Don’t mess with Texas: stories of punishment from lone star museums

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceeding with ISSN or ISBNChapter


Stories about crime continue to captivate and titillate audiences all over the world. From fictional accounts of notorious gangsters to the biographies of real-life serial killers, suicide bombers and sex offenders, criminals and their crimes both terrify and fascinate us in equal measure (Jewkes 2011). Similarly, the punishment of offenders is big business in the culture industry. Prison movies have always been a sub-genre of the crime film, but in more recent years we have also seen the proliferation of prison and death row documentaries, each promising to show us the hidden realities of life behind bars (see Cecil and Leitner 2009; Surette 2011). It is thus now widely accepted that punishment not only exists within the prison cell or execution chamber, but it also thrives in books, websites, stage plays and Hollywood blockbusters; in its (re)presentations (Brown 2009; Smith 2008). However, while certain representational formats have received much attention from punishment scholars (namely film and news media), others – such as punishment museums and prison tours – have gone somewhat unnoticed until recent years. We are only now beginning to see the systematic analysis of penal tourist sites from a criminological perspective. Indeed, the tourist site actually offers an exciting opportunity for criminologists because these sites are place-positioned; within them we find stories told by a collective about that collective. In other words we (as researchers) become privy to the ‘insider’ perspective on punishment. Penal museums and jail cell tours are storied spaces geared to explaining not only how but also why a collective punishes in the ways it does. The aim of this current chapter then, is to contribute to this growing body of multi-disciplinary scholarship with an analysis of penal tourist sites in Texas (USA). Those visited included the Texas Prison Museum in Huntsville, the Eastland County Jail Museum, the Beaumont Police Museum and Jail Cells, and the Joe Byrd Cemetery (where prisoners can be buried). This chapter will begin by briefly outlining how the tourist sites told stories about the sheer size of Texas Department of Corrections (TDC). It will then move on to a discussion of how Lone Star punishment stories are often narratives of progress. Finally, the chapter will conclude by examining the ways in which these Texan sites of penal history depict the character of the prisoner.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Palgrave handbook of prison tourism
EditorsJ. Wilson, S. Hodgkinson, J. Piche, K. Walby
Place of PublicationUK
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
ISBN (Electronic)9781137561350
ISBN (Print)9781137561343
Publication statusPublished - 5 Mar 2017

Publication series

NamePalgrave Studies in Prisons and Penology

Bibliographical note

Hannah Thurston, Don’t mess with Texas: stories of punishment from lone star museums, in: The Palgrave handbook of prison tourism, 2017, Palgrave Macmillan UK, reproduced with permission of Palgrave Macmillan. This extract is taken from the author's original manuscript and has not been edited. The definitive, published, version of record is available here:


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