Independent 1. Blood in the Water is organized

Independent Reading Project

Part l: Canons of Rhetoric


Title: Blood in the Water

Historical Nonfiction involving events from the late 20th century

Heather Ann Thompson

Number of
pages: 578


Invention and Arrangement

1.     Blood in the Water is organized by parts and chapters. Before
the book begins, there is a map of the Attica correctional facility. There is a
table of contents, and then an introduction. In total, there are ten parts.
Each part has a name, and these names are broad and correspond to the series of
events within the chapters. Each of these parts begins with a mini introduction
involving one of the prisoners. This section is titled with the prisoner’s name, and
their story of how they got to prison, or their reaction to the events taking
place. Each part is also divided into chapters, averaging about five to seven
chapters per part. In total, the book has fifty-eight chapters. Each chapter
has a broad title with two to three words such as “No Mercy” (178), allowing
the reader to question and infer what is to come. The chapters are short,
around ten pages each. The chapters and parts of the book are organized in
chronological order with the events taking place at Attica. Each of these
chapters corresponds with the character mentioned at the beginning.  Cause and effect is the most common structure
found throughout the novel. Thompson presents facts in the form of quotes or
actions, then discusses through the chapter the effect these facts have.

2.                 Thompson opened each part of the
story with a narrative regarding a particular person. These passages challenge
typical assumptions of what a prisoner or guard’s life is like. With vivid description
such as “His
cell felt like a casket with the lid left off just far enough for noise, bugs,
and weather to get in….” (3) Thompson conveys that prisoners are in a
terrible environment and deserve to be treated better. However, not each section
discusses the prisoner. For example, in the section titled “Robert Douglass” Thompson discusses
the life of an attorney and how “Douglass had never been persuaded that
the prisoner conditions at Attica were that grave” (223). After the uprising, the
government attempted to place all blame on the prisoners at Attica. Thompson
goes into the inner thoughts of each person, the prisoners who had violence in their
hearts, the governors who wanted to hide every last detail, and the prosecutors
who had a feeling there was a scandal. These sections serve to give a deeper
level to this memoir and humanize both sides of the battle by serving facts and
allowing the reader to decide on their own who was “right”.

Part one of the book, “The Tinderbox” is important because
it addresses all of the unfair actions and the situation leading up to the
rebellion. This sections answers the question of why this happened, and why
people in power attempted to hide it. A tinderbox is a wooden box used to help kindle
a fire. Thompson implies that the terrible conditions within Attica represent
the tinderbox, and the fire is about to burn. This section starts with an
introduction to prison life- the lack of adequate medical gear, low pay and
slave like jobs, racism, and lack of education. The man behind all of this is
Nelson Rockefeller, the governor of New York. However, Rockefeller hired Russell
G. Oswald to do his dirty work. Oswald intended to “professionalize
and humanize prison” (20) yet made little effort to follow through. One of the
movements that sparked change at Attica was the Auburn rebellion, where
prisoners held the guard’s hostage and wrote a letter of demands. These prisoners
inspired those at Attica, who began to send letters to Oswald and the governor,
simply asking for them to listen. Oswald ignored the prisoners time after time,
and when they finally expected him to come speak with them in person, Oswald
sent a taped message. The frustration within the prisoners is apparent, and
Thompson provides numerous sources within each paragraph to prove that prisoners were behind
dehumanized and changed needed to occur. This was not an uprising because
people were imprisoned, it was an uprising because people were not heard.

Part four of this book is important
because it discuss the rebellion itself. Thompson is able to capture the
reaction and emotion on both sides and does not fail to include every shocking
detail. During this section, the prisoners finally get the courage to stand up
and take what’s theirs. There is a shift in power during this section and
it horrifies the upper level white men who were now in a compromised position. The
officers who were ordered to not fight the prisoners built up frustration over
the course of five days until they could no longer wait. Thompson goes into
detail for each death occurring during the rebellion, and makes it clear to see
who is to blame- “Despite the troopers’ impaired vision…they began
(180). This section is important because Thompson puts together a variety of
sources to build her credibility and prove what the government had been hiding-
the New York Police Department was the most violent part of the rebellion.

The epilogue is one of the most important
parts of Blood in the Water because it discusses the legacy of Attica.
Thompson mentions the direct result of the riot at Attica- “serious reforms
of the American criminal justice system” (558). 
The riots at Attica began to impact discussion at the federal level, with
prison reform bills” (559). The rebellion changed the food and clothing
situation, as well as the employment situation in Attica. Unfortunately, state
officials placed all of the blame on the prisoners and informed the people and
media that they were “dangerous thugs” (561). Politically forward, radical
prisoners were causing problems, and commissioner of Correctional Services Russell
Oswald suggested they be put in an even stricter prison to prevent another
uprising.  The mood throughout the United
States changed, and now people believed they should put more people in prison. The
epilogue addresses current issues in the United States, such as “criminalizingthe nation’s poorest
neighborhoods”, and imprisoning people
for drugs or mental illness. Years after the uprising at Attica, Thompson
illustrates that conditions were more terrible than ever before. In 2015, an
official investigation of the brutality at Attica began. The epilogue reflects
on all of the events throughout the novel and how they, even though it took
years and years, sparked a fire to create change within the prison system.



1.     Exigence: Heather Ann Thompson was
motivated by the traumatic events that took place in Attica, and the injustice
done to the prisoners and correctional officers involved. Thompson wanted to be
the voice of all those who had been tortured and then blamed during this
uprising. Her goal was to to exploit the truth that had been buried for
forty-five years. As a historian, Thompson was motivated to tell this event
that society had little knowledge or access to.

2.     Audience: Thompson wrote this novel for
the clueless public who deserve to know the truth about the prison system. In
her novel, Thompson exposed the corrupt system under which federal officers
practiced, and she did not want this information to be hidden for any longer.
Giving the clueless public this information makes them aware of the situation,
therefore it cannot happen again. She also wrote this for those affected by the
riot, as almost a gift to give them the justice they deserve.

3.     Purpose: Heather Thompson wanted to give
justice to those who had been mistreated before, during, and after this riot.
To do this, Thompson gathered many sources and exposed the crime within the
federal prison system. This book forces people to open their eyes and look at
the corruption in prison and want to seek change. It takes the blame away from
the prisoners and places it on those who are in charge. This work is relevant
today because it deals with current issues in America such as racism and the
unfair prison system, and what happens when these problems are not dealt with.

4.     Logos: There were hundreds of documents
and primary sources behind this novel. Thompson had a few lucky breaks while
writing this novel, as she discusses in her introduction. Each page of her book
is filled with direct quotes, pictures, or other sources. Every fact stated has
a cited source in the back, and the inclusion of pictures and letters from both
sides in this battle further strengthen her logos.

5.     Pathos: Thompson appeals to pathos by
including an opening section dealing with a specific person to each part of the
book. These sections are personal and deal with specific people. Within these
sections, Thompson discusses the prisoner, guard, attorney, or government official’s story. She writes about their families, their
lives before, their crimes, and their situation in prison. These stories give
inside information on the lives of the people that make the prisoners, and lead
the reader to sympathize with those being negatively affected by the terrible
conditions. The inclusion of pictures throughout the novel illustrate the
emotion and how the tragedy has negatively affected the lives of many and
further strengthen the pathos appeal. When it came to the bloodshed at Attica,
Thompson shared every detail, making the reader feel guilty about the actions
that took place.

6.     Style/tone: Thompson refuses to sugar
coat any of the traumatic events that take place in the novel and instead
describes them with spine-chilling detail, from the small details to the sound
of “people
crying, people dying, and people screaming” (181). This detail illustrates and
supports Thompsons negative attitude towards the Attica situation. Thompson
writes with a factual tone and includes primary sources in every paragraph.
This forces readers and critics to take her seriously, and to take the event
seriously. Thompson is supportive of the prisoners and wants to expose all who
did them wrong.



1.     Blood in the Water appears to be a thick book. The cover of
the book is a black and white photo of the uprising, with the title in bold red
letters, representing the blood spilled at Attica. The back cover is a simple
white background with the summary and reviews written in black and the reviews
and awards written in red. With these cover choices, the publisher is saying
that this is a book that should be taken seriously. The font is a larger size
with big spacing, making the text visually appealing and easy on the eyes.
Throughout the book are a variety of pictures, all big enough to see the true
emotions people have towards the prison system. This adds to the pathos of the
novel and allows the reader to sympathize with the families, those in prison,
and others involved.

2.     In every paragraph, Thompson includes two
to three different sources. She does this by following a phrase or sentence
with a number, which can be found in the back of the book. The last one hundred
pages of the book is listing the sources seen throughout. The sources are frequent,
and that strengthened Thompsons argument about the unfair treatment of
prisoners. The abundance of sources gives Thompson authority and makes the
novel in its entirety shocking and disturbing. Thompson also includes different
photos throughout which adds an emotional appeal to the text, because one can
actually see the pain in the eyes of the prisoners, or feel the fear in the
hearts of the police.



1.     Thompson took the story hidden from
society and created a masterpiece by exposing all the people in power for their
wrongdoings. Thompson captured the whole story- from the false messages and
immoral actions taking place in the prison, to the men fighting for what’s
right, to each and every trial in order for the men to get back what they
deserve. Though some of the material may be boring, Thompson keeps the novel in
a simple format while making everything interesting. The novel feels more like
a story than a historical analysis. Thompson has a slight bias in the novel but
does not let it show but simply gives the facts and leaves who to blame up to
interpretation. Thompson was well informed when writing this book, making the
history of Attica interesting and something one cannot stop reading.

2.     One thing I did not like about the novel
were some of the graphic pictures. Thompson included pictures of the dead,
stabbed men from the aftermath of the rebellion. Although these pictures
contribute to the text, I felt they were unnecessary. The last two parts of the
novel consist of an abundance court cases, and although they were equally as
important as the rest of the novel, they were not as interesting as the rest of
the novel. 

3.     Yes, I would recommend this book to future
AP students. Thompson included hundreds of sources in this book, yet did not
overwhelm the reader with facts. She incorporated information by embedding
quotes, showing charts, and other ways that did not make it obvious. Thompson
lets her facts speak for her, therefore does not show a bias, yet the facts
prove her beliefs. She included brutal facts from both sides of the party, yet
is able to make the prisoners appear to be the victims- something the city of
New York tired to reverse.

4.     Blood in the Water taught me that no matter how bad a crime
someone commits, they will do whatever they can to save themselves. Even people
in authority like the New York governor Roosevelt and police department hid
information from Attica for years and years. In chapter fifty-five, Thompson
discusses how angry the prison employees were
that they had not gotten compensation for their lives and the lives of their friends taken by the New York police department,
thirty years later. As Thompson states in the introduction, “the most
important details of this story had been deliberately kept from the public” (13). Though lives were taken
away, the people with the power choose to cower and not even apologize to those
who had been hurt.

5.     The message of this book is that all
people in the world, no matter race, size, or color, deserve to be treated as a
human. Even prisoners, what some consider the lowest members of society,
deserve the same essential rights as everyone else. People who are not treated
fairly will never stop until they get what they deserve. In today’s society, women are still not paid the same as men, yet women keep
fighting. The black lives matter movement is popular especially in the past few
years, and is proof that discrimination will never be ignored, people must listen and take responsibility.


ll: Modes of Rhetoric

One: Compare and
Contrast (Pages 5-6)

a crime occurs, discovering the truth is the most difficult thing to do. It’s hard to
distinguish what is fake and what is real, especially when one part of the
crime is in a position of power. In Blood in the Water by Heather Ann
Thompson, the truth is finally unveiled after forty-five years. Unfortunately,
Thompson reveals that the story made up by the government about the events at
Attica was twisted, and proves this with the cold hard facts. Thompson reflects
this idea of believing what looks better on the outside by comparing the pretty
little town to the evil prison that rests inside. This contrast conveys that
one must not assume people in positions of authority are truthful, but more
importantly to not believe everyone one is told.  

Attica Correctional Facility, though it may be one of the most dangerous
prisons in the world, is located in a sweet village. With “pretty parks” and “a Little League pitcher’s mound”, the town of Attica appeared to be the perfect American dream. With
euphemistic diction describing the town such as “quaint”, “pretty”, “sparkling”, Attica is illustrated as a heavenly town (5). Thompson portrays
the correctional center in a different way, calling it a “forbidding fortress”, “notorious”, and addressing towers “ready to fire” at any time (6). The city
of Attica is built up to be no place for a prison, yet Thompsons contrasts the “sparkling public pool” with
the “Attica Correctional Facility, enclosed by
massive gray walls” (5). The shocking
contrast between the city and the prison inside it express the idea that one
cannot make assumptions based on what’s seen
on the outside.

comparison and contrasting gives background and reason to why the prisoners
rebelled against all authority. The prisoners had a clue of what was so close
around them, and had been experiencing unfair living conditions. The goal of Thompson’s book is to
inform the world of the injustice that had been hidden, and to debunk the information
that had been falsely given. The simple juxtaposition of the town and the
facility support her goal and further urge people to look deeper into
situations before determining the truth. The city of New York had informed
people that it was the prisoners fault, and because of their authority, people
believed it, just as they would believe a town with “tiny storefronts” is not home the one of the world’s most
dangerous prisons.  

prisoners and correctional officers affected by the uprising at Attica received
nothing but blame from the government after this event. By writing this book,
Thompson wanted to give the prisoner’s justice. Comparing and contrasting the
outside versus what’s inside Attica reflects the difference between what the government
portrayed the rebellion as versus what actually occurred.


Essay Two: Description (Pages 180-181)

            The Attica Prison Riot is notorious
for the exasperating number of deaths of guards and prisoners. The most
shocking part of this riot was the fact that the killers were no other than the
New York Police department and state troopers. Unfortunately, the public did
not believe this, and treated the prisoners and correctional officers unfairly.
In Blood in the Water by Heather Ann Thompson, those who were hurt or
killed have their story told. In order to give these people justice, Thompson
describes the bloodiest part of the rebellion in grave detail. Thompson’s description of
the near death experience of a correction officer proves that the government is
to blame in this scenario, and that in a crisis situation people in power have
no mercy to those who oppose them.

            After peacefully protesting for five
days, the prisoners were entered into “the line of fire” (180).  One prisoner believed that holding
correctional officers as hostages “would prevent police from shooting in the
(181). Unfortunately, he was wrong, and “sounds of guns fired all around him” (181). The
troopers were so corrupt with power and the thirst for revenge, that they did
not care who they took their anger out on, even if it was their own men. Thompson
refuses to sugar coat any gory details and expressed “the knife…sliced an
erratic gouge from Ron’s neck up to his hairline and then back down across his
shoulder blade” (181). The shocking description of this cruel punishment makes
it easy to place blame on the government, achieving her initial goal of
uncovering information so that “perhaps a bit more justice will be done” for the victims

            In the second part of the passage,
Mike Smith, a correctional officer, is being slowly and brutally killed by one
of his own people. The intense description of his “abdomen on fire
as four bullets ripped across it…. arm, which felt as if it had been torn
from his body” send chills down the reader’s spine, as the bullet in his
lower stomach “sent shrapnel downward to Mike’s spine” (181). The most
shocking part of this brutal treatment was when “Mike suddenly found himself looking up
into the eyes of a trooper who had a shotgun pointed directly at his head” (181). The shooter
was his own teammate. Power and the chaos of the riot had taken over his
morality and led him to brutally shoot one of his own over and over again.

            Those who were killed during the
Attica uprising deserve nothing but justice and respect. By giving intense
description of the shooting that occurred during the rebellion, Thompson is
giving the world the whole story, and forcing people to accept the shocking
truth of what happened, and everything the government tried to hide. The shots
fired at the prisoners and correctional officers were undeserved and were a
result of uncontrollable power and anger of high authority, who could no longer
stand the complaining and actions of the prisoners at Attica.


Works Cited


Thompson, Heather Ann. Blood in the Water: The Attica prison
uprising of 1971 and its legacy.    Vintage
Books, 2017