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.