Down on Peckerwood Hill

It's the last stop for some Texas prison inmates

It was also in 1963 that prison officials decided to reclaim the neglected Peckerwood Hill in hopes of making it aesthetically pleasing, if not sacred. For years the "felons' field," although still used for burials, had not been maintained. But with the approval of prison system director George Beto, Captain Joe Byrd, the assistant warden at the Walls Unit, used inmate labor to restore the cemetery. When the cleanup was complete, it was determined that the cemetery contained the graves of 922 convicts -- 918 men and 4 women. Prison officials say they have no record of how many inmates have been buried there since then.

According to Byrd's grandson, Jay Byrd, himself now the warden of the Clemens Unit near Brazoria, Captain Byrd was a big, intimidating man who had a love of flowers. Byrd says his grandfather took special pride in the restoration of the inmate graveyard, which would come to bear his name after his own death.

"It represented him as a decent human being," says Byrd. "He believed people should be punished for what they did. But no matter what a person did on earth, he always believed that we should give them the same respect as anyone else when they die."

With the prison business booming in Texas, it's likely that many more taxpayer-funded last respects will be paid on Peckerwood Hill. In fact, the TDCJ has just cleared a section of pine trees on the cemetery grounds to accommodate more pine boxes.

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