Prison City reflects on death penalty

HUNTSVILLE, Texas-Conversations about living in the execution capital of the world provide the focus for a newly published book by two communications experts with ties to SHSU.

Prison City: Life with the Death Penalty in Huntsville, Texas, released this month by Peter Lang Publishing, takes an ethnographic approach as it looks beneath the placid surface of Huntsville and sheds light on controversial issues usually hidden behind penitentiary walls.

Authors Ruth Massingill, who has taught communications at SHSU since 1989, and Ardyth Broadrick Sohn, former Warner Endowed Chair of Journalism, present a multitude of voices in Prison City-from the townspeople, the inmates and guards-reflecting on questions of crime and punishment, vengeance and forgiveness.

The poignant and evocative stories that run throughout the book highlight the incarcerated population’s increasing influence in the political and cultural landscape of the United States. A wealth of pictures from local historical archives complement the narrative.

Contributors with connections to Sam Houston include Debbi Hatton, speech instructor, and Tina Baiter, 2005 SHSU graduate, who provided research and conducted interviews for the project.

Mickey Herskowitz, current Warner Chair and co-author of Dan Rather’s bestseller, The Camera Never Blinks, says of Prison City:

“A wire service reporter, who covered countless executions in the heyday of ‘Old Sparky,’ swore that the warden’s last words to the condemned man were, ‘Have a seat please.’ You will not leave the edge of your seat, wherever you are sitting, as you read this remarkable work of scholarship turned drama.

The authors of Prison City have artfully combined the stories of a town where life is shaped-and life ends.”

Prison City is being marketed through Peter Lang’s international academic book department as a reader for classes in communications, sociology and criminal justice as well as a “crossover book” that offers opportunities to understand why the Texas justice system has become a global metaphor for incarceration and capital punishment.

A number of local people who appear in the book will read from Prison City today during a publication party to be held at 6:30 p.m. in the Walker Education Center at the Sam Houston Memorial Museum.

Signed copies of the book will be available and the Huntsville community is invited to attend.

For more information, visit the Sam Houston Memorial Museum events listing at or contact Ruth Massingill at 936-294-1494.

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