This film from the Texas Prison Museum documents prison life in Texas in 1955. The film focuses primarily on the Texas State Penitentiary's Huntsville Unit, commonly known as "Walls Unit", and also captures scenes of the Ramsey Unit, Wynne Unit, Goree Unit, and Clemens Unit. The films begins with a meeting of the Texas Prison Board, the members of which were prominent men in the 1950s, many of whom now have Texas prisons named for them. In following scenes, inmates are interviewed by wardens and other prison employees, get haircuts, visit the prison hospital, participate in recreational activities, and attend services at the chapel on prison grounds. Throughout the film, prisoners are shown performing their assigned jobs, such as operating machines in factories, working cattle, and farming multiple crops on prison farms. Of note is a prison rodeo where Governor Allan Shivers kicks off the grand entry. The film concludes with inmates going through the release process and walking out of the front door as free men.
Allan Shivers was a Texas politician who held several offices spanning the legislative and executive branch. Born in Lufkin, Texas in 1907, he entered the University of Texas after high school hoping to become a lawyer like his father. Shivers dropped out a year later but returned after a brief stint working at an oil refinery. Ever determined to the make the most of his college career, he joined several student groups and became president of the Student's Association. He practiced law in Port Arthur after graduation until 1934 when the 27-year-old ran for his first position in public office: state senator. His campaign was successful, making him the youngest member of the Texas Senate.
After serving in the U.S. military during World War II, Shivers was elected as state lieutenant governor in 1946 and again as an incumbent in 1948. He is credited with consolidating much of the executive branch's power into this position with roles including the choice of which senators serve on particular committees to setting daily agendas. Shivers succeeded Governor Beauford Jester upon the latter's death in 1949 and held the position for the next 7 and 1/2 years. Under this new position he helped create the Legislation Council, the Legislative Budget Board alongside other pieces of legislature, including tax increases that served to expand state services.
Shivers took on several controversial positions that marred his image in later years. He supported Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower's bid for Presidency in 1952, seen as a traitorous move by his Democratic party. Opposing Brown v. Board of Education and scandals involving his administration (such as the Veteran's Land Board Scandal) lost further support.
With his political life coming to an end, Shivers took on several leading roles at banks in Texas until gaining a six-year appointment to the University of Texas Board of Regents. He helped raise funds for both the Law school and College of Communications (a $5 million grant) during this time. Shivers passed away on January 14, 1985 after suffering from a heart attack.
Hubert Hardison "Pete" Coffield (1984-1979) is a prime example of a self- made man. He sold newspapers as a young boy to help his family make ends meet after his father's death. Pete was nine. At thirteen, he worked in laundry delivery, buying a two-wheeled cart and donkey to pick up and return clothes. Years later he paid his way through Baylor University with his own laundry business. World War I interrupted his studies, and Coffield joined the Naval Air Corps, which led to his next job: selling military surplus materials. The U.S. military had no use for many items after the war, so Coffield bought full train cars of these supplies at a time. He made a fortune shipping them across state lines and selling them at 2,000-3,000 person auctions.
The Rockdale-Minerva oil field discovery turned these profits into land leases. Part interest was sold to men who could handle all areas of oil drilling, and Coffield reaped in even more profits, especially during the Great Depression. He moved on to ranching, industrial enterprises, and real estate in Houston. The Texas Prison Board gave him a position in 1949. He became a treasurer to the Texas Democratic Party and a powerful political figure, some said second only to Lyndon B. Johnson.
Coffield enjoyed entertaining friends at the Diamond H Ranch, hosting a hunting lodge, swimming pool, and an airfield (his love of aircraft persisted after the war). His wife and son passed before Coffield's time in 1979. Coffield divided his fortune between the Boy Scouts of America, the Salvation Army, and the Episcopal Diocese of Texas upon his death.
Dr. George Beto (1916-1991) spent the early part of his adult life in seminary, teaching as a professor, and becoming an ordained Lutheran minister. 1953 set his future course in the prison system through his appointment to the Texas Prison Board. There he helped establish the first General Education Development testing program. Beto left the system for three years but never removed himself from that realm, visiting prisons across Europe while serving as president of Concordia Theological Seminary at Springfield, Illinois.
The Texas Department of Corrections brought Beto to serve as Director and Chief of Chaplains from 1962-72. He focused on rehabilitation throughout his prison treks, spending much time speaking with prisoners in person rather than taking a less personal route. Beto either enacted or urged the creation of several programs that assisted prisoners, some soon on their way out of the system, which included counseling, a work-release program, the first non-geographic public school district for inmates, and college-education programs.
Dr. Beto's critics included a group of twelve prisoners who successfully sued the prison director for "unlawful intimidation," and "unlawful punishments." Beto, however, maintained a high standing among the system, gaining appointments to several prison boards and representing the U.S. at the United Nations Conference on Prevention of Crime and Treatment of the Offender three times in Japan, Switzerland, and Italy.
Beto worked at the Texas Youth Commission as Chief of Chaplains for a short time in 1991 until his death later that year.