40 years later: Former inmate reflects on infamous prison riot in Santa Fe | KOB 4

40 years later: Former inmate reflects on infamous prison riot in Santa Fe

Nathan O'Neal
Updated: February 12, 2020 10:20 PM
Created: February 12, 2020 05:21 PM

SANTA FE, N.M.- It was 36 hours of pure horror. Dozens of inmates were killed and more prison guards were held hostage and tortured.

February marks 40 years since the infamous riot at the New Mexico state prison in Santa Fe. It was one of the deadliest prison riots in the country’s history. The 1980 uprising started when a group of inmates overpowered corrections officers, taking them hostage and stealing their keys.


“Before you know it, the corridor started filling up – that’s how it went. They went from dormitory to dormitory,” said Ernest Becerra, who was an inmate at the time of the riot. He was only 20 years old when he was housed in the “Old Main” prison facility.

“There was a tension that you feel… that you could feel that something as not right,” said Becerra. “Learn something from it and keep learning – don’t forget that it happened because it can happen again… and that’s the sad truth.”

New Mexico Corrections Department Secretary Alisha Tafoya Lucero said the 1980 riot triggered reform in how the state trains its officers and how it treats its inmates.

“It’s about learning from our history – and it certainly is part of our history,” said Tafoya Lucero.

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