Ellis Unit

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O.B. Ellis Unit
EllisUnitTX.jpg
Location 1697 FM 980
Huntsville, Texas 77343
Coordinates 30°53′06″N 95°27′20″W / 30.8850000°N 095.4554167°W / 30.8850000; -095.4554167
Status Operational
Security class G1-G5, Administrative Segregation, Outside Trusty
Capacity Unit: 2,073 Trusty Camp: 409
Opened July 1965
Former name Ellis I Unit
Managed by TDCJ Correctional Institutions Division
Warden Richard Morris
County Walker County
Country USA
Website www.tdcj.state.tx.us/unit_directory../e.html

O. B. Ellis Unit (E1, previously Ellis I Unit[1]) is a Texas Department of Criminal Justice prison located in unincorporated Walker County, Texas, 12 miles (19 km) north of Huntsville. The unit, with about 11,427 acres (4,624 ha) of space, now houses up to 2,400 male prisoners.[2] Ellis is situated in a wooded area shared with the Estelle Unit, which is located 3 miles (4.8 km) away from Ellis.[3]

History[edit]

A topographic map of the Ellis Unit, July 1, 1983 - U.S. Geological Survey

The unit opened in July 1965.[2] It was named after Oscar B. Ellis, a former prison director of Texas.[4] George Beto designed the unit himself, making it to be the strictest prison in the system, and Jim Estelle, the following prison director, continued the course of action Beto established.[5]

From 1965 to 1999 the unit housed the male death row.[6] Michael Berryhill, an author, said "You had the toughest convicts, and the general philosophy was you needed the toughest warden. Wallace Pack was assigned to keep the lid on Ellis. The inmates in the prison were restless. There were work stoppages and strikes, and with Judge Justice's opinion, there was an air of expectancy that the brutality and terrible conditions would end."[5]

In April 1981, Eroy Brown, a prisoner who had been convicted of armed robbery and burglary, drowned Wallace Pack, the warden, and shot Billy Moore, the unit's farm manager, during a struggle for Pack's gun. Brown said that they were planning to kill him since he was going to expose a prison theft scheme. Thirty-five of thirty-six jurors voted in Brown's favor.[5]

After a prisoner named Rodney Hulin fatally injured himself at the Clemens Unit, he was transferred to the Hospital Galveston Unit and then the Ellis Unit. Hulin died in the Ellis Unit in 1997.[7]

In November 1998,[8] six condemned men were absent from their cells for several hours and then coordinated an escape attempt.[9] One of the men, Martin Gurule (TDCJ# 999063[10]),[8] successfully escaped and was later found dead in a location near the prison grounds.[11] TDCJ officials said that he drowned on the day of his escape.[12] According to the TDCJ, the prison escape attempt had hastened the agency's decision to move death row inmates to a new location.[11] Six months after the escape attempt, the TDCJ decided to move the death row.[9] In 1999 the male death row was relocated to the Polunsky Unit (originally known as the Terrell Unit) in West Livingston, Texas.[6][13] The death row transfer, which began in March 1999 and took ten months, was the largest transfer of condemned prisoners in history and was performed under heavy security.[8]

In 2011 the Ellis Unit furniture and wood plant was moved to the Lewis Unit.[14]

Death row[edit]

Aerial photograph of the Ellis and Estelle units, March 8, 1989, U.S. Geological Survey

When the unit housed the male death row, condemned inmates worked in a garment factory, played basketball, assisted each other with legal work, and worshiped together. The prison guards allowed other offenders to gather and say goodbye to a death row inmate on the night before his execution. According to death row offender Jonathan Bruce Reed (Texas Department of Criminal Justice Death Row #642,[15] now TDCJ#1743674 due to a reduction of the sentence to life imprisonment on November 3, 2011[16]), the attitude of the death row was "We can afford you some sort of reasonable life—within security confines" and that death row inmates "lived as humans." Reed said that condemned inmates sometimes violated the rules by smoking, getting tattoos, making wine, and engaging in sexual intercourse with other inmates and officers. Privileges decreased as years passed.[17]

Steve Earle recorded "Ellis Unit One" for the 1995 film Dead Man Walking. The songs lyrics focus on the effect of the death penalty on the guards that carry it out. Earle has been a vocal critic against the death penalty.[18][19]

Notable prisoners[edit]

Death row:

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Inmate escapes Ellis I prison." Associated Press/Austin American-Statesman. June 10, 1989. B6. Retrieved on August 22, 2010. "Authorities were searching for a state prison inmate serving time for burglary convictions who apparently escaped from the Ellis I Unit on..."
  2. ^ a b "Ellis Unit." Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Retrieved on 2014-01-08.
  3. ^ Ward, Mike. "Hunt is on for escaped killer." Austin American-Statesman. June 29, 1999. A1. Retrieved on November 27, 2010.
  4. ^ "1995 Annual Report." Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Retrieved on July 21, 2010.
  5. ^ a b c Turner, Allan. "Author revisits Texas prisons brutality case." Houston Chronicle. Saturday December 10, 2011. Retrieved on December 19, 2011.
  6. ^ a b "Death Tow Facts." Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Retrieved on May 7, 2010.
  7. ^ Berryhill, Michael. "What Really Happened To Rodeny Hulin?" [sic] Houston Press. August 7, 1997. 7. Retrieved on January 17, 2010.
  8. ^ a b c Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Turner Publishing Company, 2004. 103. ISBN 1-56311-964-1, ISBN 978-1-56311-964-4.
  9. ^ a b "Prisoners at new Death Row unit face increased isolation Inmates caged 'like animals waiting for slaughter,'activist says." Fort Worth Star-Telegram. February 28, 2000. 1 News. Retrieved on May 7, 2010.
  10. ^ "Offenders No Longer on Death Row." Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Retrieved on August 22, 2010.
  11. ^ a b Staff and Wire Reports. "Death-row inmates take officer hostage Warden negotiates with prisoners." The Dallas Morning News. February 22, 2000. Retrieved on May 7, 2010. "He was later found dead near the prison, but his escape hastened the decision to house death-row inmates at Terrell Unit, prison officials have said."
  12. ^ Winingham, Ralph and Matt Flores. "Officials say Gurule died day of escape." San Antonio Express-News. December 5, 1998. 1A. Retrieved on May 9, 2010.
  13. ^ "West Livingston CDP, Texas." U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved on May 9, 2010.
  14. ^ Ward, Mike. "Prison industry programs a victim of economic recession." Austin American-Statesman. Sunday September 4, 2011. Retrieved on September 23, 2011.
  15. ^ "Jonathan Bruce Reed." (Archive) Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Retrieved on July 21, 2010.
  16. ^ "Offenders No Longer on Death Row" (Archive) Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Retrieved on March 16, 2014.
  17. ^ Perkinson, Robert. Texas Tough: The Rise of America's Prison Empire. First Edition. Metropolitan Books, 2010. p. 38. ISBN 978-0-8050-8069-8.
  18. ^ "Steve Earle: Still Singing, and Acting, Against the Death Penalty", The Huffington Post, 2011-09-29, Accessed 2014-01-08
  19. ^ "Steve Earle", Author: Nick A. Zaino III, The Progressive, October 2011, Accessed 2014-01-18
  20. ^ "Peter Anthony Cantu." Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Retrieved on September 23, 2010.
  21. ^ "Last Statement - Peter Cantu." Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Retrieved on September 23, 2010.
  22. ^ "Ignacio Cuevas." Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Retrieved on December 4, 2010.
  23. ^ leal.jpg." Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Retrieved on September 22, 2011.
  24. ^ "Humberto Leal Garcia Last Statement." Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Retrieved on September 22, 2011.
  25. ^ "mcduffkenneth.jpg" (Archive) Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Retrieved on March 16, 2014.
  26. ^ "mcduffkennethlast.html" (Archive) Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Retrieved on March 16, 2014.
  27. ^ "Jose Ernesto Medellin." Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Retrieved on September 23, 2010.
  28. ^ "Last Statement - Jose Ernesto Medellin." Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Retrieved on September 23, 2010.
  29. ^ "Sean Derrick O'Brien." Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Retrieved on September 23, 2010.
  30. ^ "Last Statement - Derrick O'Brien." Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Retrieved on September 23, 2010.
  31. ^ "Ronald Clark O'Bryan." Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Retrieved on September 23, 2010.
  32. ^ "Last Statement - Ronald Clark O'Bryan." Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Retrieved on September 23, 2010.
  33. ^ Hank Skinner. Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Retrieved on November 18, 2010.
  34. ^ "Shannon Charles Thomas." Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Retrieved on September 29, 2010.
  35. ^ "Last Statement - Shannon Charles Thomas." Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Retrieved on September 29, 2010.
  36. ^ Grann, David. "Trial by Fire." The New Yorker. September 7, 2009. 1. Retrieved on July 23, 2010.
  37. ^ "Executed Offenders." Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Retrieved on July 23, 2010.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 30°53′05″N 95°27′18″W / 30.88472°N 95.45500°W / 30.88472; -95.45500