New Mexico State Penitentiary Riot
Part Two: The Hate Factory
In the early morning hours of February 2nd, 1980, prisoners at New Mexico State’s Penitentiary began taking guards hostage. As prison officials and law enforcement struggled to gain control of the situation, they quickly learned that they had underestimated the unadulterated rage that had been festering for years...
"We've got the shift commander hostage. There had better be a meeting with the governor, the news media, and Rodriguez."
Those are the words that came over the two-way radios inside New Mexico State Penitentiary, just minutes after the inmates had assumed direct control. At around 1:30 AM, on the morning of February 2nd, 1980, a dozen or so convicts had done just that - jumping a group of guards in their blacked-out day-room during the evening head-count.
Those four guards - in addition to three more patrolling a nearby hallway - were taken captive. They were now hostages in an uprising that had been years-in-the-making.
The inmates, who were now attempting to communicate with other prison officials, had quickly expanded through the south side of the prison. More than five-hundred prisoners had been freed, and were now arming themselves - preparing for a long and bloody fight.
In this radio call, the prisoners were demanding a meeting with New Mexico Governor Bruce King, Deputy Secretary of Corrections - and former-warden - Felix Rodriguez, and the news media itself. They were hoping to air all of the dirty laundry from the past few years, and were threatening widespread violence if they did not get their way.
However, even as some inside the prison prepared to bring this list of grievances to the media, others were planning to seize the opportunity given to them. Over the next thirty-six hours, they would turn the interior of the facility into a nightmare for which there was little escape - a place to exact vengeance, in the most inhumane and brutal of ways.
This is part two of the New Mexico State Penitentiary Riot.
It was around 2:00 AM, on the morning of Saturday, February 2nd, 1980, that the riot inside the New Mexico State Penitentiary reached the Central Control Booth.
The Central Control Booth was a room that fit its name: it was centralized in the facility itself, and contained not only keys to the entire facility, but access to virtually anywhere. In essence, it acted as the brain for the south side of the prison, separating it from the outside world.
Lawrence Lucero, a corrections officer in his early 20's, is sitting in the Central Control Booth for this overnight shift. It's a thankless job, and a mind-numbingly boring one, at that. Most of the time, at least.
Lucero is one of the first to overhear the radio call, where the inmates announce that they've taken the shift commander hostage. Following this, he calls another C.O., named Valentin Martinez, and tells him to lock the grille to the north side of the prison. This would lock down the path between the rioting inmates and Cellblock 4 - the protective custody wing of the penitentiary, where many of the so-called "snitches" are locked up in isolation. Even they understand the threat that a prison riot holds for most of these inmates, and make it one of their first priorities.
Following this, Lawrence Lucero receives a call from another prison guard, named Mike Hernandez. Hernandez had been patrolling the hallways when the riot started, and upon hearing the commotion, locked himself in that unit: D-1. Even he knows that he has likely not prevented his capture, just postponed it, as there was no exit in that wing, and was - in essence - now behind enemy lines.
All of this was happening within moments, and Lawrence Lucero - this young C.O. stuck between a rock and a hard place - realized that he was as vulnerable as anyone. Sitting in the Central Control Booth, he was going to be the crown jewel for the rioting prisoners. Most unfortunately, his only way out - a door at the back of the central control booth, that led out of the prison - was locked from the outside.
Lucero's nightmare began to come to fruition when the rioting prisoners finally presented themselves in the corridor for the Central Control Booth. With them was Corrections Officer Juan Bustos - one of Lucero's peers, who had been stripped naked, beaten bloody, and was now being paraded around like a trophy. Almost unrecognizable at first, Bustos had a guard's belt wrapped around his neck, and holding onto it like a leash was an inmate, who demanded the older man crawl like a dog.
As this procession began to reach the Central Control Booth, the prisoners attempted to break through the glass separating Lucero from the prisoners - the glass that Lucero knew was less-than-secure, from testing in the months prior. It had been promoted as being "shatter-proof," but the entire correctional staff knew that it was not.
Lucero realized that he had just moments before inmates made their way through the Central Control Booth and took him captive.
Officer Louis C de Baca, another corrections officer in his early twenties - who had less than a year's experience at the New Mexico State Pen - was on foot patrol outside when the first inmate demand came over the radio.
de Baca would then perform one of the first acts of genuine heroism, as he realized that one of his peers - Lawrence Lucero - was all alone and isolated in the path of the rioting inmates.
Louis C de Baca would run from the outside of the prison into the building itself, towards the Central Control Booth. He unlocked the path in front of him - the same locks that had been keeping Lucero in the booth. He entered the Central Control Booth just as the inmates had made their way into the corridor, and - moments later - the booth was at risk of being overrun.
Lucero and de Baca would manage to flee the booth just in-time - as the alleged "shatterproof" glass shattered behind them - making their way outside of the prison as a random smattering of guards began setting up a very basic perimeter. Only outside did Lucero realize that he had forgotten his keys inside: keys that would open almost any lock inside the penitentiary.
In their flight from the Central Control Booth, the two C.O.'s had forfeited this piece of valuable real estate to the rioting inmates. This would give the rioters access to not only the vast majority of the prison itself, but access to equipment that could escalate the violence and prolong the riot itself.
Inside the Central Control Booth, the inmates opened up a trap door where many riot control weapons and pieces of equipment were held. This included batons, riot helmets, gas masks, tear gas bombs and guns, and others that would prove valuable over the coming days.
Just after seizing control of the Central Control Booth, at around 2:00 AM, prisoners began to flood into the administrative offices behind the booth itself.
There, they began to burn every piece of available paper they could find: police records, prisoner intake documents, psychological reports, etc.
According to one anonymous inmate, the rioters had made it a point to do so quickly:
"They wanted the paperwork... They wanted to get the paperwork burned up before they got rushed because they felt that if they burned all the paperwork... there'd be no records."
Inside the admin offices, some inmates even decided to use the telephones - dialing out to wives, girlfriends, associates, and more outside of the prison. It was several minutes before news of the riot would spread, and this phone access was cut off, but dozens of calls were placed. It has been said that some of the people called by inmates had news of the riot before prison officials or even the police did, due to how quickly everything had unfolded.
Allegedly, inmates found upwards of $1200 cash inside these administrative offices - all of which was unreported in the weeks and months that followed. That would only feed into many of the theories regarding corruption amongst the prison staff, but that's neither here nor there.
As the riot continued to spread, some of the prison guards and staff began to lock themselves in safe dormitories and units, hoping to ride out the riot for as long as possible. This included Mike Hernandez - the guard that had heard commotion in the hallways, and locked himself in Dormitory D-1, where the new intakes were held.
Following this action, locking himself in, Hernandez called the phone of Ross Maez, a veteran hospital technician that worked in the prison's infirmary. He warned Maez of the pending riot, and gave him enough notice to hide himself - as well as seven invalid inmates, who were nursing wounds and injuries inside the prison hospital. With these seven inmates, Maez would actually ride out the entire riot undisturbed, potentially saving all of their lives with his quick-thinking.
Mike Hernandez was also able to get in-touch with a female technician, who was at an extreme risk inside the prison. Because of the warning, she was able to get to safety before the riot reached her wing.
Minutes later, the riot had reached the prison hospital/infirmary, which had been abandoned by staff. These inmates began raiding the hospital's stores, taking every drug they could find - everything from Valium to Demerol. Many think that this action led to many of the grotesque, violent actions later on, with inmates so hopped up on narcotics that they felt nothing - physically or emotionally. In fact, several of these rioters would end up overdosing in the coming days, as the uprising continued.
As the pillage of the hospital began, a group of inmates began heading to Cellblock 4 - the protective custody wing that had been vilified by prison officials in the years and months beforehand. The people inside Cellblock 4 were primarily "snitches" and others like them - those that could not cut it or survive in General Population any longer. Now, without any prison guards protecting them, they were at a significant risk.
At around 2:15 AM, a group of white and Hispanic rioters - a combined coalition that made up the vast majority of the prison population - began opening up cells to black inmates.
Tensions between the cliques had always been high, but in the months preceding the riots, leaders of the white and Hispanic groups had been coordinating the riot together. Now, they were approaching the dormitories and cell blocks occupied by African Americans, and offering them a "with us or against us" proposition.
The black inmates, not wanting to get harmed or face retaliation, agreed. Their doors were opened, but for the most part, these inmates would mostly stay out of the way. Most of the black prisoners would take refuge in abandoned dormitories, waiting for the riot to come to a close.
This was a thought shared by the prisoners inside Dormitory C-1 - which had been nicknamed the "Old Man's Dormitory." This is where prisoner W.G. Stone was housed, and when the riot reached their door, they were given a similar offer: stand with us or suffer. They agreed, but chose to remain in their dorm until the riot came to a close.
At around the same time that this collective peace was being brokered, Corrections Officers Larry Mendoza, Edward Ortega, and Ramon Gutierrez found themselves facing an onslaught of rioters. The three heard the commotion of the riot break out while on the early morning equivalent of a lunch break, and ended up locking themselves in the basement of Cellblock 3. Now, however, a collection of inmates had made them their next target, and were looking to take three more hostages.
The three C.O.'s refused to cave in, moving deeper into the basement of Cellblock 3 as the rioting inmates approached. They refused to open up the basement, knowing that they were only prolonging the inevitable. Finally, the inmates got fed up, and grabbed one of their hostages - Captain Greg Roybal.
At the door of the basement, the inmates began threatening Captain Roybal's life, and were physically assaulting him in front of the other three guards, who could only watch on in horror and shock. The inmates demanded Captain Roybal tell them how to open the door, but before they could do him any significant harm, the keys were brought forward. They had been found in the abandoned Central Control Booth, and were able to unlock the grilles keeping the basement secure for the three corrections officers.
The door was then opened, and C.O.'s Larry Mendoza, Edward Ortega, and Ramon Gutierrez were swarmed by dozens of prisoners. Like the other hostages, these three men were stripped naked and beaten severely, before being thrown into a nearby cell - where they would remain for the remainder of the riot, as hostages.
Captain Roybal was then paraded through several units, with a knife at his throat. The inmates began asking him how to unlock specific doors and grilles. After telling them how to access multiple doors, he was then locked in a cell by himself, after enduring a lengthy beating from several inmates.
This mass release of multiple cell blocks and dormitories eventually made its way to Segregation, where the "worst of the worst" - according to other inmates - were housed. Here, 86 inmates were set free... 86 inmates with an ax to grind and retribution on their mind. 14 of these men formed a "execution squad," which began exacting revenge on rivals and other prisoners they deemed worthy.
A contingent of these men began heading to the kitchen, where they would arm themselves with knives and other cutting tools or utensils. Others began seizing control of the riot equipment taken from the Central Control Booth.
One inmate, upon learning that the prisoners in Segregation were free, stated:
"When they told me that people in cell block three were free, I said 'There's death.'"
Juan Sanchez was a Mexican national, who suffered significantly from mental illness. Most of his family did, in fact, with several of his siblings being diagnosed with brain disorders and hormone imbalances.
This is actually what led to Sanchez being incarcerated in the New Mexico State Penitentiary. He had a long history of violence and criminal activities, but instead of being deported, he ended up in the state pen - where violent inmates were often left and forgotten.
Inside the penitentiary, Sanchez had been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, who had constant visions of the devil and Jesus Christ. While incarcerated, he had attempted suicide multiple times, cutting his arm open with a razor on more than one occasion. Other times, he got sent to Isolation for attacking others.
For months preceding the riot, Sanchez had been writing to the Mexican government, asking for a transfer to a Mexican prison. In his letters, he stated that staff members and fellow inmates were torturing him - physically and emotionally.
When members of the "execution squad" reached the cell of Juan Sanchez, they didn't give him any kind of prolonged torture. Rather, they took aim at him with a tear gas gun: the kind that would shoot tear gas canisters at a high rate of speed. Juan Sanchez died instantly. To put it bluntly, his head exploded due to being hit at point-blank range with a projectile.
He was just one victim of the mass violence and carnage that would follow.
In one of these cells was a one-armed biker, who had refused multiple offers to join the Aryan Brotherhood during his months of incarceration. Well, three members of the Aryan Brotherhood cornered him, and pulled him down to the ground. There, as they taunted and spat on him, they attempted to cut off his one remaining arm.
He was able to wriggle free and escape through the chaos all around them, but the three Aryan Brothers merely laughed. They found his desperation funny, even though his one remaining arm had just been permanently damaged. He would endure constant nerve issues through the rest of his life.
Another victim of the widespread violence was a young man named James Foley. Just 19 years old, Foley had been convicted of murder and armed robbery at a Circle K gas station. But upon entering the New Mexico State Penitentiary, he had tried to stay out of trouble, only be targeted by a gang. After a vicious beating, he was sent to a protection wing. But just before the riot broke out, he was sent back to Gen Pop; specifically, dormitory A-1. As the riot spread through the prison, Foley was just one of the prisoners from A-1 that was beaten, bound, and then repeatedly raped for the next several hours.
The rioting prisoners would continue to loot and pillage, with the Hospital and Central Control Booth being completely gutted within minutes. The kitchens were then raided of both foot and utensils, and other inmates began making their way through the plumbing shop: where inmates were able to find not only paint and glue (for huffing purposes), but a blowtorch, which would prove handy in the destruction to follow.
Using the blowtorch, inmates were able to open up Dormitory D - where Corrections Officer Mike Hernandez had been hiding out for the better part of an hour. Like the other prison guards, he was stripped naked, beaten, and then taken captive.
Archie Martinez, nicknamed both "Primi" and "the Dog Boy of Chimayo," had earned himself a reputation inside the New Mexico State Pen.
Originally locked up on a burglary bid, Martinez had participated in two escape attempts, which gave him additional time inside. His obnoxious personality rubbed many the wrong way, and in an attempt to keep himself safe from harm, he ended up cooperating very easily with prison officials and guards.
Martinez was known as being one of the bigger snitches in the prison. Because of this, he had been locked up in maximum detention - a cell block that the rioting inmates now had access to.
When Archie Martinez realized that the prison was in the middle of a violent uprising, he shoved his toothbrush inside the lock to his cell, thus ensuring that it could not be opened conventionally from the other side. As inmates began to arrive at the outside of his cell, Martinez began to taunt them... only to then be told that they would be returning with a blowtorch.
Minutes later, these inmates made good on their promise. They did return with a blowtorch, and began burning a hole in the cell door keeping Archie Martinez safe. On the other side, he could only sit and wait, as impending doom approached.
When the door was finally opened, Martinez tried fighting off his attackers, but they quickly got their hands on him. What followed was a merciless beating, as Martinez was slowly tortured to death in unspeakable ways. His attackers would use some pilfered sniffing salts to keep him awake and alert through it all, until Martinez eventually died from his injuries.
As the riot continued to spread, the prisoners inside Dormitory E-1 began to barricade themselves inside. Others began looking for a way out, and found one - a window unit that provided access out to the courtyard. It, however, would require work and time to dismantle.
Rioters began pummeling a glass window separating them from the interior of E-1, but the glass proved resistant. Unlike the material used in the Central Control Booth, it was actually shatterproof. The rioters started a fire at the entrance of Dormitory E-1 in an attempt to lure prisoners out. They also began firing tear gas into the Dorm, when the fire didn't prove effective enough.
Joe Madrid was an inmate locked up on a 1-to-5 year narcotics bid - a "Fish" among a prison full of "Lifers." He was on the outside of Dormitory E-1, when he noticed that several of the inmates inside were trying to escape out a window unit.
Thinking nothing of it, Joe Madrid decided to give the escaping inmates a pipe wrench so that they could more easily make their escape. This act did not go unnoticed by the other rioters, who thought that this akin to treason.
Joe Madrid was brutally beaten and stabbed to death. Hours later, after the riot had spread throughout the entire facility, his body would be strung up on a basketball hoop outside - symbolically crucified, as a warning to other dissenters. There, his remains would be picked at by scavenging inmates, who stabbed at and desecrated his corpse over several hours.
The message was clear: anybody who dissented or worked against the riot itself would face similar consequences.
For the first several hours of the riot, the worst abuse was suffered upon the captured prison guards, who had endure multiple beatings, stabbings, and sexual assaults (the circumstances of which I don't feel comfortable disclosing).
For that period of time - stretching into sunrise - the rioting inmates kept waiting for a response from prison officials or law enforcement. But, as they would learn, that response was not coming. Minutes led into hours, and each passing moment seemed to embolden the most violent of the rioters, who viewed the police inaction as a sign of triumph.
They were partially correct, in that the police response was very scattered. In fact, for the first hour or two after the riot started, only a couple of police cars had responded. This had created a colossal hole in the defenses outside the prison, which the inmates were, thankfully, blind to. If the rioters had chosen to lead a mass escape of the facility, they would have undoubtedly been successful in doing so - the only line of defense being a handful of prison guards and a couple of city cops.
The prison guards working knew this at the time, and would later remark that any attempt by the prisoners to escape the facility would result in a mass escape - the likes of which had never been seen before.
Authorities would not have a full response ready until well into Saturday, when SWAT teams set up a perimeter, and the responding National Guard had set up a command post in the corner of the east parking lot.
Inside, several guards and staff members of the penitentiary continued to avoid detection and capture. This included Antonio Vigil and Valentin Martinez, two veteran guards that had fled to the basement of Cellblock 5 - an abandoned area that had been closed for construction. There, they had taken shelter in an empty crawlspace, where they radio'd to outside guards to let them know they were safe, but were not going to name their location for fear of being found.
While the prison was looted all around them, Vigil and Martinez continued to lay still. Here, they would manage to avoid capture throughout the entire bloody ordeal.
Also managing to avoid capture and detection was Corrections Officer Herman Gallegas, who had taken shelter in the day-room of a dormitory as the original rioters took their first hostages. There, he would remain safe for the next several hours, sheltered from harm by sympathetic and heroic inmates.
Then there was Ross Maez, the hospital staffer that was able to hide in an upstairs section of the infirmary, where he not only managed to keep himself safe, but seven incapacitated inmates that were being targeted by violent rioters.
All of these men would prove heroic as the prison began to succumb to nightmarish violence.
Deputy Warden Robert Montoya was one of the first prison officials at the scene. He showed up alongside the first responders, and began coordinating the response to the riot, helping provide a layout of the facility to police and the National Guard as they set up their perimeter.
Deputy Warden Montoya also served as the primary negotiator, who spoke with the rioters via two-way radios, which they had seized from the captive prison guards. The rioters had elected an inmate nicknamed "Chopper One" to serve as their negotiator, who proved to be almost as no-nonsense as Montoya himself.
When Montoya began attempting to negotiate the release of hostages, the prisoners gave him a simple solution: he could turn himself over to their custody in exchange for a handful of the captive guards. This was a deal that Montoya obviously refused.
Because of the inmates using the two-way radios to communicate their movement and actions, prison authorities and police knew that the rioters were beginning to get into the protective units. This included Cellblock 4, which was now completely isolated and defenseless.
Deputy Warden Montoya, speaking to "Chopper One," was able to negotiate the most basic of understandings. "Chopper One" agreed to let wounded prisoners escape the prison, and they would be housed in the courtyard outside - within sight of the prison's front doors. There, they would be re-detained and given medical attention, but it would begin a slow trickle of inmates that wanted to escape the fire and fury within the penitentiary.
During this ordeal, one of the supposed hostages was able to make his escape. Corrections Officer Herman Gallegas, who had taken refuge in a dormitory, was thought lost to the rioters. However, compassionate inmates had taken him in, and then dressed him up like an inmate. When a group of these prisoners made their way out of the facility, they were able to smuggle him outside, completely unharmed.
In addition, many of the prisoners inside Dormitory E-1 were able to escape out of a window to this established safe zone, where they could receive medical attention and be re-detained by authorities. These men - 87 in total - ran out into the yard, waving a white flag of surrender. They had only been able to escape because of the sacrifice of Joe Madrid, who died after giving them a pipe wrench.
Early that morning, Deputy Warden Montoya was joined by Felix Rodriguez - the former-warden of the New Mexico State Penitentiary, who was now serving as the Deputy Secretary of Corrections for New Mexico state. He would join in on the negotiations effort, as many of the inmates wanted to speak directly to him.
However, at around the time he showed up, communications over the two-way radios began to illuminate how desperate the situation was becoming. Inmates had begun breaching Cellblock 4 - the unit where the "snitches" were housed away from General Population.
Despite this news, Montoya insisted that they - as in, prison officials - were not risking anyone else's life for prisoners. Those locked inside Cellblock 4 would have to fend for themselves.
It was just after 7:00 AM that Saturday morning - less than six hours after the riot had started - that the rioters began to reach Cellblock 4.
Here, housed in individual cells, the men in Cellblock 4 knew that the worst carnage was being saved for them. After all, they had been labeled "snitches" by prison officials, regardless of their actual cooperation.
To make matters worse, the inmates in Cellblock 4 were right near the exit of the prison. They were able to look outside and see the safety provided by the police perimeter, but were kept locked inside cells meant to provide protection from the rest of the prison population.
One inmate inside Cellblock 4 would later recall:
"I mean all the state troopers that were parked all up and down the fence, man. You could see them driving inside the sally port, you know? Why didn't they come in? The back door was right there."
When the rioting inmates finally made their way into Cellblock 4, they found a picture roster of the inmates at a guard station. This allowed them to begin hunting for individual prisoners inside designated cells - essentially giving them all of the information they needed to target specific prisoners that had snitched on them (or that they believed snitched on them).
Another inmate inside cellblock 4 would recall:
"They came in hollering, you know, for certain motherfuckers that they were gonna..."
The inmate trails off, before finishing his thought:
"And they came in crazy."
Many of the men inside Cellblock 4 were released from their cells and allowed to join the frenzy, but the remaining twelve were kept for a prolonged period of torture and dismemberment.
Some of these inmates were burned-to-death, via gasoline and paint thinner paired with the use of matches. This was the fate for James Perrin, a 34-year old inmate that had been given a life sentence for rape and murder. He had barricaded himself inside of his cell, but was then dragged out by four rioters, who proceeded to burn him from head-to-toe with a blowtorch.
Other Cellblock 4 prisoners were stabbed repeatedly. In some cases, these men were stabbed dozens - if not hundreds - of times before their eventual death.
One man had his genitals cut off after being stabbed and beaten for upwards of ten minutes. By the time of this mutilation, he was already deceased.
One man was held down, and had a metal rod hammered into his skull.
Another unfortunate soul was beaten severely, and then had a rope tied around his neck. He was dragged to a nearby basement stairwell, where he was hanged.
In perhaps the most gruesome of the crimes attributed to the Cellblock 4 massacre, one inmate had a blowtorch shoved into his head - which then reportedly exploded, due to the internalized pressure and the heat from the blowtorch.
One man, who had been nicknamed "Bear" by other prisoners, plead for his life as the rioters approached his cell. A couple of Aryan Brothers agreed to let him live if he killed a black man in the cell next to his.
That black man, named Paulina Paul, was a mentally ill individual, whose story bore many similarities to Juan Sanchez. His entire family had a long history of mental illness, and Paul had ended up convicted on armed robbery charges. His mental illness resulted in him being targeted by other inmates, and eventually led to his imprisonment in Cellblock 4.
Now, he was targeted by these racist skinheads as they stormed his cell block, and he was now forced into a battle against "Bear" - his neighbor with whom he had had no prior issues with. "Bear," who had been forced into this encounter at risk of losing his life, was forced to stab Paulina Paul in the stomach.
As Paulina Paul bled out, on the cold flooring of Cellblock 4, one of the Aryan Brotherhood onlookers stepped forward, and - using an ax - decapitated the man in a handful of heaves. Those notches would remain in the floor for decades to come, a reminder of the brutality that fell upon Cellblock 4.
Paulina Paul would remain just one of several whose murders would remain unsolved throughout that span, his death receiving no justice.
This is the type of fate that was given to those in Cellblock 4 - those labeled "snitches" by the police officials that abandoned them in their time of need. Some were beaten and tortured, while others were hanged or castrated. The air stank of burned flesh and death, a smell that would linger in the air for days to come.
Sometime between 10:30 and 11:00 AM, on Saturday, February 2nd, the screaming from Cellblock 4 began to come to an end. However, through the rest of the prison, misery continued to spread, including many of the aforementioned hostages.
Captain Greg Roybal, who had been one of the first correction officers taken captive, had been locked inside a cell for hours. Now, hours later - after enduring a lengthy beating and an endless barrage of threats - the middle-aged man was suffering a mild heart attack. An inmate that had prior training as a paramedic began tending to Captain Roybal, putting his own life on the line to help stabilize the older man.
It became evident that not all of the prisoners inside the prison were supportive of the violent riot, as some began risking harm to themselves to care for the prison staff and guards. Others began attempting escape, trying to circumvent the harm that awaited them at the main entrances.
Some inmates used a blowtorch to cut a hole into Cellblock 5 - the abandoned wing of the prison that had been closed for construction months prior. Using an escape route near the front gate, these prisoners were able to flee out into the courtyard, where they surrendered to authorities.
They were soon joined by a large contingent of black inmates, that took advantage of the escape route that inmates in Dormitory E-1 had created. They had opened up a window unit using a pipe wrench, and this exit was utilized by more than a hundred African American prisoners over the next several hours, as they tried to avoid the mass violence through the prison.
Tower One, a guard tower in front of the New Mexico State Pen, became the main command post for the administration, where they started to interrogate escaped prisoners and tried to learn who the main instigators of the riot were.
Outside, two National Guard medical support teams had already arrived and were beginning to treat the wounded. The 744th Medical Detachment was there to treated wounded prisoners on-sight, and the 717th Medivac Helicopter Unit began transporting those that were seriously injured to the nearby St. Vincent Hospital in Santa Fe. Others, that were already stabilized, began being moved to facilities in Albuquerque.
Of the various ailments plaguing the prisoners - such as bone fractures, amputations, stab wounds, and even shock - the most prevalent of which was, surprisingly, drug overdoses. In the aftermath of the drug pilfering, many inmates were now beginning to come down from their high, and authorities were hoping that would lead to those inside the facility being more willing to negotiate an end to the violence.
At around the time the slaughter inside Cellblock 4 had started - at around 7:00 that morning - one of the hostages had been brought out.
Elton "Bigfoot" Curry was brought out, after being beaten, stabbed, and stripped naked. He was then given priority by the medical teams, as they tried to ensure he was okay.
Following him was Mike Hernandez, at around 8:20 AM. The prisoners had brought both out, due to injuries the men had suffered. It would later be theorized that the inmates had been worried about the two men dying, thus ensuring harsh penalties for riot leaders.
Nonetheless, the two men were brought out, bringing the hostage count down to nine.
Another one of the hostages, Jose Anaya, had been treated inside the prison by another inmate with prior medical training. He had actually been in-contact with authorities outside the facility, at one point telling them:
"I'm over here checking this Lt. Anaya. I think Anaya's got a concussion, and I think he's got a busted rib, and I know he's got a heart condition. And he needs to be moved... He needs to be taken out of here."
A deal was almost struck to get Anaya out of the facility, but due to the stalled negotiations between Deputy Warden Montoya and "Chopper One," the deal fell apart in the early afternoon.
The negotiating would continue on through the afternoon and into the early evening, with the rioters eventually introducing a list of demands. Their demands were not really anything that prison officials could produce at that time, such as: a reduction in prison overcrowding, the enforcement of staff complying with all court orders, no charges being filed against inmates for the riot itself, and due process for classification procedures.
However, the inmates also asked for ten gas masks and two new walkie-talkies, which the authorities were able to provide. The authorities promised to provide more gas masks, but it would take time - and an effort of goodwill from those inside the prison.
The administrative staff requested that all of the wounded be moved outside, and firefighters should be allowed access to the prison to put out some of the interior fires. However, when these firemen approached and tried to put out the fires from a safe distance, the rioters responded by stabbing the hoses with needles and other sharpened tools. That effort quickly soured.
The rioters continued to expand upon their demands, adding to their list of demands. A new priority for them was access to the media, where they could air their grievances to the world at large. Then, and only then, would then continue giving up hostages.
At the New Mexico State Capital, Governor Bruce King met with ten legislators to discuss the riot. At that point in time, a rumor had surfaced that one of the prison guard taken captive had been killed, which increased the urgency of the conversation on-hand.
Governor King appointed three men to be his eyes and ears at the prison: State Senators Manny Aragon and Tom Rutherford, as well as Lieutenant Governor Roberto Mondragon. Together, these three men drove to the prison, where they met with Warden Jerry Griffin and Deputy Warden Robert Montoya.
Later, they would describe the scene of the prison riot as a battlefield.
The negotiations between prison officials and inmates continued on into the evening, with authorities hoping to retrieve some more hostages before they called it quits for the night.
State Senator Manny Aragon was able to join in on negotiations, since he came from the same region as many - the South Valley - and was able to relate with many of the inmates. He actually personally knew a handful of them, after attempting to pass some key pieces of legislation on behalf of prisoners and guards, and provided a huge boon for the negotiations that evening.
With the help of Senator Aragon, officials were able to arrange the release of the concussed and wounded Lieutenant Jose Anaya, as well as correction officer Juan Bustos - who was brought out tied to a chair.
In addition to the release of these two, inmates agreed to bring out C.O. Michael Schmitt if a cameraman agreed to go inside the prison with them. A deal was struck, and brave NBC cameraman Michael Shagrue volunteered for the task.
When Michael Schmitt was brought outside, he was in critical condition, and would be rushed to a nearby hospital, where he received urgent treatment.
In exchange, NBC cameraman Michael Shagrue spent forty minutes inside the prison, speaking to inmates and recording them as they aired their issues to the camera. Many of them hid their faces behind makeshift scarves and bandanas, which were crafted from ripped-up prison uniforms and bedding.
As he recorded inmates inside the facility, Shagrue would later recall hearing radio transmissions from the prisoners' walkie-talkies, warning of "death squads" roaming the halls, killing indiscriminately.
Later, after returning to the courtyard of the prison - with forty minutes of footage that would never see the light of day - Shagrue would admit to regretting his decision.
"If I had known then what was going on back there, I never would have gone in."
Following this final round of negotiations, conversations between prison officials and the prisoners shut down for the night.
The self-appointed riot leaders planned to resume in the morning, returning to the facility that had become a hotbed of violence and suffering in the roughly twenty or so hours since the riot started.
Despite hundreds of inmates fleeing the prison, and a handful of hostages being handed over, nothing had changed. Gangs continued to roam the hallways, beating or killing anyone that they encountered.
Those that remained hostages or captives of the rampaging prisoners would have to endure another night of suffering, as their abusers set upon them like jackals. Their prolonged period of beating, stabbing, and sexual assaults would continue into the next morning, even as many of the prisoners began to succumb to their own injuries or drug overdoses.
In the courtyard, where the fleeing prisoners had been corralled, temperatures dipped below freezing that night. Each prisoner had to huddle under their thin blanket in the cold February air, as smoke continued to billow out from the facility, and the smell of burning corpses lingered.
Written, hosted, and produced by Micheal Whelan
Published on November 28th, 2018
Other original music created and composed by Ailsa Traves and Monty Buckles