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A modern horror story told in graphic detail. Morris's meticulous documentation traces prison corruption . . . proving the tragedy could have been avoided. I recommend this book without reservation.--Jack Anderson A modern horror story told in graphic detail. Morris's meticulous documentation traces prison corruption . . . proving the tragedy could have been avoided. I recommend this book without reservation.--Jack Anderson


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A modern horror story told in graphic detail. Morris's meticulous documentation traces prison corruption . . . proving the tragedy could have been avoided. I recommend this book without reservation.--Jack Anderson A modern horror story told in graphic detail. Morris's meticulous documentation traces prison corruption . . . proving the tragedy could have been avoided. I recommend this book without reservation.--Jack Anderson

30 review for The Devil's Butcher Shop: The New Mexico Prison Uprising

  1. 5 out of 5

    Szplug

    The saying goes that Truth is stranger than fiction: after reading Roger Morris' horrifying account of the two days of living hell that was the riot at the Penitentiary of New Mexico in Santa Fe in February, 1980, one might append that to include crueler than fiction, too. Notwithstanding that Morris occasionally leans towards the bromides of sensationalistic journalism, I cannot recall the last time a work of non-fiction proved so viscerally unsettling in its unfolding, so taut with appalling t The saying goes that Truth is stranger than fiction: after reading Roger Morris' horrifying account of the two days of living hell that was the riot at the Penitentiary of New Mexico in Santa Fe in February, 1980, one might append that to include crueler than fiction, too. Notwithstanding that Morris occasionally leans towards the bromides of sensationalistic journalism, I cannot recall the last time a work of non-fiction proved so viscerally unsettling in its unfolding, so taut with appalling tension and nerve-shredding anticipation. When the self-formed execution squad element of the rioting prisoners were patiently wielding fortuitously-found blowtorches to cut through the bars of the individual cells in a Block 4 which housed, among vulnerable others, the copious array of informants—both real and those who were falsely labeled as such in order to impose some manner of institutional punishment or coercion towards act and/or accusation—through which the prison administration made maximal use of its divide and conquer strategy—all the while taunting the terrified victims trapped inside with the brutally vicious tortures that shortly awaited them—this reader's balls had literally withdrawn into full interior cavity retreat. In light of the human-derived horrors I've ingested over the course of a long reading life, I suppose that's saying something. It may be the result of how Morris details the presence of state forces outside the rioting prison unavailable (and perhaps unwilling) to make direct moves against the inmates and their trump card, the captured guards, together with the dreadful reality for the doomed prisoners that there existed nowhere they could run to—they simply had to await their grisly, awful fate with a mounting terror that can be tangibly sensed filling their very lungs, overwhelming their senses, and freezing their souls. Morris uncovers a despairingly extensive (and predictable) array of corruption at the state and local level in describing a prison system that, due to changes in both operating budget and ideology (ofttimes combined to ruinous effect), had rendered what was once a well-run and relatively peaceable penal facility into a hotbed of sullen and paranoid prisoners, over-housed and racially-divided—particularly since the changes of the sixties, in which the so-called black and brown element vastly increased, heightening tensions across the board even as Spanish competed with English in the cells and dormitories—and stripped of incentives like educational programs on the one side, and an under-staffed, dispirited, and fearful crew of guards on the other. Indeed, when you've a scenario where prisoners are openly consuming liquor, housed seventy-plus to an aging, space-challenged dorm, it's little wonder that the guards proved ever more reluctant to venture into such umbral revelries, lending the violent, alpha prisoners a growing sense of power in an environment that otherwise endeavored to leech all traces of it and which led towards the drinking party which sparked the carnage. In Morris' estimation, the riot was both fully foreseeable and preventable, and he takes great pains to lay out his case—combined with the terrible coincidence of having a prison in the midst of upgrades by construction crews, the entirety takes on an air of mismanaged inevitability. Yet such bureaucratic and political grievances tend, in the face of what ensued, to be relegated as a background irritant. Rather, what ultimately stuck with me from this gripping book was the sheer purity of human evil, unmitigated by the slightest trace of compassion, or fellow-feeling, the merest twinge of tweaked conscience, displayed by those who gleefully set out to savagely torture a select number of Cellblock 4's inmates to death (and their methodology is nauseatingly related). At a certain point, under certain circumstances, man descends to the level of naught but a cunning animal capable of displaying a refinement to his cruelty that no mere demon could ever hope to match;and proximity often appears but to spark our bestial capacity to higher degrees of sadistically creative violence, fueled as it is by perceived wrongs, however ephemeral their reality. Of course, this is hardly news regarding the human condition—but for some insufflating reason, this particular instantiation of that truism unnerved with pointed effect. Riveting and disturbing in equal measure, Morris' laudable but loathsome work still weighs uneasily upon my mind and sits uncomfortably within the pit of my stomach; perhaps to become, in time, one of those handful of books that scar the reader for life.

  2. 4 out of 5

    James

    A first-rate account of a tragedy that should never have taken place. The 1980 riot in the Penitentiary of New Mexico in Santa Fe was the natural consequence of a long history of substandard living conditions, overcrowding, a culture of brutality among both inmates and staff, and lousy security. Reading this at a time when I was working in that same New Mexico prison system as a psychotherapist, it was depressing and disquieting to look around and realize how little the administrators of the sys A first-rate account of a tragedy that should never have taken place. The 1980 riot in the Penitentiary of New Mexico in Santa Fe was the natural consequence of a long history of substandard living conditions, overcrowding, a culture of brutality among both inmates and staff, and lousy security. Reading this at a time when I was working in that same New Mexico prison system as a psychotherapist, it was depressing and disquieting to look around and realize how little the administrators of the system had really learned from the riot - I'd be surprised if something like this didn't happen again within the next decade. Anyone who talks nonsense about inmates being pampered should read this. Then they should reflect a while on the fact that most inmates do leave prison and return to society and ask themselves whether this is really the kind of conditioning they want their future neighbors to be undergoing.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Josephus FromPlacitas

    Morris shows off the knife-edge writing style that seems to belong to a long-gone era of long-form magazine writing, back when literary heroics bounced off the pages of great glossy periodicals. That dramatic journalistic sensibility thrills the reader, but there's a certain slide into easy racism of Anglo cultural supremacist mental habit that I wonder if it would have been so in vogue after, say, the mid-1990s. Would Morris still have been so comfortable describing the Hispano history of the s Morris shows off the knife-edge writing style that seems to belong to a long-gone era of long-form magazine writing, back when literary heroics bounced off the pages of great glossy periodicals. That dramatic journalistic sensibility thrills the reader, but there's a certain slide into easy racism of Anglo cultural supremacist mental habit that I wonder if it would have been so in vogue after, say, the mid-1990s. Would Morris still have been so comfortable describing the Hispano history of the state as something that was "indolent," "languid," or "inbred" if it hadn't still been the 1980s. Or his line about the "Black and brown 1960s" making the prison of the 1970s ungovernable? XXXXXXXXXXX But melodramatic writing and painting seems to be the only way to begin to accurately describe the landscape and history of this incredible land and its many peoples. XXXXXXXXXXXXX From the endnote for page 106 (p 244): "The [Ortega] brothers may well have been victims of long-standing Las Vegas-Carlsbad gang warfare triggered by the riot." Murderous warfare between Las Vegas and Carlsbad -- just think of the horrible, insane logic of that. You almost couldn't name two more geographically distant cities in a geographically massive state. Yet the Santa Fe Pen crammed the angriest men of those two towns together in a hellhole, generating murder where there never even would have been contact otherwise. At least things like the Lincoln County War of Billy the Kid days occurred in a single county. Here we have 250 miles of back roads turned into a highway of blood. There's almost something more horrible to think about: that in the period since Attica and Santa Fe, there don't seem to have been the same riots, even though prison populations have grown geometrically. There's something almost quaint about how Morris, in his 1988 epilogue (five years after the first printing of the book) bemoans the exploding prison population nationwide, which has reached the obscene number of 400,000, a number so huge that it is exceeded only by the fascist apartheid state of South Africa. And we're creeping up on, what, two and a half million, three million today? The slow motion disaster of our permanent incarceration hyper-mania seems eternal a quarter century later. He also lampoons then-Governor Garrey Carruthers for suggesting "privatization" as a solution for state prison problems, which Morris says no corrections expert takes seriously. By now we should know experts refusing to endorse things is no indication that they won't be implemented on a massive scale.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Nan Silvernail

    I am disgusted. Not so much by the horrible atrocities described that were done that awful, cold, full moon night in February, 1980 by the inmates. Those I expected to read about. The fear of uncovering those inhuman acts has kept me from reading this book for over a decade. But, I found myself much more disgusted by the actions and in-actions of the administration and some guards. Corruption rooted long and deep in the soil of New Mexican politics is brought to light and the vine reaches all the I am disgusted. Not so much by the horrible atrocities described that were done that awful, cold, full moon night in February, 1980 by the inmates. Those I expected to read about. The fear of uncovering those inhuman acts has kept me from reading this book for over a decade. But, I found myself much more disgusted by the actions and in-actions of the administration and some guards. Corruption rooted long and deep in the soil of New Mexican politics is brought to light and the vine reaches all the way in to the Governor's office. Even if one assumes that Mr. Morris is grinding axes here, the stench is still overwhelming. Not all the players are total saints or sinners. Perhaps the riot could have been avoided and perhaps it could not. Overcrowding seems to be the main reason, but there are many other causes. I won't spoil the author's points. I invite and encourage you to read the book yourself, knowing it was probably the most challenging and difficult read of this year for me. I certainly do not know what the answer to the prison system in America is. But I now know much more about the causes of the riot and I do know that part of the answer is that we all must not just lock the doors, throw away the keys and turn our backs on what goes on in our prisons or it may all happen again and again and again. Now, a correction: The Anthropologists did not just find a couple cigar boxes of bone fragments to analyze. For a complete description of their actions read "Bone Voyage" by Stanley Rhine, Phd. (which I reviewed earlier. His actions in this case and the fact that he was one of my professors at UNM are the reasons why I wanted to read this book). I also sure do wish Mr. Morris had used a more traditional numbered footnote system. It would have made his citing clearer.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jenny

    This book is pretty messed up. It contains graphic descriptions of murder, mutilation, and sexual assault. But it is one of the most important books I've ever read. Locking people up and throwing away the key, to borrow a phrase from a previous review, is never the answer. See: Attica, Alcatraz, Fremantle, Strangeways, San Quentin, Ciudad Juarez, Apodaca, and most recently in a facility holding illegal immigrants in Mississippi. It will keep happening, as sure as the sun will continue to rise an This book is pretty messed up. It contains graphic descriptions of murder, mutilation, and sexual assault. But it is one of the most important books I've ever read. Locking people up and throwing away the key, to borrow a phrase from a previous review, is never the answer. See: Attica, Alcatraz, Fremantle, Strangeways, San Quentin, Ciudad Juarez, Apodaca, and most recently in a facility holding illegal immigrants in Mississippi. It will keep happening, as sure as the sun will continue to rise and set, when we treat people like animals, pit them against each other for our own sadistic pleasure, and deny them their basic human rights.

  6. 4 out of 5

    David Stacks

    David rated it: The tragedy of this incident is laid out clearly by multi-layered descriptions. From political/family cronyism within the system, poor correctional leadership, non-existant and less than couragous state leadership and funding support to extremely risky correctional practices. The book is certainly graphic and awakening to anyone knowing nothing about prison operations and should be a reminder to those who work in the profession of corrections the likely outcome of short and long David rated it: The tragedy of this incident is laid out clearly by multi-layered descriptions. From political/family cronyism within the system, poor correctional leadership, non-existant and less than couragous state leadership and funding support to extremely risky correctional practices. The book is certainly graphic and awakening to anyone knowing nothing about prison operations and should be a reminder to those who work in the profession of corrections the likely outcome of short and long term complacency.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Angel Garlinger

    This was a good book about the New Mexico State Pen riot in 1980. The beginning is kind of boring and drags a little but keep reading it's worth it! It gets good. This was a good book about the New Mexico State Pen riot in 1980. The beginning is kind of boring and drags a little but keep reading it's worth it! It gets good.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Joseph Hirsch

    A few years ago I saw a documentary about the New Mexico Prison Riot, an unbelievably violent and terrifying incident that still holds the dubious distinction of the highest death toll in the history of American prison riots. The manner in which men were killed-with acetylene torches, burnt to cinders- in addition to the incompetence and corruption of a large part of the prison administration- makes the whole affair not just terrifying, but enraging. You don't have to be a lawyer with the ACLU ( A few years ago I saw a documentary about the New Mexico Prison Riot, an unbelievably violent and terrifying incident that still holds the dubious distinction of the highest death toll in the history of American prison riots. The manner in which men were killed-with acetylene torches, burnt to cinders- in addition to the incompetence and corruption of a large part of the prison administration- makes the whole affair not just terrifying, but enraging. You don't have to be a lawyer with the ACLU (or even anywhere on the left end of the political spectrum) to realize that the-powers-that-be in New Mexico did everything they could to make this riot happen, whether consciously or not. Author Roger Morris has an even-keeled prose style reminiscent of old newspapermen, mostly relating facts and occasionally flexing descriptive muscles here and there to describe the New Mexican countryside and the strange, haunted quality which predominated in the Penitentiary in the run-up to the riot, and which continues to linger over the place like a bad smell. The heart of the book of course is the description of the riot which claimed (at least) thirty-three lives, and whose horrors are cataloged in a matter-of-fact, straightforward way that makes it all the more terrifying. The scenes described in the prison after the "hardest of the hardcore" had taken control, was part Bacchanal (with homemade wine and prison pharmacy stores raided and mass sodomy the order of the day), part primordial set-piece battle in which decapitation and castration were done with no hesitation. The story is interleaved with chapters on state politics and various corrupt networks of patronage, graft, and nepotism operated between law enforcement and various contractors. Herr Morris describes how a minority of lighter-skinned Spanish descendants served as the junior partner with Anglos in a postcolonial experiment, grounded in a prison-industrial complex where the penitentiary labor was exploited illegally for everything from free haircuts to cut-rate furniture from the prison industries shops. While shining light on the corruption that helped fuel the rage of the prisoners and underpaid guards, I found it would have been best to either front-load this information or mention it after the siege and its aftermath had been described, since these chapters, while enlightening, tended to take one out of the story. The author also unnecessarily editorializes a couple times too many, which, considering the stark and verifiable corruption he exposes, seemed like a bit of overkill. These are minor quibbles, though. The book is solid, and I recommend it to anyone who is studying criminology, or to the layman who wants to remind themselves of the limitless capacity for evil (and good) inherent in Man when it comes to his dealings with his fellow-man. No photos are included, thank God.

  9. 4 out of 5

    sara

    Horrific but compelling historic read. It was like reading a true story horror film. Many lessons of leadership failure, combined with those of frightening ways human nature can unravel into chaos. At times it was hard to follow, but I think this is is because of the chaotic unfolding, limited outside witnesses and inside testimony to what went on. Although this event went on in New Mexico in 1980, it could happen anywhere and not only in the penal system.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Erin

    How can I rate a book that details so much horror and raises concerns that we still have not changed?

  11. 4 out of 5

    Betsy Ross

    This books reads like a horror story, and the most terrifying part is that the events are true. The New Mexico prison riot in the 1980s was one of the largest massacres in prison history. Morris describes the tension, anger, and mistrust building up in the months and years before the riot. Prison conditions were poor, cells were overcrowded, the food was making prisoners sick, and illnesses such as mental health problems and addictions were poorly managed. Inmates suffered from dysentery and oth This books reads like a horror story, and the most terrifying part is that the events are true. The New Mexico prison riot in the 1980s was one of the largest massacres in prison history. Morris describes the tension, anger, and mistrust building up in the months and years before the riot. Prison conditions were poor, cells were overcrowded, the food was making prisoners sick, and illnesses such as mental health problems and addictions were poorly managed. Inmates suffered from dysentery and other diseases and the prisoners had limited access to adequate medical care. Staffing was inadequate and prison guards were under-educated and poorly trained for the importance of their positions. Moreover, nepotism ran rampant so that many prison employees advanced through the ranks with minimal skills or qualifications thanks to friends and family members in the system. Gang violence was prevalent and guards contributed to this by labeling individual prisoners as snitches when they were unable to pay bribes to the guards, thereby making them targets for gangs of prisoners. The State Penitentiary was rich with racism, violence, manipulation, and widespread violations of civil rights. A 1977 mediation (Duran versus King) regarding prison conditions was pending, but the concerns of the prisoners were largely ignored. Dwight Duran was serving a term when a friend of his going through heroin withdrawal was very severely mistreated in prison, dying a short time later. Duran put together a legal brief regarding the matter, but his report was ignored by the justice department. Prisoners died of heart attacks, end stage lung cancer, mental health issues, and other maladies that were poorly managed. "By the mid-seventies the New Mexico penitentiary was a physical as well as a psychological horror. Rats and roaches infested the building. Poor ventilation made it stifling by summer. Inadequate heating left the cellblocks sickly chill in winter. Drinking and wastewater systems were cross-connected, spewing sewage into sinks. Food practices were primitive and unsanitary with rodent feces openly visible in the kitchen and often in the food. Intestinal diseases were pandemic. Inmates used what passed as mashed potatoes to paste posters to the walls, where the potatoes congealed and hardened. With exposed and frayed wiring everywhere, successive fire marshals' reports warned of potential Holocaust." The tensions continued to build until a cold February night in 1980 when prisoners seized the penitentiary overnight, attacking prison guards and other prisoners, and committing atrocious crimes. The murders that night were especially cruel in nature - burning, beatings, carbon monoxide positioning, decapitation, and rape. "Execution is by ax and rope, electric drill, and torch and sander." The mentally ill were attacked. Dozens of families lost their sons and brothers than night. Morris describes the sequence of events and the rampant bloodshed that occurred. "There's a lot of people that did a lot of things in that whole riot that didn't make any sense," an inmate testifies to the post-riot inquiry. "Good people were killed and people that didn't have a meaning to be killed were killed. That's what the waste is." The death toll remained unknown because of inconsistencies, failure to identify correctly those alive and those dead, miscommunication, poor records of who was even in the prison that night, and other blunders. It was hours before police forces made their way to the prison, and even longer until the situation became controlled. In the aftermath, the criminals for the most part got away with the crimes they committed during the uprising. During the trials there were plea bargains, shortened sentences, retrials, and a hung jury. "Three years after the carnage the conclusion seemed inescapable: in stark legal terms of proof and punishment, many if not most of the men who rampaged, raped, tortured, murdered, and mutilated at the Santa Fe riot got away with it." In the end, only two convictions were made out of over 33 murders. This story hit home for me because I live just a few miles away from where it all happened 30+ years ago. I don't know what's more shocking, the blatant disregard and ignorance of the obvious foreshadowing leading up to the riots, or the lack of any meaningful change in the corruption after the fact. Morris paints a vivid picture of the horrifying events that occurred at the prison and his writing, while dense and detailed at times, is captivating.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jerry Smith

    It is interesting to me how non-fiction style has changed over the years. The more recent examples of the genre seem to tell a story much more effectively than those from previous decades. It is hard to put my finger on when this occurred (it is probably just my impression) but I think it was from the 90s onwards. Prior to that, and this isn't universally true, accounts tended to be much more "matter of fact" based and whilst still interesting, fail to engage in the same way. More modern narrati It is interesting to me how non-fiction style has changed over the years. The more recent examples of the genre seem to tell a story much more effectively than those from previous decades. It is hard to put my finger on when this occurred (it is probably just my impression) but I think it was from the 90s onwards. Prior to that, and this isn't universally true, accounts tended to be much more "matter of fact" based and whilst still interesting, fail to engage in the same way. More modern narratives have more in the way of context, personalities etc. rather than a retelling of bald facts. This is true of this book in my opinion. It is probably the definitive work on the horrendous prison riot in the New Mexico Penitentiary prison riot in 1980 about which I knew a little. This book effectively outlines the conditions that led to the uprising, the generally atrocious security and prison conditions and then proceeds to tell of the shocking acts of violence that resulted from the uprising. It is a straightforward account that, as I say, seemed to lack engagement for me. I am not sure I am a whole lot the wiser for reading it, but that is probably unfair as I was already very familiar with the facts. I guess I was looking for even more context and outcomes than I got from this account of those dreadful days in 1980.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Cox

    This whole story is crazy and entertaining, but the writing is really terrible, there are too many names/players to remember or go back and reference, and I understand that's because there were so many players, but I think that a proper formatting of the book along with better sentence and paragraph structures in general would make the book way better. Because I want to know how it ends, maybe some day I'll actually finish reading the book, but it read extremely slow and boring despite such a fi This whole story is crazy and entertaining, but the writing is really terrible, there are too many names/players to remember or go back and reference, and I understand that's because there were so many players, but I think that a proper formatting of the book along with better sentence and paragraph structures in general would make the book way better. Because I want to know how it ends, maybe some day I'll actually finish reading the book, but it read extremely slow and boring despite such a fiery topic to cover. If a documentary were to come out about this I'd definitely watch it because the topic and content is actually very complex and interesting.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Nick Black

    Amazon 2009-04-12. Discovered while researching murder via immolation; looks interesting. -=- Pretty interesting up through the halfway point, from whence Mr. Morris restricts himself to a (detailed and well-documented but just... so... boring) analysis of smalltown New Mexico politics and corruption. More depressing than didactic, I look forward to using an idea or two in my Great American Novel one day, but otherwise could have made it without reading this.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Tyler Mccormick

    The book is a good intro into understanding the reasons behind the worst riot in US history and the lenses sons learned. The guy seems pretty adamant to throw blame at people, and it sometimes gets a little too "hate on these guys" and it takes away from the tragedy. But if you want to learn about these events in NM history, this book is definitely worth the read. The book is a good intro into understanding the reasons behind the worst riot in US history and the lenses sons learned. The guy seems pretty adamant to throw blame at people, and it sometimes gets a little too "hate on these guys" and it takes away from the tragedy. But if you want to learn about these events in NM history, this book is definitely worth the read.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Erin Collins

    This book was educational and disturbing pertaining to the corruption within the prison system and evil treatment people are capable of toward their fellow inmates and human beings.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

    This was an interesting read but a little too dry. I found the original reports from the investigation more straightforward. An interesting read though, if you enjoy the topic.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jason Pastor

    absolutely chilling. Makes for fascinating but appalling reading

  19. 4 out of 5

    Monica Contreras

    cant figure out how to read it

  20. 5 out of 5

    OTIS

  21. 5 out of 5

    Thalan

  22. 5 out of 5

    Joe Rael

  23. 4 out of 5

    Nicole

  24. 4 out of 5

    Shawn

  25. 5 out of 5

    Gus Leyva

  26. 5 out of 5

    Erik Surewaard

  27. 4 out of 5

    Frank Oswald

  28. 4 out of 5

    Linda_CA

  29. 5 out of 5

    Isabel Fernandez

  30. 5 out of 5

    Mitch

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