Home homicides massacres The brutal tortures and the killings at New Mexico’s penitentiary

The brutal tortures and the killings at New Mexico’s penitentiary


What I am about to tell you is not, unfortunately, the plot of a movie or an urban legend, but a true event which took place at the Penitentiary of New Mexico on 2nd and 3rd February 1980. During these two days, as many as 33 people were killed and 200 wounded.


This episode is part of the typical announced tragedies, as in fact, the prison was overcrowded (1136 inmates when the maximum capacity was 900), the guards were too few for the number of prisoners there, and on top of this any integration and recreational activities for inmates had previously been suspended.

The prisoners had repeatedly taken these problems to the attention of the guards, as well as those regarding the poor sanitation and bad food, but their requests were never taken into account.

In addition, in recent years the prison had promoted a snitch system, so some detainees who had been informants for the guards had been moved to a special area to contain the ever-increasing violence.

The beginning of the uprising

In the early hours of Saturday, February 2, 1980, a jailer surprised two detainees while they drank alcohol that they had somehow managed to make in the prison.

The two were already drunk and took advantage of the prison staff’slack of training, so it did not take much for them to hold down the jailer. Within a few minutes another 4 of 15 guards on duty were taken hostages.

Using 5 guards, even if not well trained, the revolt could have been easily controlled, but one of them escaped, leaving behind a set of keys, promptly taken by the prisoners.

With these keys not only the prisoners took the other guardshostages, but they managed to get into the control center area also freeing their inmates.

Violence begins


In the early afternoon the situation was already degenerated as various rival gangs were facing, the first murders occurred and one of the most dangerous criminals decided to go to the area 4, the special area used not only for communicators, but also for prisoners who were most in need of protection such as those with mental illness, to seek revenge.

The cells of this area had a special opening system and therefore did not open either with normal keys or via the control center.

It so happened, however, that in those days there were renovations going on in that area and detainees found the torches with which they began to cut the bars of cells.

At this point the riot news was already in the public domain and many of the prisoners pleaded 4 the National Guard, present outside the perimeter of the prison, to help them out but the police agreed with the prisoners who had held hostage the guards: if they had not killed them, the National Guard would not intervene.

The leaders of the revolt began then to provoke the National Guard, with which they communicated with the guards radio, telling them what they would do to the prisoners of the 4, but despite this no one intervened.

Torture and murder

It began at 2 AM, Saturday, February 2, 1980 in the south-side Dormitory E-2 when two prisoners overpowered an officer who had caught them drinking homemade liquor. The New Mexico State Penitentiary Riot in the state's maximum security prison south of Santa Fe, is one of the most violent and deadly prison riots in the history of the American correctional system. 33 inmates died along with more than 200 injured although evidence suggests the death toll may have been higher as a number of bodies were incinerated or dismembered during the course of the mayhem. Without a doubt, the worst atrocities occurred in cell block 4 which housed informers, the mentally ill, or those convicted of sex crimes. When rioters found blowtorches brought into the prison as part of an ongoing construction project, an 'execution squad' was formed to extract their revenge on the inmates of cell block 4. Victims were pulled from their cells to be tortured, dismembered, decapitated, or burned alive. 36 hours after the riot had begun, heavily armed State Police officers accompanied by National Guard servicemen entered the charred remains of the prison to restore order.

After few hours of work with the oxyacetylene flame the rioters managed to open the cells of protected prisoners and began to torture them and kill them.

Some eyewitnesses described in an interview what he saw: some prisoners were hanged; one was beheaded, he is hanged him and his genitals were cut and placed in the mouth;

a prisoner was beheaded with blows of the ax and the signs are still visible on the floor;

some were burned alive and the silhouette of one of them is still visible on the floor despite various attempts to cover it;

another prisoner, finally, was held in place while he was passed the torch on the face. Then the flame was directed over his eyes and his head exploded.

As for the guards, some were protected by some prisoners while others were savagely beaten, tortured and raped.


The negotiations began during the first 24 hours and not immediately. This is because neither the National Guard nor the detainees had a spokesman.

The demands of the prisoners were to have better food, better hygiene, solve the problem of overcrowding and the resulting violence and kings implement educational and recreational programs.

The next day, Sunday, none of the conditions had been accepted. Some inmates at this point no longer wanted to be part of the uprising and fled in the prison courtyard, where the National Guard was amassing. At first they were 18, but soon many others joined afraid of the chaos that reigned in the penitentiary.

End of the revolt

36 hours after the start of the National Guard riot, armed to the teeth, he entered the penitentiary finding 33 dead and about 200 injured.

After the rebels were surrendered it took days to restore order. Almost none of the prisoners was tried and many were simply transferred to other prisons.

This put an end to one of the largest and worst riots in US history


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