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Home arrow Law arrow Prisons and Punishment in Texas: Culture, History and Museological Representation


In conclusion, these Texan stories about prisoners tell us that the prison is both a place in which dangerous creatures are kept but also a space in which inmate creativity thrives and flourishes. Yet it matters not what type of inmate Texas is dealing with; Texan retribution will always be tough and the punishment will always stand. In Nozick’s (1981) terms, punishment is portrayed as proportional and rational; it adheres to a set of replicable rules that will be enforced regardless of what type of prisoner is on the gurney or in the cell. The severity of the crime dictates the severity of the punishment. We are left to assume that reformed inmates are still executed in Texas. Through the stories told about the punished, we learn that Texas supports the harsh punishment of all offenders. Mitigation denied, Texas is committed to the toughest form of retributive punishment.

However, while this part of the book has taught us much about the stories Texas uses to explain its own relationship with punishment, and indeed about the depiction of those within Lone Star prisons, we have yet to learn much about the wider cultural context in which these punishments stories sit. Part I of this book was littered with references to Texan history. Indeed, while I was in Texas it was clear that the history of the Lone Star State is a significant resource with which Texas (and Texans) build a sense of both state and individual identity. Yet what is more fascinating, from a criminological perspective, is that the histories being used to construct the Texan self-identity appear to share similarities with the stories being told in the Lone Star punishment museums. In other words, the history museums of Texas—storied spaces which reflect and arguably (re)construct the Lone Star self-identity—are deploying narratives similar to those found in the punishment museums.

Moreover, as you may have noticed from our time as a Texas tourist in Chap. 3, the punishment museums and jail cell tours are likewise incorporating identifiable symbols of the Texas past. Flying the US and state flag at the same height, incorporating maps of Texas and referencing the Lone Star in various ways, the punishment museums are locating their stories in a wider cultural context. As I toured the museums, and the top visited historical sites, it became apparent that a kind of cultural osmosis seemed to be occurring. The symbols of the Texan self-identity became part of the tough Texas punishment stories and the symbols of a tough Texas became part of the Texan self-identity. In the final part of this book we will examine this observation further, and explore the extent to which the Texan self-identity, which reveals itself in important Lone Star cultural memories, should be understood as having punishment dimensions.

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