If a Texas state prisoner dies or is executed, relatives or friends can pick up the body. If they don’t, he or she is buried in the largest prison graveyard in the United States – the Captain Joe Byrd Cemetery in Huntsville, Texas. Such burials occur around 100 times each year.
Named after an assistant warden at the Huntsville Unit who helped clean and restore the 22-acre graveyard in the 1960s, the cemetery is still associated with the prison unit known as “The Walls” for its 19th century brick walls. The warden or assistant warden from the facility attends each funeral.
A prisoner’s body may be unclaimed for a number of reasons. There may be no surviving friends or relatives, but a more likely explanation is that the friends or relatives are too poor to afford the burial expenses.
“I think everyone assumes if you are in a prison cemetery you’re somehow the worst of the worst,” said Indiana State University assistant professor of criminology Franklin T. Wilson, who is writing a book about the Byrd cemetery. “But it’s more of a reflection of your socioeconomic status. This is more of a case of if you’re buried there, you’re poor.”