Boggs Unleashed

Learning Their Trade...In Stir

The Lone Star state’s penal system passes down traditional Western trades to inmates.


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Arnold Darby is in a great mood the day I arrive in Huntsville, Texas, to talk about his custom bootmaking business...with good reason.

After serving 37 years in the Texas penal system, Darby has just learned that he’s being paroled.

“This is the shoes I’m gonna wear when I go home,” says Darby, while standing in the Goree Unit’s craft shop, pointing to a pair of handsome alligator dress shoes. “I feel good.”

In 1974, Darby was convicted of robbing a drug store. “I’d been down twice before,” he admits, so he received a life sentence as a habitual criminal.

“But that’s not the reason I stayed 37 years,” Darby points out.

The Texas prison system in the 1970s was no place to be. “When I got my life sentence, I only had to do 10 years,” he says. “Three years later, you had to do 20 flat years. Most people had never done 20 years for the most heinous crimes there was, and here are these people, maybe they’d never been in trouble before, and got aggravated life sentences, 20 flat years. You created a lot of hatred. From there came the gangs. The combination was an awful lot of violence.”

Darby knows. As a member of the prison gang, Texas Syndicate, he killed two inmates, one of...

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