The Rise and Fall of a Prison Town Queen

A family feud over drugs, money and fried fish roils the heart of the Texas prison system.

It is 11 a.m. on a Saturday and the sun is shining on the shores of Lake Conroe, where the woman once known as the First Lady of Huntsville, Texas, is standing in the kitchen of her townhouse, stirring tequila into her Crystal Light.

“It’s strong because, fuck, I’ve been through a lot in the last two months,” Melinda Brewer says, reaching for a pack of menthols on the granite counter. She is short, with tattooed eyeliner, bleached blond hair and a brawny build. She looks like she might punch you — and if she does, it’ll hurt.

Afterwards, she might cuss you out with a slight East Texas lilt, scattering obscenities into her sentences in unexpected places. Or she might just cluck dismissively and move on.

She is always in a hurry, speeding through life like a woman on the run — until you mention Huntsville. Then, her body slows and her eyes narrow, remembering: Once upon a time, that was her city of dreams. Once upon a time, that was her town.

A place where she knew all the watering holes and the greasy spoons. She knew the barkeeps and the gossip. She knew the back road shortcuts zigging between the decaying buildings that lured her there in the first place: the state’s prisons.