Wednesday, October 24, 2012


On September 11, 1998 the State of Texas inaugurated this phallic stone tower to celebrate 150 years of "corrections" in Texas.  The tower is actually an enormous fountain.  A steady stream of liquid slowly trickles down its surface, covering the entirety of the penile penal display in a mournful envelope of slime.  

The monument stands adjacent to the Texas Prison Museum where I spent the afternoon enjoying the  macabre penal delights only American jurisprudence and oversized Texan pride could possibly do justice.  If the shiv collection doesn't scare you straight (and how could it-- enlisted with such enticing proximity to a perpetually lubed phallus only yards away) at least you might hope to lose a stone or two.  The museum also plays host a local Weight Watchers chapter.

"Weight Watchers Meets Here"

A few of my favorites from the collection:

"Piddle" stump

When this black walnut tree was cut down at the nearby Ellis unit, an inmate asked prison officials if he could have the stump to "piddle on".  After receiving parole, he left the stump unfinished.  Eventually he violated his parole, retuned to Ellis and completed the resulting menagerie.   

"Born to Die" body armor

My ultimate favorite: paper body armor colorfully decorated with dragons and studded with a lethal array of real razor blades.  Though the armor unintentionally injured several officers during its confiscation, it was seized before it could be used as intended on other inmates by its incarcerated maker.

Bonnie and Clyde's pistol

A replica of the Walls unit in downtown Hunstville, site of the former Prison Rodeo stadium and the notorious Texas Death Row.

 "Death Row" 

Cell block locking mechanism

Prison tattoo identification chart

. . . From "Texas Mafia" to "Aryan Circle" 

Handmade "hand spikes"

Stainless steel shank

Handmade speaker

Handmade "food processor"

Gavel shiv

Sandle shiv

Handmade pipe shotgun

Wall of shanks

Customized body slicer

"The stinger", a handmade heating device found hidden in a roll of toilet paper.  Behind the stinger is the shoe of former inmate Charles Harrelson.  The shoe contains an intentionally hollowed-out compartment in the sole intended for contraband.  Charles is the father of actor Woody Harrelson (of Cheers fame).

Contraband Coke container

Handmade escape 

Bike used in the recent 2008 escape of inmate Michael McCumber

Handmade paper dumbbells

Toilet paper roses

Devotional soap art

Bizarre clock constructed by inmates

Old ball and chain

"Corrective" bat, used as a disciplinary device by prison officials until the 1940s

The many colorful folk costumes of the Texas Department of Corrections

Prison rodeo clown costume

Prison rodeo chariot  

Initiated in 1931, the Texas State Prison Rodeo had an impressive, albeit brief, lifespan.  Structural problems with the prison stadium forced officials to close the rodeo in 1986.  The state refused to allocate funds for its repair and the rodeo has never returned to Hunstville, despite frequent attempts to resuscitate the once famous state institution.  In 1975, the Rodeo received international acclaim when NASA invited Soviet cosmonauts training in Texas to attend the annual event.  

"Old Sparky"

According to a postcard in the museum giftshop, "Old Spark" operated from 1924  to 1964.  361 men died in the chair, five on the first night it was used.  Four sets of brothers died in the chair, each pair on the same night.  Double executions occurred 22 times.  Triple executions happened three times.  The oldest to die in the chair was 66, the youngest 17."

Presently, the preferred method of prisoner dispatch: lethal injection.  Prison officials inject the condemned with three compounds: Sodium thiopental (a short-action barbiturate which renders the prisoner unconscious), Pancuronium bromide (a muscle relaxant that causes sustained paralysis of the skeletal muscles, including the lungs and diaphragm), and Potassium chloride (a chemical with causes death by cardiac arrest).

The "Last Statements" on display of the 13 Texas prisoners condemned to death in 2011.  In addition to each prisoner's last statement and summary of their offense, artist Barbara Sloan includes a photograph of each victim.  Initially I assumed each photo represented the accused, not the victim.  How could Texas execute more women than men!?  . . . Sad on so many levels.

Souvenirs, including Solitary "ConfineMINTS" at the Museum gift shop.  

The actual Walls unit in downtown Hunstville, home of the Texas State Death Row.  

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