More than 400 inmates have been executed in Huntsville, Tx., since 1974. Every execution in Texas since 1924 has been carried out in the Huntsville Unit, which has been aptly dubbed “the Walls,” reports the Los Angeles Times. Residents can tell when there’s a controversial execution – they notice the strangers in town. “Inside Huntsville, people don’t even know when there’s an execution,” unless it’s high profile, said Bill Williamson, a state police officer whose father worked at the Walls. “They know it’s a part of life, and that’s what happens.”
In addition to the Walls, there are four more prisons within Huntsville’s city limits and five more nearby. The prison system is one of the biggest employers in Huntsville (note to the unemployed: they’re hiring), and practically everyone in town falls within a couple degrees of separation from someone who makes a living at a prison. Many bristle at how death row has shaped the identity of Huntsville to outsiders. They point to Sam Houston State University, which has about 17,000 students, and the school’s namesake, who was governor when Texas became a state and president when it was a republic. “We don’t talk about the prison,” said Kathryn Nickell, a retired schoolteacher who first came to Huntsville in 1965 to attend Sam, as the locals call the university. “They talk about Huntsville being the death capital. But we’ve got more than that.”n About half of Huntsville’s 35,000 residents are state employees.