Living as a convict in a Texas correctional facility can be more entertaining than most would imagine. Some think of offenders sitting in a cell, staring at the wall for hours at a time. However, those living within the walls of a correctional facility and suffering from boredom are not taking advantage of the ample opportunities provided. Though life as an inmate is by no means a breeze, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice facilities allow offenders to experiment with their artistic talents, satisfy their love for knowledge and provide them ample opportunities to connect with the world outside of their cell by access to the media.
Televisions are available to offenders in the day room, a room with the specific purpose of entertainment and relaxation.
“There is a television on a high stand, about six feet off the ground, and in front of it is a bunch of benches,” said Jim Willett, director of the Texas Prison Museum.
The Internet is unavailable to prisoners, but for those who enjoy reading, the Windham School District maintains libraries providing reference books, magazines and newspapers for the inmates who have held good conduct.
“The books there are much the same as what we would find in a public library. Any book with information that could endanger the security of the prison would not be available,” said Willlett.
Though no iPods are permitted, inmates may acquire personal radios to listen to with headphones in his or her cell, providing that he or she has earned the privilege by good conduct. The inmates are also allowed to play instruments.
Jim Willett remembers many positive experiences from when he served at the Walls Unit.
“Wardens will get entertainers to come play their music for the inmates,” he said. “I recall Freddie Fender and his band coming to the Walls when he was popular and playing one evening for the inmates.”
However, it is not the performers or music bands who have made the biggest impact within the prison walls.
“The inmates enjoy the outside or free-world entertainment, but when it is Christian based the prison unit is typically more calm during that weekend and the following days,” Willett said. “In years past, Tom Landry or Roger Staubach came with the ministries.”
The ministries often take a unique approach to reach the prisoners and the result is very successful according to the staff and prisoners.
The lives of convicts should not be taken lightly. However, the TDCJ provides ample opportunities for offenders to explore their creative capacity, often inspiring a lifestyle pursued after the prison term.