The inmate store at the penitentiary carried a wide variety of products that could be purchased with scrip. Up until 1979, it was staffed by inmates.
A run on the store was always a bellwether for an impending incident that would cause a lockdown. Inmates would stock up on snacks, smokes, and other things so they wouldn’t have to do without during the lockdown. The store was ransacked and burned in what became known as the “Easter Riot” in April 1977.
On Easter Sunday 1977, five days after officer Jim Hartford had his hand blown apart by a booby-trapped cigarette lighter, inmates set fire to the chapel and ransacked the inmate store. The resulting 46-day lockdown was the longest and most consequential in the penitentiary’s history up to that time. Superintendent Rhay called a meeting with the inmate Resident Council where he told the inmates “I’m the one you have to deal with, baby.” It didn’t turn out that way. (Click on images to make them larger.)
Memos describing the inmates’ intent at the start of the lockdown
In May 1979, three inmates took ten staff hostage in the Classification and Parole Building (see site plan). Inmates throughout the institution were ordered to return to their cells. Most did, but about 250 men congregated in People’s Park where they shouted encouragement to the hostage takers. Before the administration could address the hostage situation, it was necessary to move the inmates out of People’s Park and into the Big Yard. A newly trained Tactical Team confronted the inmates. When orders to move to the Big Yard were ignored, the Tac Team was authorized to use tear gas.
The Tactical Team prepares to gas the inmates
In the image below, the last of the inmates are being moved through the gate into the Big Yard where they spent the night under the stars. The hostage situation was resolved through negotiations and no one was hurt.
Tear gas moved the last of the inmates into the Big Yard
On Saturday, July 7, 1979, the inmates in Eight Wing rioted. The institution had been in lockdown for 21 days following the murder of Sergeant William Cross. It all started when the inmates began chanting “Showers! Showers! Showers!” The chant then changed to “Kill, Kill, Kill,” with “Kill the pigs” and other phrases interspersed now and then. This was followed by a long chant of “Tear your shitter off the wall.” Soon most of the inmates were smashing their toilets and sinks. Water poured out of the cells and cascaded off the tiers to the floor below. Because the riot occurred on a Saturday evening, the officers called it “Saturday Night Live.”
Seventy-four of the 102 four-man cells in Eight Wing were destroyed that night. With nowhere else to put them, the inmates were herded into the Big Yard where they spent the next 42 days living in makeshift tents.