Melinda Brewer was once the queen of Prison Town, USA. 

Otherwise known as Huntsville, Texas, the town was built by inmates of its first prison nearly two centuries ago. Huntsville’s economy relies on the state prison system, the biggest property owner and employer in town, and Huntsville’s culture is intertwined with the routine drama of prison guards and local rivalries. 

If you are like me, you have read a lot of stories about prisons. Trust me, you haven’t read this one.

Keri Blakinger, writing for The Marshall Project, brings the small-town drama of the state’s biggest prison hub to life in beautiful detail in this sprawling, cinematic profile of Brewer, shedding light on a stark reality of the incarceration system: for employees and inmates alike, no one gets out unscathed. 

Here’s a taste:

Huntsville is the sort of kingdom that is a cross between Game of Thrones and a Walmart, as one local described it. There is some wealth and incredible power among the top prison officials, but there is also plenty of poverty and small-town drama surrounding the insular corrections agency. In the summer of 2019, that drama exploded after a fight about a fried-food truck. It was the greasy spark in a family feud that would be Melinda’s downfall, the thing that dragged her back toward the world she’d fought to escape.

Like Huntsville, the prison system built Melinda Brewer and gave her the life of which she’d always dreamed. But in the end, it took more than it gave. Worth the read. 

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