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Huntsville Prison Museum


Every time we drive from- or to- Dallas, we pass the Huntsville Prison complex.  And the Prison Museum.  Thought it was high time for a visit, so we set aside a morning to do so. It was most interesting indeed.

The Texas State Penitentiary (nicknamed “the Walls” because of the brick walls) is located in Huntsville, Texas.  The prison is the oldest Texas prison, having been opened in 1849.  The unit houses the State of Texas execution chamber.  It is the most active in the US, with over 500 executions since 1982.  The average sentenced to die inmate spends 10 years on death row, waiting for appeals and the legal system.

Originally Huntsville Unit was only for white Texans; the only penalties available to black Texans were whipping and hanging. It is now integrated.  During the American Civil War, prisoners at Huntsville produced tents and uniforms for Confederate forces at the prison textile factory.

In 1974, the prison was the site of an 11 day siege. Three armed inmates held several hostages in the education department. On the final day, the inmates tried to escape using chalkboards and hostages as shields. Three inmates and one hostage were killed.

The prisoners have included some famous inmates, including known bad guys like Bonnie and Clyde, old west gunfighter John  Hardin, famous musicians, Indian war chiefs, and other felons convicted of a variety of crimes.  Viewing the prison museum gave good insights to the desperate lives of the inmates, and their ingenuity to get out.

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