491 SH 75 North
Huntsville, Texas 77320
Since 1849 Huntsville has been the home of thousands of Texas prisoners.
With its 163 years of history, the walls of Huntsville have some incredible stories to tell. And you can find them at the the Texas Prison Museum.
"We're pretty popular," joked volunteer Jerry McGinty.
The museum is dedicated to the history of the prison system in Huntsville, the people that served time there, and the folks behind the badge.
"I think the prison system is intriguing to most people because it's a little part of our society that people don't know anything about. Unless they've been sentenced there or work there," said Jim Willett.
Willett is the director of the museum which gives visitors a look at life behind bars.
And that's something visitor Ira Strange knows all about.
"I was convicted for drugs back in 1971 and I did a sentence of 12 months and 12 days," said Strange.
Strange got scared straight during his time in jail and wanted to see how it's progressed over the 40 years since he heard those bars close behind him.
"I told my wife, I just want to go and see some of the historical events that happened before I got incarcerated and afterward. I just wanted to see how far along it had come from the beginning to now," said Strange.
You'll find confiscated shanks made of anything imaginable, wooden guns used in an escape attempt, and even pieces of art constructed by inmates. Chess pieces made of soap, a rose bouquet made of toilet paper, and even a purse made from cigarette packages show some of their incredible talent.
But that's not the main reason people come to the museum.
"Where's old sparky," is a visitor's first question according to McGinty.
"Most people come here wanting to see the electric chair," said Willett.
"Now I can't tell you why people are fascinated by that but they are," said McGinty.
The chair that took the lives of 361 men from 1924 to 1964 sits alone in the museum. Presented without commentary.
"The thing we've tried to do and I think we've done a good job of it is we stay right in the middle. We don't try to show that it's good or it's bad, we just lay the thing out there and let people look at it," said Willett.
"It's a fascinating subject," said visitor Terry Childs.
Childs is visiting from Kenya and hearing about the prisoner rodeo was his biggest surprise, but learning about prison life is something he thinks everyone needs to know about.
"It helps you understand a bit of society which people would probably prefer to forget if they could," said Childs.
Ira wasn't forgotten, he was rehabilitated and now works with a prison ministry. Being a former prisoner, he thinks the museum is a place everyone should serve a few hours at in order to prevent from doing some hard time.
"Seeing is believing. I think a kid, it could help them a lot to detour them from going this route because it's really not worth it," said Strange.
Understanding our state's prison history is an arresting stop on our Brazos Valley Bucket List.
The Texas Prison Museum is open seven days a week and costs $4.00 for adults and $2.00 for kids. You can find more information on the Texas Prison Museum website which we've linked below.