Fear, Force, and Leather: The Texas Prison System&rsquot;s First Hundred Years 1848-1948


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The Goree State Farm for Women

Women sewing at Goree State Farm

As part of the 1911 reforms, the state opened a new facility for female inmates. Goree State Farm, just four miles from Huntsville, housed black and white inmates in separate dormitories. As before, the working assignments varied depending on race. African-American women worked in the fields, while white and Hispanic women worked in the garment factory, where they sewed clothing and linens for the prison system. Some women also tended to cows and chickens, worked in the fruit orchards, and canned fruits and vegetables.

By the 1930s, about 150 female inmates lived at Goree, most serving relatively short sentences for crimes ranging from prostitution and drug possession to theft, check kiting, and robbery. There were some efforts at rehabilitation, including classes in typing, shorthand, cooking, and beautician work. Good behavior paid off with privileges such as watching movies or playing softball or tennis on Sunday afternoons; fighting or other rule violations resulted in solitary confinement or a whipping with a two-foot leather belt known as the “Red Heifer.”

In 1938, a number of the Goree women became famous when WBAP, a radio station in Fort Worth, began “Thirty Minutes Behind the Walls,” a live radio show broadcast from Huntsville in which talented prison inmates sang and performed. “Thirty Minutes Behind the Walls” became a nationwide hit and drew millions of listeners, running until 1944.

The Goree farm remained a women’s prison until the 1980s, when Texas transferred its female inmates to a former youth facility in Gatesville. The female convict population has expanded dramatically since that time and Texas now houses female inmates at several units.

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Page last modified: February 10, 2016