In 1956, the New Mexico Corrections Department opened the main, which was the only state prison at the time. It was built to hold 900 men. By the late 1970's the facility was overcrowded, underfunded and on a path disaster. On February 2, 1980, inmates attacked corrections officers during the overnight count. Within minutes inmates had taken control of several cell blocks, dormitories and most importantly the prison control center.
12 officers, some of which had only worked for NMCD for a matter of weeks, were held hostage. Some were brutally beaten, stabbed and sexually assaulted. Others were protected and escaped the violence with the help of sympathetic inmates. The officers weren't the only victims in the riot, which spanned 36 hours. Offenders, having access to the whole facility, found power tools left behind from an on-going construction project. They used those tools to mutilate torture and eventually murder 33 inmates.
Rioters set fire to the prison and flooded the facility. In the process, records and logs of who was housed at the main were burned and lost.
After 36 hours, inmates handed control of the facility to the National Guard, State Police and Corrections officials. Hundreds of inmates were suffering from injuries, had been sexually assaulted, or had overdosed on medication taken from the seized medical area on grounds.
Inmates were shipped all over the country after the riot while NMCD repaired and rebuilt. Old Main was opened again and did house inmates for another 18 years until its doors shut in 1998.
Since closing the facility has been used for training grounds and movie sets. Last year, during New Mexico's Centennial, the Governor directed each department to come up with a way to reflect on our history as a state. Secretary of Corrections David Jablonski decided to open Old Main for touring. Within approximately four days of announcing the once a month tours, the entire year was booked. Secretary Marcantel then directed the facility to host two tours a month; in approximately another four days that was full.
These tours allowed NMCD staff to give an historical account of what is still one of the country's most violent and brutal prison riots. It also allowed NMCD to explain what it's like to work in a prison and the programs we have to help offenders change their lives.
After the centennial tours ended, the Secretary gave a directive to have Old Main revitalized into a full time museum. The focus of the facility will now center on this phrase, "Respecting our past to create a better future".
There is currently a five year plan in place to revitalize the building in phases. Phase one includes beginning tours again, but this time charging visitors. The money earned from these tours will go back into the building to continue the revitalization project.
The NMCD has scheduled tours to begin this fall. We expect to have each tour better than the last and add new exhibits, features and sights as we move forward.
For more information please contact Sonia Suazo at 505.218.3262
If you are a member of the media and have questions about our department or its employees please contact the Public Affairs Director or Public Affairs Coordinator. Your inquiries are always welcome. All New Mexico Corrections Department employee interviews must be coordinated through the Public Affairs Office.