September 1, 2009

Texas Prison Museum - Huntsville, TX

Texas is very proud of its prison system. I mean really proud. They're proud to the point it is a little bit creepy and terrifying. That is why they have built an entire museum dedicated to the history, development and prominence of their prisons. If you have ever thought about committing a crime in Texas, I encourage you to visit this museum. You'll rethink that plan pretty quickly.

Our introduction to the museum was a twenty minute video about the history of the prison system in Texas. It reassured us on two points. First, prisons were not as barbaric as they had been in the past. And second, Texas does not have "country club prisons." Again, I became sure I never want to go to prison in Texas.

The exhibits that followed focused primarily on objects made and works done by prisoners. There was an entire display of contraband and items such as toothbrushes that had been made into deadly weapons. There were also crafts made by inmates including board games such as a prison version of Monopoly and "Parole Pals." Parole Pals are dolls, very much like the Cabbage Patch baby dolls I had when I was a little girl, that were made by death row inmates and sold by the prison. I'm not sure what twisted parent gave a Parole Pal to their child on Christmas morning, but thankfully they are not made or sold anymore.

There was also a significant portion of the museum dedicated to Texas' death penalty. As Ron White said, "In Texas, we have the death penalty and we use it!" You can see Ol' Sparky, the real electric chair where many Texas criminals were put to death. Now, I'm not going to get into an argument on whether or not the death penalty is a good thing. That's not what this blog is about. But I will say, it was very disturbing. There was an art exhibit about the death penalty including photographs and final statements of those who had been put to death along with statements and photographs of surviving victims who had seen their tormentor put to death. I was not so much sickened by the electric chair though as I was my the labeled syringes that had been used to put a man to death by lethal injection. There is one small display about the anti-death penalty movement but little in the way of information. It is mostly just some pictures and a protest sign.

I was more interested in the twisted historical facts, such as those about Bonnie and Clyde. They aided an escape from a Texas prison and Clyde had spent some time enjoying the hospitality of a Texas penitentiary. But not all the facts are in order. For example, there is a gun on display that was supposedly used in Bonnie and Clyde's last stand against the police. But researchers found the gun wasn't manufactured until after their death. So where's the real gun? Who knows. The one thing I am sure of - I don't want to go to prison in Texas.

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Soundtrack: Country radio!


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