HUNTSVILLE - They are convicted criminals sentenced to prison -- some even sentenced to death.
Yet, when they die, the State of Texas ensures unwanted prison inmates are buried with dignity.
Fifty-six-year-old Ronald Chambers was sentenced to 35 years for aggravated robbery.
He served 18 years. He died in January while in prison.
When Chambers died, no one claimed his body, and so the State of Texas took on the responsibility.
Fellow inmates were assigned to dig the hole and hold a brief service for Chambers at the Joe Byrd Cemetery in Huntsville.
Chambers was one of five inmates buried on the same Thursday morning in February.
We're the family for them, said inmate Gavin Geneva. We're out here. We are the brother or the wife or the sister - whatever it may be.
Senior Warden James Jones said no matter the crime, these inmates are human.
It's a life still, he said. They committed a crime and they are locked-up in prison, but it's still a human life that we are dealing with.
Last year the State of Texas buried 115 inmates at the Huntsville cemetery.
Buryingan inmate costs the State of Texas $2,100.
Guests at these services are rare, but family members, not wanting to claim the body but wanting to say goodbye, are allowed to attend and pray with the prison s chaplain.
It makes you feel good in here, said Geneva, pointing at his heart. To see that thereis a family here, to see the service and to have the proper burial, makes you feel good.
While working at the cemetery, inmate Leon Dickens said he couldn't help but think he could have been the one being buried.
It could have been my mother up there crying her heart out, he said. I just thank God that it isn't.
Dickens has been in prison for 16 years for aggravated robbery.
He is set to be released in less than a year.
That could have been me, he said. I was heading down that malicious path, and I m just thankful to God that I didn't take anyone's life or hurt anyone. It could have been me.
In the coming weeks, inmates will make their head stones.
Name, criminal identification number, date of death, and an EX if executed, is all that will be engraved, just like the other 2,100 head stones at the Joe Byrd Cemetery.
I know my family wouldn't let me stay here, said inmate Richard Bagrich. They'd come get me, at least I hope they would.
The 22-acre plot of land on the edge of Huntsville, Warden Jones said, is a respectful resting place for any human.
However, for the inmates who work there, it s one of the last places they hope to be buried.
Anyone can die at any time, said Bagrich. You are not guaranteed tomorrow, and I prefer to be out there than in here.Some of these guys don t have that choice.