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New Mexico inmates to sell artwork at old prison that was site of deadly riot

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - The artwork of New Mexico inmates will go on sale at the site of one of the deadliest prison riots in the nation's history.

Beginning in May, tourists who visit the Old Main prison can buy the art that was created as part of a rehabilitation program, the New Mexico Corrections Department said.

It's just one of many offerings planned as the department transforms the now-closed prison near Santa Fe into a museum.

Last October, the Corrections Department opened the historic site for limited public tours. Officials plan to host a dozen or so tours this year.

Officials say the long-term project is still in its early stages, They said it will not seek taxpayer money and will instead rely on fees from visitors. Crews from the Penitentiary of New Mexico will help with repairs, and the museum could open within three to five years, official said. The final cost is not unclear.

Inmates from the penitentiary, located next to Old Main, would be involved in operating the museum that would include a restaurant and a place to get a haircut.

In February 1980, inmates at Old Main killed 33 fellow prisoners in a violent clash that included beheadings, amputations and burned bodies. The riot led to massive reforms within New Mexico's prison system.

"We know what caused the riot, and with your help, we can use Old Main to actually provide programming and opportunities that inmates in 1980 wanted," department spokesman Alex Tomlin wrote in a blog post promoting the Old Main Revitalization Project.

Officials said portions of the proceeds from sales of artworks and handcrafts will go to children of inmates, organizations that aid crime victims, and into inmate programs.

The planned museum follows a trend in "dark tourism" to transform the sites of tragic events and disasters. In New York City, the World Trade Center site saw an influx of visitors after the Sept. 11 attack and planners for the memorial site factored in that increased tourist traffic.

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Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras

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