For those of you that enjoy my upbeat, fun and picture-happy Field Trip Foto Friday entries… you won’t be that thrilled with the lack of images in this post. The one photo above is courtesy of the prison museum website (linked under the title of this post). You’ll find plenty of other pictures on their website and at the handy links below. I forgot the camera on this field trip, but I don’t feel that was a complete loss. I was able to really learn more on this field trip… rather than playing ‘Pack-Mule Photo-Nut’ as usual. This trip is highly recommended despite the sadness that you will most certainly feel after going. It is hard to bring me to a speechless state… but this little jaunt provided quite a few wordless minutes on the way home for reflection.
The Texas Prison Museum is about an hour and a half drive north of Houston in Huntsville, Texas (home to Sam Houston’s Steamboat House). We took this field trip during our study about Crime and Punishment in the early part of our school year during 2005-6. My children were 6 and 8. I think third grade would be the earliest age group I would take on a trip like this; however, elementary and junior-high kids are more impressionable… and understanding the gravity of crime and punishment is important for everyone. No matter what your views on government, criminals, ‘the system’ and what-have-you… it is good to get a grip on the history of our justice system. The Texas Prison Museum is a good place to gather a better understanding of prison history and life in prison. A few of their famous exhibits include: Bonnie & Clyde, Carla Fay Tucker, Old Sparky (the electric chair), contraband, and inmate artwork.
While in Huntsville (a lovely town with quite a few other highlights and field trip opportunities) we visited this museum and took a free driving tour of the prison (they hand out a brochure at the museum that guides you on this little drive). Afterwards, we drove out to the prison cemetery and walked between shady pine trees while we read the gravestones (the ones that were marked). Seeing the graves that were recently prepared (some just gaping holes ready to fill) was heart-wrenching. There are many headstones with only numbers and many blank white crosses that whisper of an un-remembered soul. It is a somber place. We talked with our children about how these men might have felt about being buried there… about what they might have done to be buried there… and about how their family and the victim’s families might feel. There are so many deep lessons and emotions that accompany a field trip like this. Even though some of these people were murderers, you have to feel a twinge of sadness for them. It provokes you to prayer standing there among numbered gravestones. It is a lonely feeling. The silent rolling hills seem to weep.
My children are acutely aware of how it feels to have a family member in prison. It makes it especially hard when you don’t believe they were justly sentenced. To know that there are many ‘mistakes’ that slip through the cracks of the judicial system and land innocent people behind bars is also important. No system is perfect. People are fallible. Sure, most guys who are put away did commit a crime – and even some were gruesome enough to deserve a quick noose around the neck; but that is a small percentage of today’s prison population. Some estimate that nearly 80% of criminals in the U.S. today are drug-related charges.
Although we are from Texas (the state which puts the most inmates to death in the U.S.), I am not a cold fish when it comes to discussion about enforcing the law and punishing criminals. I try and see justice and mercy through the eyes of the Lord. Compassion is a dying emotion in today’s world. I wonder how many other people feel any when they walk amidst the solemn prison graves in Huntsville? My heart goes out to the victims, the families, the lost (those who may have died without Jesus), and the inmates who are alive and dead in Huntsville. There is a story behind each grave. They were flesh and bone people like you and me – who needed prayer. Some still do (the ones on the other side of the hill behind the razor-wire). If only those stones could talk.
Other Quick Links:Sprittibee’s Homeschool Series (Links for field trip lists, book lists, other years…)
More about our Crime & Punishment Unit
Texas Indian who spent time (and was buried) in Huntsville
Huntsville, TX official website
We have meant to visit this museum for some time. I enjoyed reading your post.
Thanks PJ! 😉