Huntsville Inmates Bury Fellow Convicts

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Behind Sam Houston State University in Huntsville lies thousands of head stones, but this isn't an ordinary cemetery.

"You will face this fate," said Chaplain David Collier as he began the first funeral service. "Are you ready?"

Each grave is the final resting place of inmates who died while serving their prison sentence at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice unit in Huntsville. Down the hill of Joe Byrd Cemetery, or Peckerwood Hill, nearly a dozen men in matching uniforms stand in front of an open grave while Chaplain David Collier gives final words about a former convict.

"There's nothing that you can say or I can say that will change his destiny," Collier said.

Guards closely watch the men as they pay respect to a man none of them knew. To Damon Gibson, also known as Inmate No. 1561397, the Thursday funeral services are constant reminder that sometimes, the only way out of prison is in a casket.

"There is a great amount of respect to do with a death and now it's heavily on your mind and you just don't want this to be you," Gibson said.

Since the 1850s, the cemetery has been the final place of peace for over 2,100 convicts. Gibson is one if the inmates who takes care of the nation's largest cemetery. He doesn't want to die as his inmate number, which is how his headstone would identify him.

"It leaves a resounding image of what my future could be," Gibson said.

Warden James Jones says on average they bury about 100 inmates every year. So far this year, over 50 inmates have been laid to rest.

"They've been in prison for so long and their families either passed away themselves, or they don't have the funds to bury them, so that's why we have to take the responsibility of doing it here," Jones said.

All of the burials over the years are adding up fast and it won't be long before they run out of room here on Peckerwood Hill. Once they run out of room, deceased inmates will have to be buried at a different location.

It's an ominous feeling knowing that one day the cemetery will be full of the decaying bodies of criminals, some of whom left an evil legacy, but to the warden, all deserve final respects.

"They are still human beings and we just try to treat them with respect and give them a proper burial," Jones said.

The Captain Joe Byrd Cemetery is a public monument. The cemetery receives nearly 30,000 visitors every year.