Española man: Forgotten Guardsmen suffering effects of 1980 prison riot

National Guardsmen carry the body of a prison inmate from the main entrance of the New Mexico State Penitentiary on Feb. 3, 1980. More than 30 inmates were killed by prisoners during the 36-hour insurrection. Floyd Garcia of Española, then 20 years old, says he was one of the first Guardmen to arrive at the scene to remove bodies from the prison, and the experience has left him with PTSD. Associated Press file photo

Floyd Garcia held the horror inside for 30 years following the gruesome New Mexico State Penitentiary riot.

“And then the volcano erupted,” he said.

Garcia, an Española resident, was a member of the state National Guard in February 1980 when rioting prisoners took over and killed 33 of their fellow inmates. Garcia said his unit was one of the first to arrive on the scene when Gov. Bruce King called in the National Guard.

Being assigned to the duty of removing “dead, mutilated, burned” bodies from the prison — and having to wade through water in the building polluted with “raw sewage, blood and body parts” — left him with post-traumatic stress disorder, he said in an interview Tuesday.

Speaking about himself and other Guard members who responded to the riot, Garcia said he feels that the National Guard and the state have “left us out in the cold for the last 30 [plus] years.”

“We’re trying to get the state to take responsibility … for what was done to us,” he said. “We never got any counseling, briefing or debriefing after the riot. We served our community, our state, our country.”

Garcia said he has spoken with lawyers but has never filed a lawsuit against the state.

Capt. Brian Raphael, a spokesman for the National Guard, said Tuesday that the Guard is looking into the complaints of Garcia and others in an attempt to make sure they have documentation necessary to get workers’ compensation benefits.

Since 1980, there has been much written that documents the horrors of the riot, the inmates who were killed and the corrections officers who were taken hostage during the ordeal. But little has been written about the Guard troops or the police officers who had to go into the prison after the slaughter had ceased.

Garcia said he was 20 years old when the riot took place. His wife was expecting their first baby.

Because of his psychological condition, Garcia said, he never was able to work after leaving the Guard. “I suffered nightmares, flashbacks. It affected my relationship with my family, my social relationships. It hurt me. … I haven’t even been able to barbecue since the riot, because the smell brings me back to the smell of burning flesh at the riot.

“I held it all in for 30 years,” he said, before his inner “volcano” erupted.

In 2012, after about a week of sleepless nights — and watching his weight drop from about 177 pounds to 143 pounds — he said, “I knew I had to go to a doctor. Fortunately, my doctor referred me to the right people, and I got to see psychologists and psychiatrists.” During this time, he was diagnosed with PTSD.

“I’m stable now, but it’s never going to get better,” he said.

Garcia is luckier than other Guardsmen, he said. Some of his friends who were deployed during the prison riot later succumbed to drug and alcohol abuse. And some committed suicide.

Garcia said he has contacted many government officials in recent years. While some have expressed sympathy and promised to look into his situation, he’s mostly been frustrated with the efforts. “It took me two years to get the forms for workman’s comp,” he said.

He said he’s written a memoir about his struggles after the riot. “It’s called The Forgotten Ones. They sent us to do this job, and they forgot about us.”

Contact Steve Terrell at sterrell@sfnewmexican.com. Read his political blog at www.santafenewmexican.com/news/blogs/politics.

(9) comments

Prince Michael Jauregui

Firstly Mr. Garcia, to You and all those who stepped-up during this horrific
emergency, Thank-You and May God bless all of You.

Secondly. your excellent title, needs to be expanded.
"The Forgotten Ones: Latino-Americans".

Finally, so many have forgotten. Rather, so many have forgotten,
because they were TAUGHT to forget.
When the Spanish and Basque crews of The Nina, The Pinta, and
The Santa Maria -their descendents throughout the Rocky Mountains-
came to this New World, they brought to this Hemisphere. the most
precious, vital, and valuable treasure of all- The Spirit and Word of Almighty God!

When Don Juan de Onate celebrated the FIRST Thanksgiving on this
continent -seventy years before the Pligrims- near the banks of the Rio Grande,
he consecrated this New World, In The Name of The Father, The Son, and
The Holy Spirit.
Neither of this truly epic events, cannot be denied nor altered.
Love it? Hate it? Truth, is immutable.

So to Mr. Garcia, and the countless "Forgotten Ones", past and present,
I remind: Earthly "Powers-that-won't-be", have made great efforts to
marginalize and deny, your hard-work and sacrifices.
Yet, GOD sees EVERYTHING. A New Day, in The New World, comes!

James Wilson

I saw a television documentary about exactly what you are describing. It starred Charlie Brown and Snoopy.

David Romero

I wonder why the New Mexico State prison riot has never been featured on cable television like the Attica and Riker's Island riots?

Warren Farrell

Amazes me how people will join the military (guard in this case, less than 10 years after Vietnam war) and then complain, moan and cry that they were called to action and saw death. To claim that he could not work after the clean up of the riot and is just now, 34 years later, seeking compensation from the state is ludicrous. I am sure it will cost the state (taxpayers) millions. Better odds than the Lotto...
BTW, I am a veteran.

Prince Michael Jauregui

Mr. Farrell, thank-you for your service to our country.
As a second-generation Veteran, with a family, and extended family,
of veterans, I've seen the effects of that PTSD.

You -and I- were blessed not to experience that type
of thing. I've been to some VA Hospitals, and some of our
brothers and sisters, you can't see the injuries.
May God bless you and yours, brother.

Mark Ortiz

Yes Mr. Farrell, thanks for your service. I did not know about this part of your life and I subsribe to Entertainment magazine and Netflix. It seems though, since you've reached world wide popularity and financial wealth from your years on Saturday Night Live, hosting the Emmy's, The ESPYs, and the countless number of Iconic movies as Elf, Talladega Nights, Brothers, and Anchorman, you've been able to heal from the horrors you saw during your stint in the service. Congratulations to you for channeling your pain into comedy. Being one of your fans, I'd like to say, the world is a better place having your comedic genius in it. Apparently Floyd Garcia hasn't been as blessed and fortunate as yourself. We all have our demons and levels of tolerance. I fully support Mr. Garcia in his pursuit of getting help, compensation, and bringing attention to another group of humans who served their country and who's elected official and military turned their back on them.
Will there be a Talladega Night II? Sorry to hear about your friend and colleague Mr. Robin Williams.

Prince Michael Jauregui

Mr. Ordonez,
You had me going for a second, and you tied-it-up rather nicely
at the finish.
Actually, after your referred to Mr. -Will- Farrell's "Comedic Genius",
then I knew, there is no way that you were SERIOUS.

Warren Farrell

Haha...... I wouldn't recommend quitting your day job buddy.

Warren Farrell

Gentlemen... I have seen two people die before my very eyes, I know what it feels like, but it didn't drive me to fester over it. Perhaps it is because I lived with PTSD through my father. 66-68 he was a tunnel rat in Ku Chi; the height of terror for any young man.
When I joined the military I knew the risks. Again, perhaps due to the little I knew about my fathers experiences. I have experienced PTSD through some really messed up veterans that were always around while I was growing up. They worked, they lived; they drank, smoked and rode their hogs. In the end some sought help.

Maybe I am harsh on people like Garcia because I saw greater men live with it and continue on with life.
I shall digress with the understanding that we are all different.

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