I grew up in a small town where the major employers were a state college and a state prison. Most female students majored in teacher education or home economics but were actually working on their MRS. hoping to marry a business or agriculture major.
The inmates on the prison farms outside of town worked in the fields tending crops or in warehouses manufacturing the goods the state prison system needed to be self-sufficient. Oh, and the penitentiary housed “Old Sparky,” the electric chair that took the lives of the most dangerous and least rehabilitative criminals until 1964 (the year I graduated from high school) when death by electrocution was struck down by the Supreme Court. Most of the convicts on death row were murderers or rapists, but none were women. Karla Faye Tucker was the first woman put to death in Texas by lethal injection in 1998. She found Jesus in prison and became born again, but then Governor George Bush chose to deny her clemancy. Texas today ranks third for giving death sentences to female offenders, and more white women are sentenced to death than women of color–which, by the way, is the opposite for male felons.
My father taught teacher education at the college. Sam Houston State Teachers College was the name of the institution when he started his career there. The name changed to Sam Houston State College in 1965 (and has since become a univesity rather than a college). If you were a teacher or principal in a Houston school or anywhere in East Texas, chances were excellent that Professor Thomas Murray taught you educational psychology or supervised your student teaching.
Education continues to be the most popular major among students today, and the university also boasts of its nationally acclaimed criminal justice program, which in 1970 became one of the first to offer a Ph.D. in criminal justice. My mother, who became the first superintendent of schools within Texas Department of Corrections in 1968, served as an interim professsor of criminal justice at Sam. For the record, my mother built a school system known for reducing recidivism through education and the Dr. Lane Murray Unit outside Gatesville, TX, is named in her honor.
Is it any wonder that my older brother and I went to college in our hometown? Stone worked as a guard at the prison while going to school and eventually became a parole officer in Dallas County. While in college, he dated home economics and elementary education majors, but found his wife in far-off Virginia. I became a teacher in Spring Branch ISD and then a college professor for several colleges in Harris County, the last being Lone Star College.
My younger brother Mark broke the pattern, went to the University of Texas and became a lawyer. Mother always said he was the smartest kid in the family. For sure he landed the most lucrative career, but I’m not convinced it is the most satisfying.
What were the main industries in your hometown? How did your parents’ careers influence your choices?