If the 1971 rebellion at Attica typified the internal cohesion, strength, and political awareness of the U.S. prison movement in the late 60s and early 70s, the 1980 riot at the Penitentiary of New Mexico State (PNM) in Sante Fe epitomized the choked, unfocused rage a half decade offensive by authoritarian prison management engendered. At least thirty-three prisoners were killed by other prisoners in the 36-hour riot. Mike Rolland seems to have encountered nearly all of them.
Descent Into Madness is Rolland's first-person account of the riot. A convict of the classic type, throughout the tale Rolland is primarily concerned with the preservation of himself and the small group of whites and Latinos he runs with. But the group is also one of the few attempting some kind of leadership in the violent chaos. Together they protect and release wounded guards, are stalked by, then stalk, a serial killer, and attempt to negotiate a settlement and surrender with state authorities. The book is macabre and disturbing, and a very fast read.
Mark Colvin, a professor of sociology at George Mason University in
Fairfax, Virginia, and one of the official investigators into the causes
of the riot, contextualizes the violence that Rolland witnessed and partook in his introduction to Descent. The PNM administration ran the prison on a system in which prisoner informants were encouraged. Many prisoners who refused to reveal information about fellow prisoners were slapped with snitch jackets by guards. The result was a near total distrust and paranoia among prisoners. "Inmate solidarity had indeed
been eliminated by 1980," Colvin states. The product of this prisoner control strategy, seen through Rolland's eyes, are gruesome and horrific.
The continued significance of the PNM riot, as Rolland -- now confined in Oklahoma -- concludes, is that "The hate that permeated this prison was not unique.... The spark to light the madness is ahead for all these
To order a copy of Descent Into Madness, send $23.95 plus $4.00 S&H to: Anderson Publishing Co., 2035 Reading Rd., Cincinnati, OH 45202, or call
1 800 582-7295.
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