About the Museum

The Texas Prison Museum offers an intriguing glimpse into the lives of the state's least-loved citizens. The museum features numerous exhibits detailing the history of the Texas prison system, both from the point of view of the inmates as well as the men and women who worked within the prison walls.

Huntsville's prison museum is frequented by a cross-section of the public, ranging from grade-school students on field trips, to tourists from around the world. Since moving to the new museum building in 2002 the number of visitors has risen each year.

The Texas Prison Museum, in existence since 1989, is a non-profit charitable corporation, overseen by a board of trustees. Staffing consists of one full-time employee, part-time personnel, and several dedicated volunteers. The museum depends on your support. You can help by becoming a patron.

Purpose

VALUES
Preservation * Education * Quality * Integrity * Communication

VISION
Preserving the past; Educating the present; Creating a pathway to a promising future.

MISSION
The Texas Prison Museum shall collect, preserve, and showcase the history and culture of the Texas prison system and educate the people of Texas and of the world.

GOALS

  • To collect, preserve, and maintain prison artifacts, documents, oral histories, photographs, and all prison museum collections.
  • To publicize and showcase the history and culture of Texas' prison system in order to attract visitors to the museum annually and to enhance learning.
  • To maintain fiscal accountability for the operation, maintenance, and expansion of the Texas Prison Museum, Inc.
  • To operate, maintain, and expand quality made properties.

The Staff

Jim Willett is the director of the Prison Museum. Jim spent 30 years with the prison system and retired as the warden of the historic Huntsville “Walls” Unit. Riley Tilley is the gift shop supervisor and retired with 26 years prison system experience. Sandy Rogers is our registrar and retired with 20 years with the prison system’s school district. Jerry had 23 years with the prison system and Carolyn worked seven years there. Vernette is retired from the prison system after 25 years of service. Kathryn, Elizabeth, Terry, Rita, Lara and Ashely have become quite familiar with the history of the Texas prison system.

View the Staff Photo Gallery

The Board of Directors

The Texas Prison Museum Board oversees the operations of the museum. The Board members are:

  • Tommy Martin, President
  • Jerry McGinty, Vice-President / Treasurer
  • Trent Shotwell, Secretary
  • Tom Pierce
  • Tony D'Cunha
  • David Stacks
  • Golda Rich
  • Robyn Flowers
  • Cindy Loeffler

Must See

Lee Simmons, The Texas Prison Rodeo, and Bonnie & Clyde

At the end of the Roaring ‘20’s the Texas penitentiary was in bad shape with overcrowded conditions and money problems. As usual, the administration of the prison system was not providing good leadership. Enter Lee Simmons in 1930 as the General Manager. Mr. Simmons appears to have been the first to make positive changes for both inmates and guards. With all of the operational improvements that Lee Simmons established for the prison system, he is most known for two things that did not have to do with the daily operations. Mr. Simmons conceived the idea of a prison rodeo in Huntsville. Beginning in 1931 at the inmate baseball park adjacent to the Walls Unit, the Texas Prison Rodeo quickly became known across the nation and around the world as the Wildest Show Behind Bars. It was the prison system’s premier public relations event, held every Sunday in October. The rodeo lasted through 1986.

Photograph of a 5-barrel shotgun made by inmates hoping to escape.
Lee Simmons is also responsible for the demise of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. After their raid of the prison system’s Eastham Unit caused the death of one of the guards, Mr. Simmons hired former Texas Ranger Frank Hamer to find and put an end to Bonnie and Clyde. Mr. Hamer did just that. Upon his return, Mr. Hamer presented a pistol from the Bonnie and Clyde death car to Mr. Simmons.

Now, thanks to the Simmons family, treasures from the Lee Simmons era can be viewed at the Texas Prison Museum. The family has graciously loaned us several artifacts and an album of pictures. A nickel plated pistol found in the death car of Bonnie and Clyde, a five barrel shotgun (at left) handmade by some inmates who were hoping to escape, and a homemade pistol are examples of items now on special display. We urge you to come see these unique items on loan to the museum by the Simmons family.