Richard Linklater Wants to Save Texas: Maybe His Documentary 'Hometown Prison' Can Help

Richard Linklater and the Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville (via Max)

Texas-born director Richard Linklater has mined his home state in most of his movies, from Dazed and Confused to Boyhood to Everybody Wants Some to Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood and now to the three-part documentary series God Save Texas streaming on Max.

Linklater helms the first episode, "Hometown Prison," about Huntsville, where he was born and raised. In the intro he explains: "I've never directly taken on the notion of criminal justice or prisons even though it looms large in my life."

The Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville – a large red-brick downtown facility that opened in 1849 and currently houses 1,700 prisoners and is where nearly 1,000 executions have taken place over the years – is the focus of the film. An hour-plus north of Houston, Huntsville has a population of 48,000. Linklater visits old friends and places as he establishes his deep connection to the city he grew up in. Linklater played for the high school football and baseball teams, both reflected in his earlier movies. A Black football player he catches up with became the prison's warden. Another, who looked like Sasha Jensen in Dazed and Confused, assisted in the executions.

Linklater also traces corporal punishment in schools where principals regularly paddled students, including him. But after one such paddling, a lawyer took and won the student's case (he was expelled for complaining), pretty much ending that sadistic practise in Texas. I always wondered why paddling was such a key plot point in Dazed and Confused; now we know.

From "Old Sparky" (the Huntsville prison's infamous "electric chair") to lethal injections, Texas has long led the nation in capital punishment. Starting in 1924 and until 1962, when it was declared unconstitutional, 364 inmates were executed there by electrocution. Executions began again in 1982 and since then 587 inmates have received lethal injections. Linklater zeroes in on Ivan Cantu, who was, he says, wrongly excecuted in February.

"Hometown Prison" is just that - a tale of a town that's defined by its hulking jail. Many in Huntsville work there or have been detained there. We see them inside and upon release. Linklater interviews families on both side of the issue, but concentrates on the inhumanity of killing prisoners, no matter the awful crimes many of them committed.

"Hopefully," Linklater sighs at the end, "this will be the very last execution carried out in my hometown."

However, as long as Greg Abbott remains governor, executions will likely continue in the Lone Star State.



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Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.