Texas Prison Museum ready to break bars at ceremony tomorrow

Weldon Svoboda, director of the Texas Prison Museum, is working with civilian volunteers and inmate workers to put the final touches on the new museum in time for its grand opening on Wednesday.After 13 years in downtown Huntsville, the Texas Prison Museum is being relocated to a new, larger facility on State Highway 75 North near the Wynne Unit. The new building adds about 4,000 square foot more floor space for display, and a 4,000 square foot conference room.Several events will be held from Nov. 13 through Nov. 16 to celebrate and commemorate the opening of the new facility. Admission during these times will be free and open to the public.A ribbon cutting ceremony will be held at 3 p.m. on Wednesday and the museum will be open until 5 p.m. On Thursday and Friday, the museum will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and will host a meeting of the Texas Board of Criminal Justice.The LeBlanc Pre-Release Substance Abuse Program Marching Team will perform at 1 p.m. Friday, and two book signings will be held.On Saturday, the museum will host several exciting events including a re-enactment of the 1934 Eastham Raid, which involved Bonnie and Clyde. The Huntsville Police Department will be on hand to fingerprint children for their safety. There will also be several book signings and storytelling events from former TDCJ employees and visitors may purchase a barbecue lunch.Svoboda said the museum gets about 13,000 to 15,000 visitors per year, but he expected those numbers to rise to about 50,000 annually. Frequent visitors range from children on school field trips, to former employees and inmates of TDCJ.One of the most popular displays at the museum is that of ‘Old Sparky’, the electric chair used for executions from 1924 to 1964. Other exhibits include inmate artwork and weapons constructed from everyday materials. Hundreds of items and pictures allow visitors to relive the history of the Texas prison system, from the point of view of both inmates and employees.In addition to the preservation of history, the museum also exists to educate those outside the system on the realities of prison life, while dispelling some myths.The Texas Prison Museum was created in 1989 and is funded completely through donations from individuals and organizations. No state funds are allocated to the museum; however, employees of TDCJ often organize fundraisers to benefit it. TDCJ does loan artifacts to the museum, and inmate art is available for purchase in the gift shop.On March 13, 1848, the Texas legislature created the Texas Prison System, centralizing the incarceration of the state’s convicted felons in Huntsville. In 1924, the prison system assumed the duty of executing the most heinous of the offenders, removing the task from the responsibility of individual counties.The current system includes hundreds of state prisons, state jails and supervision of thousands of parolees.For more information on grand opening events, call 295-2155 or visit the Web site at http://www.txprisonmuseum.org.

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