Home Law Prisons and Punishment in Texas: Culture, History and Museological Representation
Beaumont is a city in Jefferson County, located on the coastal plain of South East Texas, near the Louisiana-Texas state line. I arrived in my Beaumont motel just after 3 p.m. but my first tour of the museum there was not until the following day, so I decided to spend the afternoon looking around the city.
Research Diary: Beaumont is a welcome change from Houston. I enjoyed Houston but by the end of my stay I was ready for some more ‘small town Texas’ living. Beaumont has a similar vibe to Fort Worth, Eastland and Huntsville; local and friendly but still lively. I even got the chance to go to a ‘BBQ Cook Off’ which was a night of good food, cold beer and country dancing. Houston was more like Dallas; both are huge cities and at times felt like unfriendly places. The big cities of Texas are a world apart from the much celebrated Beaumont BBQ Cook Off.
The next day I went to meet Doug, a serving police officer and one of my guides for the Beaumont Police Museum. I visited the site on three occasions, each with different people accompanying me. The dynamics of the tours changed substantially each time. When it was just Doug and I, we spoke much more about his opinions of punishment and law enforcement. When we were joined by a couple from Houston we spoke more about how the UK differed from Texas (specifically what weapons the British Police have access to and when the death penalty was abolished). And when the group included a family from Louisiana, the guide was much more enthusiastic about Texan styles of policing and punishment, speaking at length about his job satisfaction.
The Beaumont Police Museum is in the basement of the Police Station, so when tourists arrive they are told to get the elevator down three floors. As you exit the elevator there are a series of corridors and offices which have been converted into museum spaces. The first corridor is lined with black-and-white photographs of Beaumont Police officers from the 1800s and early 1900s, and the first room focuses on communication equipment. The second room is filled with uniforms past and present, including cowboy hats and different styles of police badges. Then you come to a room with three cabinets, each displaying items that have been seized from offenders (primarily drug paraphernalia) as well as a large cabinet with an extensive display of weapons used by the police over the years. The weaponry was what first encouraged Doug to create the Beaumont Police Museum:
I love these old guns, aren’t they neat? That’s actually why I started the museum—cause they were going to be destroyed and I just couldn’t let that happen. They’re history you know? It’s kind of a hobby of mine, restoring them up. It’s important to me, to protect them and make sure they’re still around when I’m not.
Doug’s hobby has also led him to develop a course in firearms training for the general public. Citizens are invited to come to the Beaumont Police Department training classrooms and learn about the laws that relate to gun ownership. The guests are then taken to the Police Department’s firearms range and taught to shoot using simulation scenarios. On my first tour Doug asked me if I would be able to attend one of the training days:
You should come along Hannah. I bet you’d enjoy it! Shouldn’t think you’ve ever even fired a gun have you?—ha ha—I reckon you’d be a good shot though. It’s a fun day, plus it’s educational—teaches you how and when to defend yourself. ... Like I say, we can fix you up if you want?
I was unable to attend the workshop as the next one was not until November, at which point I would be in El Paso—a three hour flight away from Beaumont. (I did, however, get the chance to shoot a rifle later that day, on a friend’s farm located between Beaumont and Houston. Suffice to say I was not a good shot, missing by some distance an empty can that was less than 15 feet away.)
We then moved down the corridor and into the now decommissioned cells (Fig. 3.6). Tourists are encouraged go inside the cells and have their pictures taken if they wish. While we were inside Doug spoke about the
Fig. 3.6 Beaumont cell
locking mechanism which was housed in a large lockable box. There is no natural light in the cells, which are located three floors below ground level in the basement. Once visitors have finished asking questions about the daily life of inmates, they are ushered to the last stop on the Beaumont Police Museum tour. This final room houses a long cabinet displaying mugshots of prisoners from early to the mid-1900s. Many of the pictures have a statement beneath them which describes the offence for which the person was arrested. Doug directs tourists’ attention to one in particular: ‘Look here, there’s some woman that looks like she could be ya greatgrandmother or something, and she was in for narcotics!’ After chatting for around 5-10 minutes Doug leaves the tour party and goes to his office (which is on the same floor as the museum). Tourists are left to wander the museum again if they wish.
I really enjoyed my stay in Beaumont, and Doug had been an excellent guide. Like Wayne in Eastland and Jim in Huntsville, Doug has vested much time and energy into the museum, sourcing outside funding and locating more objects to tell Beaumont’s story. He is passionate about his role as curator and feels a responsibility to preserve the past as best he can. I would have liked to spend longer in Beaumont because, while I had toured the museum many times, I had not seen all that much of the rest of the city. Sadly though, it was soon time to move cities once again. After Beaumont I returned to Houston for one last time and then transferred to a bus heading for Austin.
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