Last update: October 2015!
A Visitor's Guide for Texas Death Row
This guide was initially written in German for visitors from German-speaking nations. Since most of the information might also be helpful for other Europeans with an interest in this issue and a request for a translation was directed at me earlier, I decided to offer an English version also. Credit for the translation goes to my friend Christina Schroeder - thanks a lot! Please keep in mind, though, that some of the information contained herein might only be suitable for people who live in Germany or speak German, so as the case might be you can just use it as a proposal to check how some details would apply to the situation of your own country.
I know from my own experience, how important it is to be prepared before going to Texas to visit a pen-pal on death row in Texas. Therefore I tried to put together as much information as I could find that would possibly prove helpful or useful and make a guide for those who are planning such a visit. Corrections or amendments are always appreciated, so you are welcome to write me at: email@example.com (NEW!) - THANKS! And in case you have further questions in addition to the information provided here, just drop me a note also! :-)
By the way: for a simple key word search within this text, press Ctrl + F!
Those prisoners who are sentenced to death in Texas are usually entitled to one 2-hour visit per week - these visits are called "regular visit". In case the visitor lives more than 300 miles away from the prison, he may have a "special visit", which amounts to 4 visiting hours each on two consecutive days. Special visits are only granted once per month for every prisoner and will replace the option for a regular visit in the respective week. Note that even if there is a change of months in the middle of a week, it is not possible to have two special visits in that week. Special visits for two different months have to be taken in two different weeks.
Visitors from overseas like to come to Texas at the end of one month and stay until beginning of the next month, because that way they are able to schedule special visits for two months. If you plan carefully (or have more time) you may fit in an additional regular visit the week before or after your special visits - or even both.
The unit is open for visitors on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays from 8 a.m. to 5. p.m. Wednesdays are "Media Days", meaning that on the afternoon the visiting room is reserved for representatives of the various media outlets. Visits can therefore only take place between 8 a.m. and noon. Although officially that amounts to four hours, a Wednesday isn't the best day to schedule a special visit, because it can take a while (up to an hour, actually) before the prisoner is brought into the visiting room for the visit. If that happens you will nonetheless have to leave at noon on a Wednesday, so you are very likely to lose precious visiting time. However, if you have no choice than to schedule a special visit for a Wednesday, you want to make sure you are at the prison around 7.45 a.m., so you are the first one to register for your visit. If you nevertheless have someone waiting before you, you can ask them kindly, if they'd let you in first, because of your special visit - someone who only does a regular visit might gladly do that.
On Saturdays visiting time is between 5.30 p.m. and 10 p.m. Only regular visits are allowed on Saturdays and they take place in two shifts: one shift goes from 5.30 p.m. to 7.30 p.m. and the other goes from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Since the second shift is not as popular I would strongly recommend it. It is often even quieter than during weekdays. The first shift is usually packed with many families bringing their children. Sundays are no visiting days for death row inmates because they are reserved for the prisoners in Polunsky's General Population. For Saturday visits it's recommandable to be at the prison about half an hour before the visit - sometimes you are allowed to go in about 15 minutes before the official time.
All in all: best schedule your special visits for Monday/Tuesday or Thursday/Friday. It is always advisable to come to the prison very early in the morning (between 8 and 9 a.m.), because the visiting area fills up quickly. You will have it quieter the earlier you come and if you come later, on rare occasions they tell visitors to wait, because no seats are available. In case you don't want to get special visits of two months, you should consider to avoid end and beginning of a month at all, because in the middle of a month the visitation area is much less frequented, even later than 8 a.m., and you will feel more comfortable this way.
On certain holidays the prison will be closed, for instance January 1st. Over Christmas the prison usually is closed on at least two days, but which two days seems to vary, so it's best not to count on either the 24th, 25th or 26th of December as visiting days. For other holidays it is best to ask your pen-pal or to call the prison and to plan in advance. Don't forget that the US have their own holidays, which are not necessarily known in other countries, such as the 4th of July (Independence Day), the third Monday in January (Martin Luther King Day), third Monday in February (George Washington Day), last Monday in May (Memorial Day), first Monday in September (Labour Day), fourth Thursday in November (Thanksgiving). Besides that Texas also has some special holidays, i.e. March 2nd as Texas Independence Day. You can find an overview of holidays in Texas as well as general US holidays on this website here: http://www.tsl.state.tx.us/ref/abouttx/holidays.html
By the way: a prisoner may visit with two adults at the same time. Children under the age of 16 years can visit with the two adults and don't have to be on the visiting list.
Scheduling your visits
First pre-requisite for any visit is that you are listed as friend or family on the visiting list of your pen-pal. A prisoner may name up to ten people on his list, but can only change his list every six months. Take that into account when you start planning and make sure you are on that list before you book your flights!
Special visits have to be scheduled in advance via the phone, while regular visits don't require scheduling (except on Saturdays). For scheduling Saturday visits, call the prison on Monday or Tuesday before. Special visits can be scheduled starting from the first day of the month preceding the month of the desired visiting days. If you would like to visit any time in July, you can make your call beginning June 1st, just to give an example. It is advisable to call early on, because the amount of special visits is limited on any given day. If you wish to book special visits for two consecutive months, that means you will have to call in twice. Demand for special visits in the second and third week of a month is usually lower than for the first or last week. If you are not - for whatever reason - dependent on making your visit in the first or last week, my advice would be to consider avoiding the visiting room around that time.
To schedule your visits you have to call Polunsky Unit (please take into account the time difference, see below at "Time"). Phone number from Europe is 001-936-967-8082. This will get you to the lady at the switchboard. Ask her to be connected to the "death row warden's secretary". When connected, just tell her that you are calling to schedule special visits and she will ask you for the "offender's number" (as they call it), she'll look it up in her computer, which can take some time, and after that she will ask your name to check if you feature on his visiting list. She will ask you when you would like to visit and whether you will come alone or bring someone else (who will also have to be mentioned on the visiting list, of course, unless it is a child). Then she will advise you to call again the next day to make sure the warden approved your visits. (If you are calling the office to schedule a Saturday visit obviously they will want to know if you are coming for the first or the second session. You won't have to call back for approval, but will be asked to leave a phone number in case something with the visits won't work according to plan. The latter would be a rare exception, though. It also might be possible that you'll be asked if you would be willing to cancel your visit in case another visitor wanted to schedule a visit for the same day.)
To find out if the warden approved your visits, works the same way again. You call, ask for the warden's secretary of death row and tell her you called earlier to schedule your visits. She will ask you only for the name or number of the prisoner this time around.
By the way: prisoners who have lost their behavioural status of "Level 1" and are downgraded for disciplinary reasons to "Level 2" or "Level 3" are no longer entitled to special visits! And on Level 2 they can only have two regular visits a month, on Level 3 it's reduced even further to one!
Texas Death Row is at Polunsky Unit in Livingston, located about one hour by car to the North of Houston, that is, if you are flying into North Houston's Intercontinental Airport ("George Bush Airport" - IAH). Houston's other Airport ("Hobby Airport") is at the South end of the city and thus it's not advisable to fly in there as it will add another hour to your journey towards Livingston. Lufthansa and United Airlines fly directly from Frankfurt to Houston Intercontinental on a daily basis, but there is actually a large variety of airlines which serve that airport from Europe and elsewhere, either by direct flights or with stop-overs. Air France (via Paris) is a possibilty, so is British Airways (flying via London) or KLM (via Amsterdam). [The Lufthansa flight is in co-operation with United Airlines and the Air France flight with Delta Airlines. It might be useful to compare the prices.] Other airlines such as Delta often offer special prices, but it usually involves changing planes in Atlanta, Cincinnati, or Chicago. This means that you have to pick up your luggage and pass lengthy security checks before you are allowed to enter your connecting flight, while if you change planes within Europe your luggage will simply be routed through. On any occasion you should check with your travel agency early on, as demand for the least expensive seats is always high. Depending on the time of year - cheapest months appear to be February and November - the cost for the least expensive flights range from 500 to 1000 Euros including tax, in July/August even 1300 Euros. Don't forget to ask for student or youth bonuses or whatever might apply for you.
If you don't want to go to a travel agency, but want to book online - I can recommend www.ticketfox.de, I tested them more than once and was happy with the result, booking flights and rental cars as well. I also was pleased with www.expedia.de, and rental cars I sometimes booked directly from www.autoeurope.de or www.avis.de. An ALIVE-member recommended www.traveltopia.de a longer time ago - she said Traveltopia has very good offers and most of all the lowest fees for ticket cancellation and such things. If you compare the three companies directly you probably won't find much of a difference as far as prices are concerned - depending on the airline it's always either one or the others a couple Euros cheaper. Best just check them out. [These websites are from German companies. You may look for a favourable online travel agency of your own country.]
Note that it is unlikely that you will be allowed to fully refund your ticket in case of cancellation, so consider an insurance covering for that or ask them how much a late change of tickets costs. (Penalty fee might be between 150 and 200 Euros, but that's still better than to loose the whole ticket-price with a non-refundable ticket.) - Also be sure to have insurance cover for your health care in the US.
By the way: Flying time from Frankfurt to Houston is 11 hours on a direct flight, and about 10 hours on the way back. And here's good advice: Don't put locks on the luggage you check in at the counter of your airline. (Exception: TSA-Locks which can be opened by US-Security.) Security personnel don't have time to go easy on your luggage and will open it one way or the other if they so fancy. In that case, no refund for the damage will be forthcoming! If your trip lasts only a few days, you might consider just to take hand baggage with you, because it saves much time.
The time-lag between Central/Southern Europe and Texas amounts to 7 hours. Time-lag between Texas and the British Isles is 6 hours. That means you will have to turn your (inner and outer) clocks back for those hours. The US also distinguish between summertime and wintertime, but it's not necessarily done on the same weekend as over here: Daylight-Saving-Time in Texas usually started on the first weekend of April and ended on the last weekend in October. This changed from 2007 on! Now Daylight-Saving-Time starts on the second weekend of March and ends on the first weekend of November!
At any rate, don't be surprised if you keep waking up at five a.m. and earlier once you are there :-)
[Following information is for people from Germany - please check the rules for your own country!] Entry into the USA is only granted if you have a passport, which has to be valid for at least the time of your stay (they used to demand validity for six months past your stay, but not any more). As of October 2004 only the computer-readable passports will be accepted. The new rules regarding mug shots and electronic fingerprints don't extend the whole process when arriving in the US much. A visa isn't required for stays that last less than three months. Details can be found out at the Foreign Office or Ministries of Foreign Affairs (Auswärtiges Amt: www.auswaertiges-amt.de) or at the US-embassies (www.usembassy.de). [The information in these websites cannot be used directly by those readers who are not from Germany. However, you can ask details about the rules regarding entry to the US from your country when contacting the according authorities at home.] This might be a new rule not only for Germany, but for Western Europe: Since January 2009 you have to register online at least three days before departure (https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov). Since September 2010 they charge 14 Dollar for ESTA to pay by credit card. At your home-airport at the Check-In you need to give them the correct address (including street name and number) where you stay in the US - if you travel around, your first address over there.
On the plane you are asked to fill in one form for the Custom's Declaration they provide you with (don't forget your ball-pen) and which you will have to produce at the check-in upon arrival. (Attention: From January 2009 you will be asked to register online at least three days before departure! At least if you live in Western Europe. Therefore you do not need to fill out the green or white form for entry anymore.) (You need a full address where you stay in the US, including the street name.) By the way, it is not allowed to bring food into the country, so it's best to leave those rotten apples on the plane... Oh! And don't forget that liquids in your hand-luggage are limited! Once you arrive at the check-in gate they will want to know for how long you are going to grace their country with your presence and most of all, why? If you honestly say that you are on a vacation or visiting friends, that will do. Do yourself a favour and don't share with them that your friends are actually sitting on death row, unless you care to be treated to an extra round of inquisitions and shake-downs of your luggage. My guess is that the American authorities might be weary of all those foreign women who come over to marry their prisoners. I am not saying I blame either side, but for those of you who have no such thing in mind when coming over, why cause the immigration office any concerns when there's no need?
And bring some patience: passing through security in Houston may easily take up to two hours with the security level bouncing from yellow to orange every so often. (Although sometimes I was there, it wasn't quite as bad.)
Seeing as Livingston and Polunsky Unit are located in a rural area, it makes sense to rent a car for the distances your are facing in Texas. This is best done from home, either via a travel agency (not the cheapest solution) or via www.ticketfox.de for little more than 200 Dollars per week (www.traveltopia.de and www.expedia.de also offers car rentals). [Please note: these two websites are from German companies. You may look for a favourable online travel agency of your own country.] My experiences with the rental car service "Alamo" have so far been pleasant. I often booked online with "Auto Europe" (www.autoeurope.de) and got a car from "Dollar". I didn't have any problems with this company, but I heard not much good about them by a friend. "Avis" was good too, but be careful not to sign for an upgrade you do not want! Another friend recommends "Budget" for a weekly rate of 120 to 150 Dollars when booking online. I would recommend to book the smallest size of cars they offer - the costs might be around 250 Euros per week if you book in a regular travel agency. Please insist on an accident compensation insurance that covers for a possible lack of insurance in your opponent. This particular insurance is called "UMP" and apparently it does no longer belong to the standard insurances automatically included in the contract - at least in Germany. "Auto Europe" has it included.
If you leave Houston Intercontinental Airport you are automatically standing on a street where the "Rental Car Shuttle" buses drive by to pick up passengers who wish to be taken to the rental stations. All you have to do is enter one of those shuttles and within 5 minutes it will take you to the "Consolidated Rental Car Facility", or simply "Rental Car Center". All rental car companies are located there.
Regardless of the service you use to rent a car, you will be given/sent a voucher or an information about your reservation, which you need in order to pick up your car at the rental station. If you have a note ready that states certain basic information such as number of driver's license, passport number, name, home address, phone number, employer's address and phone number, and a number in the US where you can be reached during your stay, it might prove helpful. Of course, you will have to show your driver's license to them, but it does not necessarily have to be an international license. A credit card is required to guarantee payment for unexpected additional costs (like late-fees, if the car wasn't returned on time). If you have no credit card, some rental stations allow for a cash or traveller cheque deposit (about 25 dollars a day / 100 dollars a week). But that option is not offered by all services. If there's a second driver he/she has to be there when you pick the car up, as he/she will have to show the driver's license also, sometimes a credit card too. Registering a second driver will very likely make the rental more expensive, due to extra insurance costs, unless the contract already provides for the option of more than one driver. The minimum age for drivers is 19 at Alamo (21 at Avis) and drivers under the age of 25 pay an extra fee of 10-20 dollars a day, depending on age and rental service. Just ask the travel agency.
If you book the smallest size of cars they offer, chances are quite good that they are out of small cars once you get there, because they only have a very limited amount of the smallest-size cars. When that happens it is actually a good thing, as then they will have to give you a bigger car for the price of the smaller one. Usually they invite you at the counter to "upgrade" your contract with them, meaning that they offer you a bigger car for only 2-5 more bucks a day - or one with GPS. However, if you refuse to "upgrade", you'll likely get the bigger car anyway. (This might have changed recently, since Americans because of prices for gas prefer smaller cars themselves.) It's just them trying to trick you into paying for something they would otherwise have to give you for free. Also be careful not to agree for some additional insurances you do not really want! All cars have A/C and automatic shift. It will be filled up and if the first filling is included in the price of the rental, you do not have to refuel the car before you return it.
By the way: when going to Texas in winter, don't forget to bring an ice scraper! That state does indeed have morning frost some days, so unless you want to defrost your car the Texan way (running the engine for hours while you take your time showering and having breakfast) or use your credit card for scraping, it will come in rather handy.
Gas in the US still is cheaper than for example in Germany. The costs for a gallon (equals about 3.8 litres) of regular gas was about 3.10 Dollars in January 2014. Most gas stations rely on self service. In rural areas you usually fill up the car and pay later, in cities or larger gas stations they often make you pay beforehand or you have to insert the credit card in a slot at the petrol pump. (If you are asked for a ZIP number, you might be asked for the ZIP code of your hometown, not for the security code on your credit card!)
Note that some petrol pumps won't start pumping gas unless you turn up a lever on which the nozzle was seated before.
Along with the rental car voucher you will hopefully get a US-map and info on traffic rules and traffic signs. I will only list some of the main points here. Firstly, for our UK friends: please DO drive on the right side of the road. Secondly, some junctions are marked by stop signs for all roads leading into it. If so, you will recognize these junctions by an additional sign under the stop sign saying "4way" or "3way" depending on how many streets enter into that junction. That means that all cars have to stop and pass the junction by a principle of "first come first served". So watch the traffic and if no one else goes, it is likely your turn. On highways with more than one lane it is permissible to overtake on the right side. In case that doesn't apply, it will be announced per road signs. At a red light it is normally allowed to take a right anyway, unless it is directly prohibited by a sign. School buses must not be overtaken when they halt for a stop. And finally it helps to understand that parallel to Highways and Interstates there often runs a feeder road, from which you go onto the highway or which you enter when you take an exit to leave the highway.
The sign-posting is informative for the most part, albeit the announcement of upcoming junctions (marked by "JCT" and the number of the crossing road) is often on a rather short notice.
Note also that speeding is not as common in the US as it would be here - at least in Germany. Speed limits should be taken seriously as it can get pretty expensive. But just in case your rental-Ferrari in combination with those endless Texan highways inspired you to an adventure and some state trooper finally pulls you over: stay put in the car and place your hands firmly and visibly on the wheel. Don't fumble around your pocket for your purse! Good luck. :-)
Ideas for those without a driver's license
If you can't drive, Texas is actually not the best place for you. But solutions can be found here, too. First check if someone who can drive is making visits at the same time and is willing to share a car with you. If you email me, I will gladly try to place your request where it will be read.
A woman called Ginny offers a driving service especially for those who visit their friends or loved ones on Texas Death Row. The Ginny-Cab would pick you up at the airport and would also bring you to Polunsky Unit or to Huntsville. Please ask her for prices (I was told $100 to the airport and $30 for local services around Livingston). Contact: her E-Mail-address is firstname.lastname@example.org and her phone-number is 936-933-6160 - Website: http://www.geocities.ws/ginnytaxi/trans.html - prices on the website aren't valid anymore.
Finally: To get from one of the hotels in Livingston (see below) to Polunsky Unit by cab is possible and would likely be around 20-25 Dollars per ride. Here are three phone numbers: a) Livingston Cab Company, phone: 936-328-8181, b) 350 South Cab Company, phone: 936-967-0782, c) BLT Taxi, phone: 936-327-7474. Knowing this, the manager of the Super 8 Motel might get you there for 10 Dollars per ride, if you ask him nicely - at least he did in the past. This just leaves the problem of transportation between the airport and Livingston. The price for a cab is outrageous (180 Dollars or something along those lines). Cheaper alternative is hopping on a Greyhound (or Kerrville) bus in Houston (closest bus station from the airport in the direction of Livingston is Humble (902 N. Houston Ave), about 3 miles East of the airport). Greyhound goes to both Livingston and Huntsville. If you take the bus to Huntsville you can actually walk from there to the Hospitality House (see below). It takes about 7 minutes. Just walk straight and cross the main road. The bus rides take around 1.5 hours either way and cost around 38 Dollars one-way. (Price can be half of that if you book a week in advance, so best check that out at www.greyhound.com. Phone of the Kerrville Bus Company is 1-(800) 335-3722.) Unfortunately the buses don't drive every hour, but only three or four times a day. (Prices in this paragraph from the time before the increasing of the gas price - can well be higher now!)
For those who do not wish to drive from Houston Airport, but who do not mind driving around Livingston, this could be an alternative: Located 200 metres north of the motel "Economy Inn" (the former "The Lake Livingston Inn", then "Americas Best Value Inn Livingston"), just next to the Ford Automobile, there's a rent-a-car place: Enterprise rent-a-car, 2400 Hwy 59 North, Livingston, TX 77351, Phone: 936-328-5945, Fax: 936-328-5946, Website: www.enterprise.com (Fill in the ZIP code!).
Means of payment
It's not recommendable to go to the United States without a credit card. Situations in which one is indispensable arise easily there, because it is more common there than here. Both Visacard und Mastercard (Eurocard) are generally accepted. Cash is fine, too, but best not in large amounts or denominations (up to bills of 20 Dollars would be best). Other than that, travellers cheques work also. With your credit card you can get cash out of special machines - watch for sign "ATM". Such machines should be found at banks or even at Wal-Mart in Livingston.
For accommodation there is a pretty large variety to pick from, depending on your needs and preferences.
The "Blue Shelter Guesthouse" in Livingston, where I stayed for years, was closed in the meantime. Christa Haber is from Germany, but lived in Texas for five years, and the Blue Shelter was especially for those visiting someone on Death Row. Her visa wasn't renewed, so she was forced to come back to Germany. (I stayed at the Hampton Inn in Livingston and at the Super 8 in Huntsville since then and was pleased. The last times I stayed at the Best Western in Livingston, it's my first choice right now.) Now the "Blue Shelter" was re-opened and is run by Pastor Sylvia. As far as I know the cost is 30 Dollar per night. Sylvia is very kind, I got to know her some years ago. (The house changed its name I was told; I don't have any details.)
Blue Shelter Guesthouse, 135 Parker Drive, Livingston, TX 77351 - Website: http://www.facebook.com/people/Blue-Shelter-Guesthouse/100001711553718 - E-Mail: email@example.com
In Livingston itself there are several Motels right next to the Highway. Please be aware that prices are for rooms. The rooms often contain one or two double beds (at least 1,35 x 2 m), so two or even four persons can stay in one room. The additional fee for each person is only a few Dollars. If two or more persons share a room, it is cheap, but for a single person a room in a Motel is rather expensive. By the way: Each room has its own bathroom.
The Super 8 Motel with swimming-pool charges about 65 Dollars. ("Weekly rate" for at least 7 nights is 310 Dollars plus Tax - only when making the reservation by phone or fax and asking for weekly rate.) Every room has TV, phone, and internet access, some are with fridge and microwave. They offer a small breakfast with coffee, orange-juice, donuts, muffins, and bananas.
Super 8 Livingston, 117 Hwy 59 Loop South, Livingston, TX 77351, Phone: 001-936-327-2451, Fax: 001-936-327-1254, Website: www.super8.com (Fill in state and location!)
The Hampton Inn was built in 2006. The hotel is quiet, has a swimming-pool and a fitness-room. Very good breakfast is included. The rooms are beautiful, but not very big, and not every room has a fridge. Price per night is about 100 Dollars.
Hampton Inn, 1510 Hwy 59 South Loop (Exit Hwy 59 Business), Livingston, TX 77351, Phone: 001-936-327-2300, Fax: 001,936-327-2304, Website: www.hotel-livingston.com
The Holiday Inn Express is very close to the "Hampton Inn", even concerning the costs, but it is not as new.
Holiday Inn Express, 120 Southpoint Lane, Livingston, TX 77351, Phone: 001-936-327-9600, Website: www.hiexpress.com (Fill in country, state, and location!)
The Relax Inn is cheaper than the others, but also more simple. The rooms are more quiet, but they are smaller and less modern. They have TV and phone, some of them fridge and microwave. In the morning they offer some coffee. The Relax Inn doesn't have a swimming-pool. This motel can't be booked via internet.
Relax Inn, 800 Hwy 59 Loop South (Exit: Factory Outlet Dr.), Livingston, TX 77351, Phone: 001-936-327-2401
Similar to the Relax Inn is the Livingston Inn Motel, but it is the one most far away from Polunsky Unit of these five.
Livingston Inn Motel, 4145 Hwy 59 South, Livingston, TX 77351, Phone: 001-936-327-5455, Fax: 001-936-327-2387
Newly built on the right and left side of Highway 59 (near junction Highway 190) are La Quinta Inn & Suites Livingston and Best Western Livingston Inn & Suites, between "Hampton Inn" and "Super 8" concerning the costs (about 85 Dollars).
Best Western Livingston Inn & Suites, 335 Highway 59 Loop South, Livingston, TX 77351, Phone: 001-936-327-8500, Website: www.bestwestern.de or www.bestwestern.com (Fill in country, state, and location!)
La Quinta Inn & Suites Livingston, 402 Hwy 59 Loop South, Livingston, TX 77351, Phone: 001-936-328-5299, Fax: 001-936-328-5298, Website: www.lq.com (Fill in state and location!)
The Motel "Americas Best Value Inn Livingston" (formerly known as "The Lake Livingston Inn") changed again its name into Economy Inn. No more information available at the moment.
Economy Inn, 3219 Highway 59 South, Livingston, TX 77351, Phone: 001-936-327-2525
In general: The prices they tell you are most often without tax. When asking for prices and reservation, ask for a weekly rate, in case you stay seven days or longer! (Be aware that the eighth night can be the regular price again!) By the way: certain card holders may get reduced rates. For example, holders of membership cards of some automobile associations - please ask for an AAA-card. Last but not least: Booking via internet (www.hotelguides.com) can be cheaper than reservation at the motels!
It takes between ten and twenty minutes to drive from each of these Motels or Hotels to Polunsky Unit.
Considerably cheaper is the "Hospitality House" in Huntsville. This house is an institution financed by the Baptist Church and meant for people who make visits in one of the many prisons in and around Huntsville and who live more than 125 miles away. They don't charge a fixed rate, but ask you to make a contribution of - in the past - 10 Dollars per night and person if you can - don't know if it's still 10 Dollars today. The rooms are basic, some with bunk beds and only one bathroom for the entire corridor. But it's usually only full on weekends and before an execution. Stays were limited to either 10 or 14 days in former times; in the meantime they allowed to stay only on visiting days and you had to be a relative of the inmate: "We only allow stays on the days of visits. On days when visits are not being made a person needs to find another place to stay. Also, we are a family ministry for the families of inmates, we are not for individuals who visit numerous prisoners." So said Freddy Walters who was together with his wife Sherry the directors. Take note that the Hospitality House officially follows a policy of strict neutrality towards the Death Penalty. Discussing this issue with staff and even outspoken opposition to it by the guests within the confines of the house is frowned upon. The philosophy behind this house is to offer a place to stay for those whom the Baptist Church considers the "second set of victims", namely loved ones of the prisoners. So if you just can't do without your Anti-DP-T-shirt, you won't like it there. - Since 2010 the Hospitality House has new directors: Debra and Joe McCammon. I heard more positive feedback than during the Walters-era, but don't know many details.
Hospitality House, 912 10th Street, Huntsville, Texas 77320, Phone + Fax: 001-936-291-6196, E-Mail: Use Cantact-Form on the Website! - Website: www.thehospitalityhouse.org
If you prefer not to stay at the Hospitality House - or in case you're planning a longer stay in Texas and don't care to waste away in Livingston, which is in fact in the middle of nowhere - there exist also various other options for accommodation. Huntsville (definitely quite a bit bigger than Livingston) has Motels such as the Motel 6 (ca. 40 Dollars) or the Econo Lodge (ca. 70 Dollars) or the Super 8 Motel (ca. 60 Dollars).
I don't know the exact rates for these places, but they most likely differ from the ones in Livingston, so it's down to asking them. The addresses are:
Motel 6, 122 I-45 North, Huntsville , TX 77340, Phone: 001-936-291-6927, Website: www.Motel6.com (Fill in state and location!)
Econo Lodge, 112 I-45 North Exit 116, Huntsville, TX 77320, Phone: 001-936-295-6401 , Website: www. econolodge.com (Fill in state and location!)
Super 8 Motel, 3121 Montgomery Road, Huntsville, TX 77340, Phone: 001-936-730-8888, Website: www.super8.com (Fill in state and location!)
It's about 45 minutes to an hour to Polunsky Unit going from Huntsville. (In case a Motel doesn't have its own website, just try www.google.com!)
If more than three or four persons make their trip to Texas together, you can rent a house at Lake Livingston. To be found for example here: www.cyberrentals.com/Tx/ChasTX.html and www.vrbo.com/vacation-rentals/usa/texas - or search the web for more results...
For a relatively cheap stay in Houston, have a look at the Houston International Hostel, effectively a Youth Hostel. Rates for the dorm (6-8 (bunk-)beds) were 15 Dollars in the past per night per person (plus tax). If available, they also have single rooms for an extra fee. Bathrooms are shared. Large kitchen and community room. Houston City is close-by and easy to reach by public transportation.
Houston International Hostel, 5302 Crawford, Houston, TX 77004, Phone: 001-713-523-1009, Website: www.houstonhostel.com
By the way: electricity in the US comes at 110 Volt and the sockets are different from ours - you will need an adapter!
From the Rental Station at Houston Intercontinental Airport to Livingston: The "Rental Car Center" is East of John F Kennedy Boulevard. Just follow the signs towards Highway 59 (signage is conclusive) and it will direct you from JFK Boulevard, that you have been driving on in Northern direction, into Will Clayton Pkwy, on which you go East. Follow the signage to Hwy 59 and finally, after you come from under a bridge, take a left onto Hwy 59 North. (Highway 59 to Livingston is on its first part now also called Interstate 69.) Keep left, so you can leave the feeder road and end up on the main Highway. You can actually get a map when you pick up the car. I put one below at "City maps and street maps".
Stay on Highway 59 North (but watch out: there comes a bit tricky part after the sign saying "Cleveland Next 4 Exits" after which one exit goes straight, so stay more to the left or you risk leaving the 59 unwittingly. I'm adding this because it happened to me... :-). It takes about an hour from the Airport to Livingston.
To the Motels in Livingston: Even before reachung Livingston itself, you'll find the Livingston Inn Motel, two or three miles later the Americas Best Value Inn Livingston which changed its name to Economy Inn, on the right side of the Highway.
When you reach Livingston, don't take the first exit, even if it says Hwy 59 and Livingston. Keep on the left lane and go towards "Lake Livingston". Unfortunately, at this point only a small sign tells you that you are still on the 59 North (it splits at that point for a little while) and that you are going towards Hwy 190 - at least I didn't see it. However, if you want to find the Relax Inn or the Super 8 Motel or the Best Western or La Quinta Inn, you have to go this way, because otherwise you end up in the city centre.
For the Relax Inn leave Hwy 59 at exit "Factory Outlet Drive", the Motel is directly right of the Highway. La Quinta Inn is the next one on the right side of Hwy 59.
For the Super 8 Motel, drive on until you hit Hwy 190, take the exit there, keep on the very left lane and follow the U-turn. After you completed it and are about to go back in the opposite direction that you came from, there will be the entrance to the Super 8 Motel. Watch for it carefully, it's not very visible. The Super 8 Motel is on the other (left) side of Hwy 59, so that's why you have to do that U-turn. Same if you want to go to Best Western Inn, which is - from direction of Houston looking - on the left side of Hwy 59 before the Super 8 Motel.
For the Hampton Inn and the Holiday Inn Express, take exit Bus 59 (Bus = Business) to Livingston. Turn left and you'll find the Holiday Inn Express on the right side. Stay on this road and you'll be at the back of the Hampton Inn. More easily you'll find the Hampton Inn if you take the first exit AFTER exit Bus 59.
To Polunsky Unit: When you reach Livingston, don't take the first exit, even if it says Hwy 59 (Bus = Business) and Livingston. Keep on the left lane and go towards "Lake Livingston". Go on until exit "Hwy 190" and take it. From there on a slightly ascending slope (there's a Burger King at the right side) you take a left at the lights onto Hwy 190 West towards Huntsville (best go on the left lane and stay there). It's just before you have to take a left into FM 350 - there's also a small green sign saying "TDCJ - Polunsky Unit", but by the time you can read it, it's probably already too late to turn off. It's at the traffic lights maybe half a mile after Wal-Mart's. It's right after the new building of the First National Bank on the left, followed by "Car Care Corner" (formerly: "City Grille"). (If you miss it, no problem, make a U-turn at the next possibility and drive back.) To Polunsky Unit stay on FM 350 South for a few miles. After a short time you will find Polunsky Unit to your right.
From the Motels in Livingston to Polunsky Unit: Going from the Super 8 Motel or from the Best Western Inn you have to go in the "wrong" direction for a bit, because the motels are on the side of the Highway that leads to Houston, so that you have to cross over to the other side of the 59 again. So from the exit of the Motel's parking lot you hit the feeder road towards Hwy 59 South, however do NOT go ON the Highway itself. Stay straight on the feeder and it will automatically lead you into a hard left-turn below the Highway back into the right direction (North). Do stay on the feeder even now, until the lights where you reach Hwy 190.
Going from the Relax Inn or La Quinta Inn go right and take the feeder road, stay there until the lights where you reach Hwy 190. Going from Hampton Inn or Holiday Inn Express drive back to Hwy 59 North. Go on until exit "Hwy 190" and take it.
Going from Americas Best Value Inn which changes its name to Economy Inn or from Livingston Inn Motel take Hwy 59 North. When you reach Livingston, don't take the first exit, even if it says Hwy 59 and Livingston. Keep on the left lane and go towards "Lake Livingston". Go on until exit "Hwy 190" and take it.
This is for all Motels and Hotels now: From there on a slightly ascending slope (there's a Burger King at the right side) you take a left at the lights onto Hwy 190 West towards Huntsville (best go on the left lane and stay there). It's just a few hundred meters before you have to take a left into FM 350 - there's also a small green sign saying "TDCJ - Polunsky Unit", but by the time you can read it, it's probably already too late to turn off. It's at the traffic lights maybe half a mile after Wal-Mart's. It's right after the new building of the First National Bank on the left, followed by "Car Care Corner" (formerly: "City Grille"). (If you miss it, no problem, make a U-turn at the next possibility and drive back.) After a few miles on FM 350 South you find Polunsky Unit to your right.
To "Blue Shelter Guesthouse" in Livingston: Drive down FM 350 South towards Polunsky Unit, but before you reach it, take a right at "Lake Livingston Church" (second church you pass), follow the road for roughly 1.4 miles until you can see a sign "Mangum Estates", where you turn left. After that it's the 4th street on the left side ("Parker Drive" - it's behind "Bowman Drive"). The guesthouse is the second house on the left (# 135 and blue, as the name suggests). If you're going from there to Polunsky, just go back to FM 350, take a right and you're there. The drive from the "Blue Shelter" to Polunsky should only take about 5 minutes.
From Houston Intercontinental Airport to Huntsville and back: While you go East from the airport on Hwy 59 for Livingston, it is better to go on Interstate 45 North for Huntsville, which lies in Western direction of the airport. The correct direction is actually Dallas and the Interstate 45 is signposted just as well as is the 59, when coming from the Rental station. (Except when you are at junction with Beltway 8 - follow Beltway 8 West! There's no sign to Interstate 45.) After about 1.5 hours you reach Huntsville and take exit 116. Motel 6 and Huntsville's Econo Lodge are both close to this exit - for the rest of the locations check the street-maps below. (For Super 8 Motel take exit 114, then turn right into Montgomery Road - at a Gateway Inn and Dairy Queen.) To go from Huntsville back to the rental station at Houston Intercontinental Airport, take Interstate 45 South, go off at exit 60 and you are on Beltway 8 East, which you follow until exit "Intercontinental Airport". This exit takes you to JFK Boulevard. Signs will lead you to the "Rental Car Return" from there.
From Livingston to the rental car station at Houston Intercontinental Airport: Go on Hwy 59 South towards Houston. After about an hour there's an exit called "Townsen", after that comes "Humble" and after that the exit to Will Clayton Pkwy, which goes to the airport, so take that one. It will take you on a feeder road running parallel to the Hwy. Before you reach the lights, turn right (West) into Will Clayton Pkwy. Keep going (there are all sorts of signs with Terminals and Airlines) until the "Rental Car Return" is being sign-posted. Takes a while, but after that it's simple. After dropping off your car, a shuttle bus will take you to Terminal D (Intercontinental Flights) at the Airport or - if you have a US flight - to another Terminal.
Street Maps and City Maps
These are the city and street maps provided for downloading and printing. The files will all be around 200 KB (jpg-format), because satisfactory quality cannot be achieved otherwise. So if you don't have a DSL connection, please be patient when opening the documents. If you try printing the maps directly from the website, it can happen that they are oversized. Therefore I would recommend saving the maps on the hard-disc first (use the "file" option in your tool bar or click the right mouse button). Open the file and adjust the size before printing. If you encounter any problems, feel free to email me.
- Map of East Texas (Houston, Livingston, Huntsville)
- Overview Lake Livingston (Huntsville, Riverside, Onalaska, Livingston - incl. Ellis Unit One und Polunsky Unit)
- City Map of Livingston (incl. Super 8 Motel, Relax Inn, Hampton Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Best Western Inn, La Quinta Inn, directions to Polunsky Unit)
- City Map of Huntsville (incl. Hospitality House, Walls Unit, prison cemetery, Prison Museum, Motel 6, Econo Lodge)
- Overview Houston
- Overview Airport and surrounding area
- Map of Houston Intercontinental Airport
- Street maps for the Airport: Pic 1, Pic 2, Pic 3, Pic 4 (Pic 1-3 complement each other, Pic 4 shows the JCT of Hwy 59.)
- Overview Texas
Visiting Polunsky Unit
The following things are mandatory for a visit: Passport/ID. In addition to that it is allowed to bring inside the unit: up to 25 (NEW!) Dollars of change (no bills allowed!) for the snack machines and you car keys. To carry this inside you can use a see-through (!) bag. This is pretty much all that is officially permitted to bring inside the unit. (It is recommended to keep the plane ticket or copy of e-ticket for your flight back in the car if you have a special visit, to be able to prove that you are from over 300 miles away and intend to go back there - just in case you are asked.)
Dress code: Nothing white, nothing transparent, nothing that shows shoulders or too much cleavage, no shorts, no short skirts, no hats or caps, no sandals that show your toes, no T-shirts sporting Anti-death-penalty or other political slogans contradicting the TDC agenda. New rule: Scarfs aren't allowed anymore, because they could be used as a weapon. (Sometimes they don't say anything, when someone wears sandals or white clothes, but better at least have an alternative in your car.) Best wear long pants or at least over knee-length skirts. If you feel the cold easily, bring a jacket, because the visiting room is air-conditioned, so it can be freezing even in summer.
This is a new rule since spring 2006: Not only on weekends, but during the week, too, the gate to the parking lot is closed and you have to take the side road on the right hand. At the end of the road is a guard who wants to see your ID and asks you to open the trunk and the hood of your car. You'll be asked for name and number of the one you're going to visit, and the guard writes down the number of your car and sometimes of the model (year - you have to guess if it's a rental car). You have to sign on his list, sometimes they tell you the number of your parking lot. Nevertheless you have to use the visitor parking lots.
After arriving in the parking lot of the unit and walking through the main entrance, you are in the registration area. If you didn't bring any coins you will find one or sometimes two machines in the registration area, which will give you change when you insert dollar bills. One machine gives you Dollar coins, the other one - if there - Quarters. The machines accept 1-, 5-, 10- and 20-Dollar bills. (In case the machine(s) would be empty, you are lucky, if you have some coins in your car. A staff member of the Best Western told a visitor, he would bring coins from the bank if he is told in advance - very kind!) Now you have to put your bag, your jewellery, and your jacket and shoes on the table in front of the x-ray-machine. You have to walk through a metal detector (just like at the airport) while an officer is watching. Then you have to undergo a patsearch by an officer of the same gender, and you have to show them the soles of your feet. New rule: After entering the registration building you have to undergo the security procedure, even if you want to go back to your car, for example to get coins. Means you have to be checked twice in this case.
Finally you go to the front-desk (sort of) and give another officer there your ID, then state the name of the prisoner you want to visit and whether you come for a regular or special visit. The officer will check the computer to see if you are on the visiting list. She will give you a blue slip with all the details of your visit and a yellow badge for visitors saying "DR No.( )". The officer will slide open an automatic door for you. After that comes another door that you may open yourself and then you are in an open yard. Walk up a few meters to the next gate and wait until it is buzzed open by the officer inside. Close the door behind you. The path ahead is about 50 or 100 meters long and leads to the entrance of the administration building. If you look to the left while you walk up there you can see the front of death row pods F, D and B.
Walk through the green door and take a left, until you are standing in front of another steel security door. The officer in the cage is supervising that door. She will only want to see the yellow badge you have been given. After that security door slides open you step inside. Stand there and wait until the door has been shut again. To your left (not ahead, that's the wrong door) is another steel door which finally leads into the visiting area. Keep walking until you see the next officer who is in charge of the visiting room. Depending on who is on duty on that day, the officer was likely a white lady called Ms. Williams - she became supervisor and works elsewhere in the Polunsky Unit. There was a black lady also called Ms. Williams. And there are Ms. Ford, Ms. Scott or Ms. Tucker or a young white Ms. Williams and there is Ms. Adams. On Saturdays the officer I met was Ms. Nelson. Most of them are rather helpful and as long as you stick by the protocol, there won't be any problems. The officer will ask to see the blue slip and give you the number of the cage in front of which you can have a seat. Since there are no contact visits, the prisoner will be sitting behind glass in a steel cage. Therefore communication takes place via a phone. It will take a while until they bring the prisoner out (up to more than an hour on busy days). Only on Saturdays the prisoner will already sit there waiting for you and the seat number is to be found on the blue slip. First thing I usually do is go inside the bathroom and take some tissues from the holder to clean the receiver of the phone with them. (By the way: don't close the bathroom door when you leave it, because then it will be locked. From the outside it can only be opened by the officer with a key.)
You can use the vending machines to get snacks or drinks for yourself any time you wish. The machines give change back (most of the time :-). You can also get items for the prisoner from the machines, which is a treat because the food etc. they contain is a great deal better than that which the prison usually feeds them. So don't forget to offer him a meal when you are there. As a rule you have to get the food for your pen-pal in one go. Whatever the prisoner orders will be taken out of the machine by the officer. You are only there to insert the money. The visitors are no longer allowed to touch any of the food meant for the prisoners, for "security reasons" of course. The officer puts everything into a brown paper bag which will be taken inside to the prisoner. To give him enough time to finish his meal you should order early on. The prisoners cannot take any left-overs back to their cells. On the other hand it often happens (especially on Mondays) that the machines are virtually empty, no salads, no sandwiches, no fruit, no cheese cakes, which are the most popular items. In that case it makes more sense to wait until the machines are refilled. Refills took place Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays between 9 and 10 a.m. (plus at the weekend) in the past - that might have changed.
On the 1st through the 7th of every month you and your pen-pal can have your pictures taken by the officer. It's 3 Dollars per photo. You can take off that yellow badge for the pictures. In fact, if you take it off during your entire visit, nobody will mind. (A few months before Christmas sometimes they offered pictures during the whole month, I was told.) There had been a rumor, that they wouldn't take pictures anymore, but that wasn't true. They just stopped doing Polaroids and use a digital camera now.
By the way: Wal-Mart (see below "Miscellaneous") has - at least in Livingston - a machine that can make photographic prints of your pictures. It is located in the section where they also sell cameras and such things. With the help of that machine you can add frames to the pictures or cut out parts of the print that you don't like. It's cool if you'd like to send copies of the pics to your friend, because it's quick and cheaper than doing it from home.
A big no-no in the visiting-room that will easily lead to trouble is to make any attempt at having a conversation with a different prisoner than the one you are currently visiting. Regardless of whether you know him or not, don't try if you don't like to be yelled at. Some officers MIGHT allow you to have a word with another prisoner upon request, if you're lucky. But as the visiting-room has cameras now, most likely you won't get permission. For a short time they had a new rule saying you aren't even allowed to talk with other visitors in the visiting-room or to wave an inmate you do not visit. But that was only temporary. Recently I was told that you are not allowed to borrow money, if a visitor doesn't have enough for example for a picture.
Around the end of the visit the officer will usually tell you that you have only a couple minutes left and comes back again to tell you when the time is up. You will have to leave the visiting room then, while the prisoner often stays in the cell for a while. It can also happen that they do not tell you how much time you have left and the officers suddenly appear at the prisoner's back to bring him back to his cell. It is best to have a look at the watch when they bring him out at the beginning of the visit, so you can estimate when the visit will likely end. (I forgot most of the times! :-)
After leaving the visiting room you go back to the front-desk in the registration area, return the yellow badge and pick up your ID. In case you have a visit with another inmate, you will also have to go back there. The officer at the desk will then give you a new blue slip and you can go back in. When leaving the prison area, you have to stop your car again, tell the number you were told when entering the parking lot, and let the officer check the trunk, if asked.
In any case: You should stick to the rules! After various incidents they have zero tolerance meanwhile, and you can easily be deleted from the visiting list!
Please note that if you have a special visit, you could be asked to show the warden's secretary your plane ticket. The warden's office is in the administration building (green door), so before taking a left into the corridor that leads towards the visiting room, go straight past the empty desk, through the door and into the room to your right. (Happened to me only once until now.) (But one time another visitor told me that we are in general supposed to show our plane ticket before the first of our "special visits" - so we did without being asked. The past times I never was asked nor did I go myself to show the plane ticket. Recently someone told me that she was not even allowed to bring the ticket into the unit and was told to bring it back into her car!)
Gatesville - Women's Death Row
While death rows in the USA house around 3.100 men - about 320 of whom sit on Texas death row - there are only about 60 female death row prisoners in the entire US. So opposed to the ca. 270 male DR prisoners, only a handful of women share their fate. These women are not housed at Polunsky Unit in Livingston, but in a women's unit in Gatesville. Gatesville is West of Waco at Hwy 84, so it is closer to Dallas than Houston. Therefore you might take a flight to Dallas. Other than that, Gatesville is completely unknown to me, so I am in no position to give advice myself on the visiting rules for that prison. However, someone who is better acquainted with that place gave me the following information, and in case you have further questions or requests I will gladly forward them to someone who is able to help.
"Scheduling your visits: Being listed on the visiting list is mandatory for visits. Lists may name 10 people and can be changed twice a year. The prisoner is entitled to one 2-hour visit per week (not Saturday and Sunday), once a month she can have a special visit instead of the regular visit. As a visitor you have to request permission to have a special visit in advance, stating your preferred visiting day and the prisoner's name/number to the Warden. Visiting time is 8 a.m. - 4 p.m. Wednesdays are Media days, and visiting time is only until noon. Scheduling the visits is possible by phone as of the first day of the month preceding your visit.
The address is: Mountain View Unit, 2305 Ransom Road, Gatesville, TX 76528. Phone: 001-254-865-7226. Ask for the Warden's Office and tell them that you want to schedule a special visit. You have to give them your name and name and number of the woman you want to visit. After about a week you can call again to ask if the visit has been approved.
Driving Directions: In Gatesville you take a right at the (only) shopping mall (HEB) off of Main Street (that is, when you are headed there from Waco or from Regency Inn Motel). The street you are on then is slightly curvy and leads through a residential area. It starts out with a different name, but later turns into Ransom Road. You will pass more than one prison on the way (all women's units). Mountain View is right behind a junction to the right, the last of the prisons. By then you will have left the city.
Visiting Mountain View Unit: Entering the prison area please follow the sign VISITATION until you reach a booth. Correctional Officers will be there at 8 a.m. (If you are there before 8 a.m., just wait in your car.) They are checking the cars, so you'll be asked to open the trunk and also lift the engine hood. They might search it and will then ask you to state your license plate number and the year in which it was issued. If you don't know the latter due to having a rental car, just say the last year. They aren't very strict with that info. Then you have to give them name and number of the one you are going to visit and you have to sign on the list. Once you passed their search, there's a parking lot belonging to the unit behind the searching-area.
Take your ID, driver's licence, car keys and change up to 25 Dollars with you in a see-through plastic bag and walk up to the second booth right next to the prison building. Other Correctional Officers will ask you for the details regarding your visit and check you with a metal detector. Then you are given a slip of paper with the name of the prisoner you are visiting. Walk on to the next building (doors are controlled by the CO in the tower to your left) and you enter the visiting area. There's a CO at a table who will collect the slips the visitors were given. The prisoner already waits for you behind the bars. For the women who don't work or are currently subject to disciplinary measures there are three cells in which they are locked during visits. The others may sit next to each other at a long table, separated from their visitor by a wire netting. Communication takes place through that net, without the help of a phone. You can purchase snacks and drinks from the vending machines at any time, and it will be forwarded to the prisoner. The end of the visit will be announced by a CO. Doors open and close automatically again, and you can leave the prison without being searched again.
Accommodation: I personally know of only one Motel, but it is ok, run by a kind family from India: Regency Inn, 2307 East Main Street, Gatesville, Texas 76528. (Phone: 001-254-865-8405). The price is about 55 Dollars a night. It is 10 minutes by car to the prison."
Thanks for the info! Again, if you need to make contact to someone with any experience in women's death row, I'll be glad to assist. (I heard from another visitor, that visits on Saturdays are possible and Media Day is on Thursday now. Elsewhere I read that Media Day is Tuesday.)
From another source I have an information sheet about Gatesville that was last updated in April 2015. If you are interested, please write me an e-mail and I send it to you.
Around the area of the junction of Highways 59 and 190 in Livingston you can find a Wal-Mart, Burger King, McDonald's, TacoBell, as well as several Gas stations. Close to Wal-Mart (opposite the road that leads up to Polunsky, nearby an Exxon-gas-station) there is "Postnet". The shop is apparently some sort of Post Office, you can make copies there and send faxes. They offered Internet access there for a fee of $ 9 per hour (charged in 5-minutes-intervals) in the past - I don't know if this is still the same. PostNet is closed on Sundays.
The Main Post Office in Livingston is on Hwy 190, if you take that road in direction of Livingston (East) instead of Huntsville. It's on the right side of the road. If you follow that road further on, you will find a Public Library on the right side (short distance after passing "Livingston Telephone Company"). They offer Internet access for members, but guests are allowed 30 minutes for free. Next to the Polk County Courthouse in Livingston there was a little Book-Store from which used books could be sent to prisoners. This store is closed now. (Books always have to be sent via a commercial dealer, coming from a pen pal directly they will not be accepted. You can use www.amazon.com, www.alibris.com or www.texasprisonbookstore.com.)
If you wish to send your friend money to his inmate account while there, it is much easier done and cheaper than to do it from over here. You need a deposit slip, which you can get from the officer at the front desk at the prison and a money order indicating the sum you wish to send. Money orders can be bought at the post office for an additional fee of $ 1.20. Fill in the money order and put it in a business size envelope. Keep the upper part of the money order, it's your receipt. Send the envelope to the Huntsville address that's stated on the deposit slip. (Livingston's Wal-Mart has a service area somewhere close to the restrooms, where it is possible to buy money orders for a fee of about 50 cent.) [It's also possible to take your money order and deposit slip directly to the Inmate Trust Fund in Huntsville. They also accepted cash, but this changed, and travellers cheques instead of the money order. Coming from Livingston you have to go almost all the way through Huntsville on the main street, which is the 11th street (also known as Hwy 190). Turn right after passing a restaurant called Golden Correll ("Normal Park Drive"). It will be a darkish flat building on the right side with a parking lot that lies below street level. The building has several entrances, on the very last one is a rather small sign that says: Inmate Trust Fund.]
In Huntsville the Post Office is on 10th street between Avenue M and N. On 14th street between Avenue M and Sam Houston Ave, Huntsville keeps its Public Library which offers free access to computers and free Internet access for 2 hours, all you have to do is ask for a code at the front desk. The parking lots are behind the library, by the way. Opening hours are from 8 a.m. - 7 p.m. Monday - Thursday, 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. Fridays and 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. on Saturdays. At 11th Street/Avenue N Huntsville has a Tourist Information (Chamber of Commerce), with lots of fliers, maps, and info for free. The Office Depot is near Interstate 45 South. Easiest way to find it: Drive the street to the Prison Museum until you reach the Interstate 45, turn on Interstate 45 South, and Office Depot will soon be on your right side. But it is not allowed anymore to send paper etc. to inmates via Office Depot or other companies.
Then there's the Walls Unit of Huntsville. It's a big red brick building and situated a bit aside from the main road about par with Avenue H. The Prison Cemetery (Joe Byrd Cemetery) is on Bowers Boulevard behind Sycamore Avenue. The (frankly bizarre) Prison Museum has moved from Huntsville City to 491 SH 75 North (from main street turn right at Walgreens, if your coming from Livingston) - so it is now located pretty much on the outskirts of Huntsville (www.txprisonmuseum.org).
The Radio-Station KPFT of Houston airs the Prison Radio Show with Ray Hill every Friday evening at 9-11 p.m. (on the first Friday of the month it is until midnight). Aside from discussing general prison issues, the show is mainly a venue for loved ones of prisoners to call into the show and send them a message. Channel: FM 90.1 - check at www.kpft.org or www.theprisonshow.org for more information and for instructions on how to listen to the show via the internet. It's just between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. in the morning then in Europe... :-) On any day Texas executes a prisoner there's a special program at 6 p.m. (www.executionwatch.org).
A local Radio-Station in Livingston called KDOL in former times broadcasted "Shout-Out-Shows": People could send messages to inmates via radio. Meanwhile the Shout-Out-Show doesn't exist anymore. But there is another local Radio-Station in Livingston: www.923theeagle.com.
You can use your own mobile phone in Livingston and Huntsville if it is compatible with the US standard. In the vicinity of Livingston you can use T-Mobile or AT&T (Cingular Wireless). T-Mobile is to recommend, because AT&T is much more expensive. For calls to Europe dial 011... plus country code and phone number. If you don't have a cell phone or don't want to use it, because it is too expensive, you can buy telephone cards at almost every store or Gas station or at the post-office to use on normal phones (e.g. in a hotel to evade their outrageous phone charges) or pay phones (which charge an additional 10 minutes from any given card, regardless of how long your call is). Or you can bring an international calling card from home, which essentially works the same as the phone cards from Wal-Mart etc. Cheaper calling cards you can get here: www.callingcards.com.
In case you need medical help during your stay in Livingston: There's the "Calvary Medical Clinic" right beneath the Best Western. A visitor who needed some help sent me a report and was very pleased. This is the address: Calvary Medical Clinic, 309 S Loop Hwy 59, Livingston, Texas 77351, Phone: 936-327-1055, Fax: 936-329-8800.
Last but not least a comment on the weather: Since everything is bigger in Texas, so are the discrepancies in the temperatures. In the summer it is easily 35-40 degrees centigrade (95-106 degrees Fahrenheit) and often more. All rooms are air-conditioned almost down to freezing point, so the difference from outside to inside is considerable. Humidity is very high during the summer months and it doesn't get cold at night. Nightly temperatures hover around 25-30 degrees cent. (75-90 Fahrenheit). Winter temperatures vary a lot. There were Decembers and Januarys that showed their hostile face at 10 degrees cent. (50 Fahrenheit) with grey skies, rain and icy winds, and then on other years you would mistake the same months for spring time with their crisp clear skies and endless sunshine at 21 degrees cent. (70 Fahrenheit). With Texas weather only one thing is for sure: it's capricious and volatile. So best be prepared for all situations. The "onion-principle" in clothing will serve you best... :-)
Between the Texas-Trips
Some recommendable websites for the times you are at home in Europe: You can send an inmate in Texas money to his account easily with www.jpay.com or https://tdcj-ecommdirekct.portal.texas.gov/ - but you need a credit card for the transaction.
Since 2009 JPay also sends E-Mails to Texas-inmates. The prison prints it - quickest way. Costs are 49c per page. If you own a credit card, you can also send letters quicker and cheaper with www.l-mail.com or www.snailmailr.com. The "service" of www.voiceforinmates.com is not recommendable. If you want to send a greeting-card, you can use www.cardstore.com.
Paper and envelopes you could send via www.rosiesgraphics.com or www.inmatepaper.com in the past, but stationary sent by companies is not allowed anymore (new rule of April 2014). Books you can send via www.amazon.com or www.texasprisonbookstore.com. Various things you can send via: https://tdcj-ecommdirect.portal.texas.gov/. More Details: "eCommDirect lets friends and family make deposits into the account of an offender incarcerated in a TDCJ facility and purchase commissary goods. They may purchase each eligible offender at level I up to 60 $ in goods per calendar quarter. Offenders may receive a maximum of one online purchase per day. Calendar quarters are based on the following dates: January 1 to March 31; April 1 to June 30; July 1 to September 30 and October 1 to December 31. Orders here: https://tdcj-ecommdirect.portal.texas.gov/ (acceptconditions, write Offender ID-Number with "00 example 00999111" and Offender Last Name). On the top you can see if the pen pal already received a package and for what value. Under categories make your shopping (work quickly, otherwise you will disconnect of the portal). eCommDirect Store is closed on holiday, lock down and weeknights from 8:30 pm to 4:00 am CST (local time in Texas); using the store from Europe as from about 3:30 pm. on. "
Last Update: October 24, 2015 - No responsibility is taken for the correctness of the information provided.
Updates are made according to necessity, but I strive to be as accurate as possible.
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