Saturday, March 15, 2014

'Laid to rest in Huntsville'

The Texas Observer has a lengthy article by Robyn Ross on inmate funerals at the prison cemetery in Huntsville with the same title as this post. Here's a notable excerpt, but the whole thing is worth a read:
Of the roughly 450 inmates who die in Texas prisons each year, about 100 are laid to rest in Captain Joe Byrd Cemetery. Whether they die in one of the state’s 109 prison units, at the TDCJ hospital in Galveston, or at the prison system’s hospice facility near Palestine, the inmate’s family has the option to claim the body and make funeral arrangements of their choice. When family members can’t be located, or when they decline to claim the body, the state picks up the tab for the funeral and buries the body in TDCJ’s Byrd Cemetery.

The most common reason families don’t claim the body is that they can’t afford to, Chaplain Collier says. Some, like the family that attended today’s visitation at Grace Baptist Church, will decline to claim the body but then attend services in Huntsville. Prison funerals are generally held on Thursdays, unless the deceased has been executed, in which case the burial is often performed the following day; the accelerated schedule saves families who come to witness the execution from having to make a second trip to Huntsville. A typical Thursday may have one or two funerals. Collier says he’s done as many as nine in one day.

He estimates that 60 percent of the services he performs are directs. Sometimes next of kin can’t be located. Other families can’t afford to travel to Huntsville. “You’ve got some that may be in Amarillo, and to come down here is too much,” Collier says. “And I buried one last week that was 80-something years of age, and he probably outlived most of his family.”

If no family or friends attend, the inmates of the cemetery grounds crew stand witness in their stead. These “offenders,” as TDCJ calls them, typically don’t know the deceased, unless the person died at the Walls Unit.

“It’s humbling,” says Lawerence Lacour, 26, who digs graves and serves as a pallbearer. He’s done other manual labor in the four years he’s served on a drug-related sentence, but this is different. “Especially as a Christian, in this situation I think that I could myself die, because tomorrow’s not promised to anybody.”


Anonymous said...

Rest in Peace fellow humans (despite the fact that you may or may have not received a fair and unbiased justice).

Before you raise your head from a moment of silence or prayer for the departed, please consider a prayer for the rest of the captive audience. It doesn't matter how long one is sentenced for a crime one is guilty of or not guilty of committing, every single unit (including jail cells) are built in rows, making them all virtual Death Rows.

Anonymous said...

Collier says. “And I buried one last week that was 80-something years of age, and he probably outlived most of his family.”

Really... Why does the state keep old guys like this. Inmates over 50 years old have less than a 2% chance of violating again and almost 0% after the age of 65. We need to keep prison beds for real criminals. 65% of inmates in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice over the age of 50 are in prison for non-violent crimes. The parole board is wasting valuable money by keeping these guys locked up. They should base parole on the Iikelihood to reoffend.

Anonymous said...

Have you ever heard of a dirty old man? Well that's what a lot of the older offenders are there for. Molesting kids. There is a place for everybody.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I think, unless it's Life w/out Parole, after an Offender reaches 55, they need to come up for Parole, esp if they have life threatening health issues. Reading the statistics, the younger one's are the MOST likely to re-offend and re-offend and re-offend... I'm not saying they ALL need to be let loose but if they've been in for 20 yrs w/ zero offenses while in prison, they deserve to be considered for parole when 55 yrs old (Senior discount, if you will.)

sunray's wench said...

Anon 4.16 ~ your evidence for that statement is? No one is suggesting that those likely to reoffend be released early (and in any case they would still be out on parole, which is so full of possible revocation clauses, the chances that they will be back in prison within a year is high).

Let's drop the reliance on "violent offences" too please. If someone is shown to be violent while in prison, fine keep them there. But many who commit a violent offence do so as a one-off incident and display no violent behaviour at all while in prison.

Senior parole at 55 is a sensible option if they have not had any major cases.

Anonymous said...

What's worse is the money the state is wasting on people who should be out on medical parole. They are too ill to reoffend, but we are spending an incredible amount of money to keep them incarcerated while on chemo, etc. Medicaid would be so much cheaper!

Anonymous said...

I went there last summer on a whim to take pictures. These people were someone's babies. It was incredible and heart breaking both at the same time when I came home and looked up the people who's Graves I took pictures of. God bless them all. No matter what they did.