On a frigid February night in 1980, a group of inmates in a dormitory in ~ the Penitentiary of new Mexico began drinking a potent home brew developed from fermented raisins and yeast smuggled from the prison’s kitchen.

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By 10:30 p.m., then-state Attorney general Jeff Bingaman would later on report, “They were drunk and angry and talking loudly around taking over the place.”

The penitentiary, created in 1956 however in a state of overlook by the early on ’80s, had actually a capacity of around 900. On the night, it to be teeming with 1,157 men — plenty of who had complained for years around living conditions they said were substandard, violent and a fertile breeding ground for a riot.

Inmates in Dormitory E-2 feigned sleep as 3 corrections officers made their means through the area come shut down an surrounding day room. The prisoners struck quickly, overpowering the guards.

Thus began one the the most dangerous episodes in brand-new Mexico background — a around 36-hour frenzy of brutality and murder the left lot of the prison south of Santa Fe a smoking hulk. 

When it was over, one of the most violent inmate uprisings in U.S. Background would leaving these gut-wrenching statistics: 33 dead, scores injured, numerous dollars in damage. Amazingly, no guards to be killed, however a dozen were organized hostage, brutally to win or sodomized.

Even now, 40 years after the riot, those that witnessed the uprising firsthand room loath come recall the carnage that unravelled inside the prison. However as survivors that the catastrophe grow fewer with each happen year, the events that took ar that weekend in ~ Old Main continue to form — and haunt — brand-new Mexico correction Department plan today.


Vincent Vigil, deputy warden the the Western new Mexico Correctional Facility, provides a tourism of Old main in November. ‘It’s part of new Mexico’s history,’ that says. ‘Not the best part of brand-new Mexico history. But we’ve gained to preserve and learn indigenous it.’

louis Sánchez Saturno/The brand-new Mexican

In the year leading up to the riot, many had predicted catastrophe for the state’s prison system, an especially at the state pen south of Santa Fe, which to be badly overcrowded. One inmate, Dwight Duran, had filed a lawsuit in 1977, claiming problems there violated prisoners’ constitutional rights to be cost-free from cruel and also unusual punishment.

“Throughout that is history, the Penitentiary of brand-new Mexico has actually suffered native neglect,” Bingaman, who later on would end up being a U.S. Senator, created in his post-uprising report. “The new Mexico prison has constantly waited at the finish of the line for public money, and also elected officials have actually turned their fist to the ugly problems of the penitentiary only once the institution has erupted in violence and destruction. Lack of space, insufficient programs, and also under staffing have actually all been component of the prison’s tradition.”

By many accounts, the inmates’ unbridled rage was one outgrowth that atrocious living problems inside what to be then the state’s just maximum defense prison, a location saddled v overcrowding, corruption and also frequent inmate abuse perpetrated by untrained and underpaid corrections officers.

“Finally the pen just boiled over,” then-Gov. Bruce King would later recall in his book, Cowboy in the Roundhouse. “About two in the morning ~ above Saturday February 2, the emergency phone alongside my bed in the mansion rang, startling me awake. It was Chief boy name Vigil that the State Police and my stomach knotted up in apprehension.


The state penitentiary, built in 1956 yet in a state of overlook by the early ’80s, had actually a capacity of around 900. On the night the riot started, it to be teeming through 1,157 men.

Courtesy new Mexico corrections Department

“ ‘Governor, we’ve lost call with the penitentiary,’ ” the told me. “ ‘When we speak to there, us don’t get any kind of answer. I believed I’d much better alert you. It’s possible we have a serious problem.’ ”

It was an ext than serious, nearly from the start, as violence cascaded from one part of the facility to another. In the first moments of the uprising, inmates looped a belt around the neck of among the security they’d taken hostage and also began come push and also kick the northward towards the prison’s manage center, follow to Bingaman’s report. The guard had actually been win so badly guards in the control center didn’t recognize him.

But they soon had another problem. Prisoners began attacking an observation window, at some point shattering it with a fire extinguisher.

“Their break-in into the Control facility was accomplished in 3-5 minutes,” the attorney basic reported. “In 22 minutes the inmates had taken over the institution.”

Soon, thousands of convicted felons to be rampaging v the facility — smashing sinks, toilets and also radiators, and setting fire to furnishings and files.

As anarchy descended upon the facility, frightened prisoners banded together based upon race, proximity and also previous alliances.

Gangs of inmates brandishing steel pipes, chair legs and other makeshift weapons, numerous wearing gas masks or bandanas come hide their faces and also protect them native the smoke, prowled the key corridor ankle deep in a slurry that water, drain effluent, paper and blood.

They attacked the prison’s governmental offices, dumping cabinets full of main records right into the middle of the room, setting them ablaze. They collection fire to punching bags — and also some say body — in the gymnasium, leading to the lumber floor to record fire and creating one inferno so hot the steel beams sustaining the roof started to sag. They pillaged butcher knives and food indigenous the prison’s kitchen, and also they plundered the prison pharmacy.

“In minutes,” author G. Hirliman created in she 1982 book, The hate Factory, “the inmates had actually themselves a candy keep of every type of downer you can think of. … there were also hypodermic needles and syringes because that those who liked a more potent hit.”

Chillingly, the males who started the uprising formed informal fatality squads through their comrades in cell Block 3 — who were, prefer them, few of the many dangerous males in the school — and collection about stable scores with alleged snitches and child molesters housed in safety custody.

The guys murdered in this component of the jail were brutally tortured and mutilated.

Guides on a recent Corrections Department tour of the facility — which was closed in 1998 and is now used as a movie set and traveler attraction — allude out hack marks in the concrete floor wherein one male was beheaded, though they don’t allow photos of the spot. They determine a smoky black color stain where an additional inmate had actually his eyeballs gouged out before he was melted to death with a welding torch.


According come a report by the attorney general at the time, prisoners damaged into the prison’s control facility in about three to 5 minutes. ‘In 22 minute the inmates had taken over the institution,’ the report said.

louis Sánchez Saturno/The brand-new Mexican

Bargaining because that a meeting

Less 보다 an hour ~ taking manage of the prison, inmates commandeered guards’ radios and made the very first of their demands to authorities. They propelled for a meeting v King and also Felix Rodriguez, the deputy correction secretary.

Through the following day, negotiation took ar as city, county and state police officers, plus military National safety troops housed nearby, surrounded the perimeter. Helicopters buzzed overhead and also smoke billowed from the gymnasium. Together talks continued, officers — part outfitted in revolt gear and armed through M-16 rifles — awaited orders together officials negotiated through a revolving cast of self-appointed inmate representatives.

Inmates’ requirements were straightforward:

• They want federal officials brought to the jail to ensure no inmates would certainly be retaliated against in the after-effects of the revolt.

• they wanted prisoners reclassified so first-timers with quick sentences were no much longer housed next by side through violent lifers.

• They want an finish to overcrowding and also harassment by guards, and also they wanted better food, better educational and also recreational facilities, and also a new disciplinary committee.

But hour after hour, no development was made, and also released hostages and also inmates that were able come flee the prison noted officials with firsthand accounts of a massacre unfolding inside.

“Knowledge of inmates being killed did not adjust the negotiation process,” Bingaman later wrote.

“The official strategy continued to it is in to stall because that time and try to speak the convicts right into releasing the hostages,” the added. “Although corrections officials knew that some of the guards to be being beaten, stabbed and also sodomized, they clung to the hope the negotiations can at the very least save the hostages’ lives.”

On N.M. 14, close to the entrance to the prison, family members and local and national print and also television reporters preserved vigil as temperatures plummeted to listed below freezing in ~ night.

Getting out, one way or another

By many accounts, just a couple of dozen inmates participated in the fatality squads. Plenty of others hid or barricaded themselves far from the mobs of violent guys roaming the prison.

Hundreds found ways come flee. And it was this slow hemorrhaging of prisoners, and the trickling relax of hostages over 2 days, the ultimately carried the furious uprising to its whimpering end.

By the time the prisoners acquired a asked for meeting with media — in ~ noon Sunday, Feb. 3 — an approximated 800 inmates had surrendered within the perimeter fence whereby they would spend the next couple of days huddled under blankets as the penitentiary place in ruins.

The news conference to be anticlimactic: Weary inmate negotiators who originally demanded scan reforms and the resignation of despised corrections officials narrowed their demands to post-riot protection for inmates, no an ext harassment from jail guards and also out-of-state transfers because that negotiators.

By midafternoon Sunday, the prison had been retaken. The riot, prefer some kind of fast-moving tornado, was over.

The mess was not.

David Freedman, among the original attorneys in the Duran litigation, said he and his colleague, the late Charles Daniels, who at some point would come to be a state supreme Court justice, checked out the penitentiary to market help. Once they were finally permitted in, the facility was a smoking cigarettes husk. They started writing instructions on legit pads: order food, water, medical care, mattresses.

“They to be paralyzed; they were scared to death,” he claimed of jail officials. “Of the anger, the rage.”

State officials carried criminal charges versus some that the inmates affiliated in the uprising, but out of practically 50 indictments, most brought about plea bargains, plenty of of i beg your pardon added small or no prison time to the offenders’ present sentences.

Seventeen that the 33 homicides were no prosecuted in ~ all, roger Morris wrote in his 1983 book, The Devil’s Butcher Shop, and also prosecutors derived jury verdicts in just two of the remaining 16 killing cases.

“Three year after the carnage the conclusion seemed inescapable: in stark regards to proof that punishment, countless if not many of the men who rampaged, raped, tortured, murdered and mutilated at the Santa Fe riot gained away v it,” Morris wrote.


One the the former dormitories, long because emptied, in November.

luis Sánchez Saturno

The new Mexican
Stunned legislators appropriated much more than $100 million to clean up the mess and build brand-new prisons, and also officials started a yearslong process of implementing reforms — in huge part because they were forced to execute so through a commonwealth consent decree based on Dwight Duran’s legal activity years prior to the lytic occurred.

A complete of 68 cases were filed in an effort to recuperate damages because that the deaths and injury the inmates. The the 124 inmates because that whom compensation was sought, 47 situations were worked out and 77 to be dismissed for miscellaneous reasons.

But Bingaman created in his report not everything that to be destroyed can be fully fixed.

“The penitentiary deserve to be repaired and even a bureaucracy can be repaired,” Bingaman wrote. “But the guys who work by day for year after ~ year have to look over their shoulder for the guy with the knife, that lack enough opportunity to make decisions in their day-to-day lives the they forget exactly how to decide — this men deserve to not it is in repaired. They space forever broken by a mechanism designed to exactly them.”

After that is closure in 1998, Old key wasn’t leveled. Instead, it came to be a movie collection for a variety of films, including a work again, please again of The Longest Yard. To commemorate new Mexico’s centennial, the correction Department began offering cost-free tours. They became so well-known the company started charging because that them.

On the first weekend of the month between May and also October, tourists have the right to pay $15 for the “Respect Our previous to produce a much better Future” guided tourism of the drafty, dank old facility who walls have seen so much.


After that closure in 1998, Old main wasn"t leveled. Instead, it ended up being a movie set for a selection of films, and also the corrections Department uses tours on the an initial weekend of the month between May and October.

luis Sánchez Saturno/The brand-new Mexican

Visitors deserve to view glass instances full of shanks and also other primitive weapons confiscated indigenous inmates, pass v the riot entrances some say can have prevent the uprising had actually they to be used and also even stand where it all started in Dormitory E-2. A visitor can walk cell Block 4, where an ext than a dozen inmates shed their lives, and also hand-drawn calendars and gang indications still adorn the walls.

No images are allowed in that part of the facility.

A spokesman freshly said the room is working on a new brochure because that the tours.

“It’s part of brand-new Mexico’s history,” Vincent Vigil, a corrections official, claimed as he provided a reporter a tour of the basic in November. “Not the best part of brand-new Mexico history. Yet we’ve obtained to preserve and learn from it.”

an uprising unfolds

Friday, Feb. 1, 1980

8:30 p.m.: Inmates begin drinking house brew in Dormitory E-2.

10:30 p.m.: Inmates space drunk, loud and also angry and also begin talking about taking end the prison.

Saturday, Feb. 2, 1980

1:09 a.m.: Guards begin to close the south wing.

1:40 a.m.: Inmates run guards in Dormitory E-2. The guards space stripped, blindfolded and also beaten.

1:45 a.m.: Prisoners take four more officers hostage.

1:57 a.m.: Officers in the control center and on foot patrol begin to hear inmates end a walkie-talkie. Two police officers in the chaos hall watch a lot of inmates loose in the main corridor, kicking and pushing a naked man with a belt approximately his neck.

1:58 a.m.: Word of the riot starts to spread amongst staff. One infirmary technology locks himself and also seven inmates in a section of the jail hospital ward.

2 a.m.: A team of 75 to 100 inmates will the penitentiary’s regulate center and begins hitting the glass as 2 corrections police officers flee.

2:01 a.m.: An officer speak the manage tower to call state police.

2:02 a.m.: Inmates have control of the facility.

2:15 a.m.: The mental ward is collection on fire. City and state police begin arriving.

2:30 a.m.: Maximum security prisoners in cabinet Block 3 space set cost-free and kind an informal fatality squad with other violent inmates indigenous E-2 who had actually sparked the riot.

2:35 a.m.: Gov. Bruce King is alerted.

2:40 a.m.: King alerts nationwide Guard Gen. Franklin Miles.

3 a.m.: According to official reports, the first inmate is killed.

4 a.m.: The so-called death squad begins cutting with a jammed door of cabinet Block 4 — where informants are held — with an acetylene cut torch. Prisoners in the cell block frantically shot to signal come state police external for help. Some of the many brutal murders and mutilations the the uprising take location from 4 come 7 a.m.

5:25 a.m.: The an initial inmate is released, through injuries inflicted by a meat cleaver. A guard who had actually been harbored by sorry inmates is exit in inmate clothing.

6:40 a.m.: A prisoner requirements to speak v the media and offers to collection up a negotiations table.

6:45 a.m.: Prisoners need to view Warden Jerry Griffin or Gov. King within four hours.

7 a.m.: Eighty-four detainees escape v a home window and surrender.

7:02 a.m.: A bad beaten security hostage is released.

7:30 a.m.: The an initial 50 new Mexico national Guard troops arrive.

8:30 a.m.: Twenty inmates escape the prison and surrender.

8:58 a.m.: Gov. King speak to detainees by phone and promises to offer them accessibility to journalists and also not come storm the prison if hostages are maintained alive. If demands are met, detainees say, they’ll give the facility ago by midafternoon.

9:15 a.m.: The branch arrives at the penitentiary.

Noon: An inmate negotiator needs to see media members and also threatens to decapitate prisoners if the need is not met.

1:10 p.m.: Thirty more inmates surrender.

1:25 p.m.: About 20 more inmates surrender.

2:48 p.m.: Inmates meet with jail officials.

3:20 p.m.: The branch is educated hostages room still alive.

5:10 p.m.: An inmate endangers to kill guards.

6:50 p.m.: The very first body is carried out of the jail by inmates.

7:02 p.m.: A prisoner asks for face-to-face negotiation and access to the media and an attorney.

7:12 p.m.: An inmate negotiator meets briefly through prison officials and also a radio journalist and is called journalists will lug a camera right into the facility the following day for the news conference the prisoners have actually been demanding.

11:25 p.m.: A beaten safety is released, tied to a chair.

Sunday, Feb. 3, 1980

1:07 a.m.: Negotiations are stopped until later in the morning.

2:30 a.m.: New Mexico correction Secretary Adolph Saenz arrives.

8 a.m.: A headcount reveals about 800 inmates are outside the prison.

10 a.m.: Inmate negotiators fulfill with a TV crew and prison officials.

10:55 a.m.: A hostage escapes with the assist of inmates.

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12:34 p.m.: The beheaded human body of a mentally ill inmate, Paulina Paul, is lugged out.