The Texas Prison Museum: A Milestone and Insight

Good to Know:

  • 361 people were executed on the electric chair, "Ol' Sparky".
  • Before "Ol' Sparky" did the job, executions were left to local sheriffs to hang the condemned.
  • Texas has been using lethal injection since the death penalty was reinstated in 1982.

HUNTSVILLE - The Texas Prison Museum in Huntsville has been operating for 25 years.

The impressive facility wasn't always such a sure thing.

"We didn't know if we'd ever raise enough money to build a building like this," said museum co-founder Robert Pierce.

Since then, the Texas Prison Museum has opened it's doors to thousands.

"It's such a central part of Texas history. It is part of our culture, whether it's the good things about the state or the bad things about the state. It deals with law and order. It deals with perceptions of reality. It deals with how lives are changed," Pierce said.

Museum Director Jim Willett is no outsider to prisons.

"The appearance to me was that a guy goes to sleep and while he's asleep, he passes away."

He oversaw 89 executions during his time as Warden of the Walls Unit in Huntsville.

"I'm never going to be out protesting on one side or the other."

Willett takes the middle ground on capital punishment.

"The place that we got the idea of executing someone was from God."

I asked Willett about the Oklahoma execution that went wrong last month.

"I know we've had over 500 lethal injections in Texas and we've never had that problem."

Whatever your opinion on the death penalty, the museum is a unique view into a large part of Texas History in a town that was supposed to the state capitol.

"The story goes that we prefer to have the inmates than the politicians here," Pierce said.

The museum is open Monday through Saturday, 10 to 5 and Noon to 5 on Sunday.

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