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.
The last inmates from the Eight Wing riot were moved to the Big Yard as the sun was coming up Sunday morning, July 8, 1979. The inmates were told to sit in rows and remain silent. When one man stood, an officer fired a single shot in the air and yelled, “Sit Down!” The inmate sat and no one moved for another 40 minutes. When someone else got up and nothing happened, the rest of the inmates began to slowly mill about.
Inmates who had not destroyed their cell were identified and moved to other cell blocks in the penitentiary. The remainder – about 250 inmates – spent the next 42 days living in makeshift tents under the hot Walla Walla sun, eating TV dinners, and using porta-potties and makeshift outdoor showers.
Early morning in the Big Yard – July 8, 1979
With their cell block destroyed, inmates from the Eight Wing riot spent the summer of 1979 in the Big Yard. Emergency contracts were let and Eight Wing was not only repaired, it was totally rebuilt. Gone were the old porcelain sinks and toilets that could be easily broken. It their place were high security stainless steel prison combo fixtures. Bunks were bolted to the wall. There was new wiring, new lighting, improved ventilation, shatterproof windows, metal detectors, and fresh paint. Living conditions in the Big Yard were more primitive.
The date on the picture below is European style: day, month, year. In this case, the 16th day of July, 1979 – nine days after the riot in Eight Wing.
Living in the Big Yard
State Patrol troopers manning the wall
Weapons found in the Big Yard after the inmates returned to their cells