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The Five Nastiest Prison Riots Ever


(Man, y’all don’t scare me. You should have seen my last cellmate.)

By Dustin Seibert

Last week at a county jail in Warren, Ohio, a couple of real badasses decided they weren’t gonna just strip and spread ‘em without any retribution, so they bumrushed a corrections officer, handcuffed him and took him hostage. Because YOLO, right? As far as hostage situations are concerned, this one was pretty light in the ass, and no one got hurt. But prison revolts can get a lot gnarlier — full of bloodshed, mattresses on fire, and dirty prison shirts being used as handcuffs, gags and knee cushions, if you dig my meaning.

If HBO’s Oz, National Geographic’s Lockup and other prison-related shows have taught us anything, it’s that sometimes these punk C.O.s need to get stomped on the neck and threatened with the real possibility of taking a sharpened toothbrush to the nethers. If there’s a common thread in all of these stories below, it’s that prison overcrowding and inhumane conditions leads to prisoners being pushed past their limits and lashing out in violent ways. Who says murderers, thieves and rapists can’t start a revolution?


New Mexico State Penitentiary Riot: In 1980, there was not nearly enough space for the more than 1,100 prisoners being packed into the New Mexico State Pen, which was designed for 900 bodies. The conditions were unsanitary and the food tasted like Styrofoam and special sauce. All the rehabilitation programs that took place from the early- to mid-1970s were canceled, leaving a buncha pissed off, overcrowded, malnourished inmates with nothing but time to sit and think how they would fuck shit up. And fuck shit up they did. Prisoners took 15 corrections officers hostage, got a set of keys, and started taking more hostages and letting prisoners out of their cells, only to turn around and kill each other. C.O.s were raped, the National Guard was called in, 33 inmates died in all matter of gruesomeness, and the whole thing was a big public relations show of how awesome prisons are at rehabilitation.

Attica Correctional Facility Riot: It was 1971. A little under half of the Attica’s 2,200 prisoners got pissed off and decided that the prison would be better off under their control after catching feelings as a result of the murder of George Jackson, a prisoner activist in San Quentin who stood up for prisoner rights. The prisoners took 42 prison workers hostage and committed to four days of negotiations. When then-New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller told them all to piss off, the prisoners went to war. Forty-three people dead a mixture of officers and civilians — and the most culturally famous tale of what happens when angry lifers don’t get the extra serving of potatoes they ask for.

The Carandiru Massacre: Sao Paulo is known to us northerners as a place where the sun and warmth are abundant and fat asses jiggle with abandon, I’d be pissed off too if I was trapped in some third-world hellhole prison where I’m stuck with 15 other smelly sumbitches in a 100 sq. foot cell. But since this is Brazil and all, and human rights amount to precisely dick in the face of saving a few ducats, a 1992 prison riot was responded to in the most heavy-handed way possible. The police swooped through and shot more than 100 inmates dead, in what’s considered one of the biggest eff-yous to the history of the country, especially since officers shot innocent prisoners dead just because. Revenge was meted, however: the prison was closed in 2002, police are finally getting thrown behind bars in 2013 and the commanding officer met with the business end of some cold steel in his own crib years later.

HM Prison Ashwell Riot: Even with a new wing built the year before, there was still not enough space in this Leicestershire prison. In 2009, a low-security male prison in the home of bangers and mash was home to a major riot when an inmate got thoroughly pissed off and decided he would start tearing up stuff after he decided he wouldn’t go back to his room. His homies and fellow prisoners jumped in the fray and an estimated 400 prisoners overcame the seven or eight that had control of the spot. Compared to the others on this list, it was pretty minor considering no one died, but they set so many fires and destroyed so much of the prison that it closed down two years later. Viva la revolucion!

Oklahoma State Prison riot: The Oklahoma State Penitentiary riot in McAleister, Oklahoma, caused $30 million in damages in 1973 (which is, like, a gajillion dollars in today’s money), thanks again to overcrowded cells and a governor who refused to sign parole recommendations, leading to tensions that bubbled over. An inmate stabbed corrections officers non-fatally and a couple other C.O.s got snatched up and held hostage when they tried to help. The prisoners took control of the building for four days. No guards were hurt and the prisoner body count was low, but the prisoners did a lot of damage to the building, which is like me breaking everything in my house because I’m pissed off at my wife. It wasn’t the last time the prisoners took over the prison, which means either Oklahoma sucks, the C.O.s all need to be fired, or both.

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