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Returned Items Bring Back Memories of Deadly Attica Prison Riot

Vickie Smith Menz holds the uniform pants worn by her late father, Arthur Smith, an Attica Prison guard, while Smith's shirt hangs behind her, at Menz's home in Henrietta, N.Y., on Sept. 30, 2014.

Vickie Menz said her father, Arthur Smith, who died in 1995, didn't talk much about his experience as a hostage. He told his story to his family only one time, describing how inmates took him captive, beat him, threw him in a ditch with others and threatened to douse them with gasoline and set them on fire.

His story came to life for Menz through the box containing his navy blue uniform pants, caked with mud and still smelling of tear gas, and a torn, blood-stained shirt with some of its buttons ripped off.

"It's back to the fear and terror of those five days," she said.

Heather Ainsworth / FR120665 AP

Arthur Smith's correction officer badge is pinned to his stained uniform at his daughter's home in Henrietta, N.Y. Smith survived the riot, but died in 1995 from cancer.

More than 40 years after the Attica prison riot, the nation's deadliest prison uprising, badges, hats and other personal effects collected in the aftermath have been returned to the hostages and victims' families. Still in the condition in which they were found, in some cases stained with blood and smelling faintly of tear gas, they are physical reminders of the violence and fear that began Sept. 9, 1971, and spilled through the overcrowded maximum-security prison in rural western New York.

Heather Ainsworth / FR120665 AP

Ray Bogart, a former correction officer taken hostage during the Attica Prison riot, holds the uniform cap worn during the riot that was recently returned to him, at his home in Auburn, N.Y.

The navy blue cap, stained and brimless, still had a scrap of paper in the liner with Bogart's handwritten name on it.

"I'm surprised that much survived because the riot was so bad. ... so bad," said the 78-year-old Bogart, who was beaten beyond recognition by a crowd of inmates as the uprising unfolded over five days in 1971.

Heather Ainsworth / FR120665 AP

The badge worn by Ray Bogart is inscribed with the number 13. His co-workers had often teased him about it for being unlucky. Bogart's not superstitious but thinks that if anything, he was lucky for having survived, though the guilt can still bring him to tears.

"Me and this badge, we made it," he said at his home while clutching the brass shield. "Thanks to the good Lord."

Eleven staff members and 32 inmates were killed in the riot.

Heather Ainsworth / FR120665 AP

Inmates at Attica State Prison in Attica, N.Y., raise their hands in clenched fists in a show of unity in September 1971, during the Attica uprising.

Correction officials used last month's ceremony marking the anniversary of the riot to privately offer 66 items to 12 state employees or their survivors. Plans are being made to also return inmate items.

--The Associated Press

AP