- Associated Press - Sunday, April 13, 2014

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - A former New Mexico prison guard was honored this week for saving the life of another state corrections officer nearly 34 years ago during one of the nation’s deadliest prison riots.

New Mexico Corrections Department Secretary Gregg Marcantel gave Louis C de Baca the Medal of Honor, the department’s highest award, on Tuesday during a ceremony in Albuquerque.

Marcantel described how C de Baca was outside the Penitentiary of New Mexico’s fence in February 1980 when he spotted inmates storming the control center, the Albuquerque Journal reported (https://bit.ly/1kD8Elf). According to Marcantel, C de Baca ran back in and got another guard out as inmates were breaking in.

“When we have those moments … when someone like Mr. C de Baca made the choices to subordinate his own health, his own life, safety for the sake of another human, I think that it’s important we honor those things,” Marcantel said.

C de Baca still remembers fleeing from the prisoners.

“As we exited, the prisoners were already in the control center hitting the switches,” C de Baca said. “As we were running out, they were throwing shanks at us.”

Inmates killed 33 fellow prisoners at the Santa Fe facility, known as “Old Main.” The violent clash included beheadings, amputations and burned bodies. The riot, which officials said was partially the result of overcrowding, led to extensive reforms within the state’s prison system.

C de Baca was among 14 former state corrections officers who were chosen for the Medal of Honor in January 2013. He initially declined to accept it or appear at any functions related to the prison.

“I just thought I was doing my job,” C de Baca said.

C de Baca also did not like the idea of the old penitentiary becoming a museum. However, he changed his mind about endorsing the museum and accepting the medal after speaking with department spokesman Alex Tomlin.

“We’re very proud that Mr. C de Baca came forward after knowing our whole goal is simply to educate people about what our officers and about the importance of programming and educating inmates while they’re with us,” Tomlin said.

Marcantel decided to recognize C de Baca this week in front of several prison wardens who were in the area for a conference, Tomlin said.

The state Department of Corrections is currently selling tickets for tours of the former prison for May through October. Tomlin said the money will go toward renovations to turn the property into a museum where people can see video testimonies from former guards and inmates.


Information from: Albuquerque Journal, https://www.abqjournal.com

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