An Anatomy of the Laundry

Of all the letters written my Sam Melville from prison none have achieved more fame or import than “An Anatomy of the Laundry.”

According to historian Heather Ann Thompson and her book, Blood in the Water it was this letter, written by Melville to his lawyer Bill Crain on May 15th, 1971 that was the spark that lit the fuse of the Attica Prison uprising three months later on September 9th, 1971.

The letter outlines the gross exploitation of prisoners and creates the blueprint for the theory that incarceration is merely a legalized form of slavery and that authorities are motivated to create a forced labor to preform tasks that could not be economically achieved by free people earning minimum wage.

Despite enormous censorship of mail at Attica, somehow the letter was clandestinely copied and distributed throughout the prison, mailed out and read by prisoners across the country.  Nation-wide prison strikes followed and more petitions to prison authorities to improve conditions and raise wages.  After months of lip service and no improvement in conditions at Attica (prisoners received 1 shower every 10 days and 1 roll of toilet paper a month) on September 9th inmates lead by Sam Melville and a dozen others took over the country’s largest maximum  security prison.

Presented here publicly unedited for the first time in over 40 years is Sam Melville’s An Anatomy of the Laundry.

*if you desire to reprint or quote this letter feel free to do so with attribution to


An Anatomy of the Laundry


Because of the Pig-santioned Right to capitalize on the needs of other inmates, and the accompanying fear of losing their lucrative Jobs, our brothers who work in the Laundry have become docile slaves, House Niggers, and therefore, an impediment to our Liberation.

These Laundry slaves, who, for the most part, are some well-meaning and intelligent individuals, have been so thoroughly indoctrinated and duped by this Dog-eat-Dog system that they don’t even realize that they have become House-Niggers and instruments of their own oppression.

How does the Pig exploit the Laundry slave? How does the Pig profit? Like so: The average wage of a unionized Dry Laundry Worker on the outside is 3.50 per hour, whereas, the average wage of a Laundry slave here is 25¢ per day. The Laundry slave works 3 1/2 hours per day for 25¢; an outside unionized worker would earn $10.50 for the same work. Projected to a monthly basis, the slave gets $5.50, while an outsider gets $231.00. There are 40 slaves in the Laundry for a monthly payroll of $220.00. If the State were forced to pay union wages, the payroll would be $9,240.00. Yearly, it’s $2,640.00 as compared to $110,880.00 (Dig). Our active support of this saves the State $108,240.00 annually.


The slaves are allowed three Laundry contracts at one carton (33.50) per month. So the slaves real salary is $10.50 per month, plus the $5.50. Who pays this? WE DO! We pay the slave $3.50 for four work days a month, work which he completes in no time at all. The Pig pays the slave $5.00 for 22 days hard work! Thus, the State gets 18 more days of labor than we do, for our $3.50, and the State only pays the slave $1.50 more. Now, I ask you, is that ignorant slave with the crease in his pants slick, or is the Pig slick? The Pig gets the cash saving, the labor, and the wages payed to the slave as soon as the Commissary opens.

So, you see Brother-Man, we have the power to stop this. No Riots or Violence but just refusing to cooperate in maintaining our own misery just because we want a crease in our pants and don’t want to wash our own dirty underwear. Yes, let’s force the Pig to bring in those unionized laundries and pay that $110,880.00 a year to run the laundry. By saving $3.50, we can cost him $110,880.00 that he can’t afford.

Brother-Man, now is the time to act!




YOUR (SLAVE) LAUNDRY MAN RIGHT ON ! ! ! ! ! RIGHT ON ! ! ! ! ! RIGHT ON ! ! ! ! !

–Sam Melville, Attica