uprising in the history of the United States. Never heard of it?
Things were humming along in the factory in the early morning when all hell broke loose. The black prisoners—more than half of the 250 workers—went wild. They were cheering and dancing around the factory, banging on machinery with any tools at hand. Their glee—as I soon realized, at OJ’s not guilty verdict–was unrestrained celebration.
Nothing I witnessed or saw on TV over the next few days changed the perception of seemingly total black jubilation and white shock across the nation. Somebody was going to pay…
The crack cocaine Sentencing Guideline amendment was set to become automatic law on November 1st, just a few weeks hence. Crack defendants were sentenced on a 100-to-1 weight ratio to that of powder cocaine defendants.
An estimated 38,000 young black federal prisoners were expected to be released under the change in law. When asked for my opinion of the verdict, I said at the time to a few black friends, “You guys got some serious problems. Forget OJ; it won’t take much to kill the impending crack amendment.”
They answered, “It’s a done deal, Mac. There’s only a few weeks left for the enactment of the amendment; you’re just reacting to cultural racism.”
In one of the fastest responses in the history of Congress, the amendment was killed. As it dawned on the prisoners throughout the system what had happened, they went off.
Starting at FCI Talledega, AL, rioting, destruction and arson spread throughout dozens of prisons. It was a “riot” largely by black prisoners against the system, not other prisoners. Whites were mostly a captive audience. Being a classic rebellion and not a gang or race riot probably helps to explain the reason behind its near-total, continuing news/info blackout.
The Director of the BOP, Kathleen Hawk Sawyer, shut the entire system into lock-down. Watching the initial incidents on CNN, there was soon a near total news blackout in the nation. No news, no views… To this day, I remain in awe of the lack of information regarding the extent of that rebellion and the number of prisons involved, including my own, with one unit burned out and part of another.
The prisons were surrounded by local and state police–as much to act as back-up for prison guard’s retaliation as to contain the news. Prisoners were stacked 16 and 20 deep in the segregation “holes,” cells designed for one and two prisoners. Thousands were bussed—diesel therapy, shackled head to foot—back and forth to different prisons for weeks.
My best guess: Four major corporations owned and controlled some 90% of the main media in the US–radio, TV, magazines, and newspapers. Four phone calls are about all it would take. Appeal to their patriotism and “forestalling the spread of violence.”
And OJ? As I predicted, he was soon out on the links, no doubt musing his “I told you so…” story, or whatever he called it. A race card…an Ace, in fact…wasted…