Why Mississippi’s Parchman Prison Must Shut Down

Parchman Prison
Parchman Prison conditions

As an abolitionist, I believe that every prison/jail/incarceration facility must be shut down because human beings, no matter what they’ve done, do not belong in cages. My belief is further solidified when I read about conditions within facilities such as Mississippi’s Parchman Prison from currently incarcerated citizens (Jailhouse Lawyers Speak is one of my main sources of information on social media. Parchman Prison/Mississippi State Penitentiary, previously known as Parchman Farm is a prison farm and it’s the oldest prison in Mississippi. Built on a plantation for enslaved people, Parchman, like most incarceration facilities, was literally created as a means of continuing slavery post-Emancipation Proclamation. Conditions at the prison have been violent, racist, and traumatizing ever since its establishment. In fact, in 1972, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit found that specific types of corporal abuse enacted at Parchman constituted cruel and unusual punishment and violated incarcerated men’s Eighth Amendment rights. Federal judge William C. Keady wrote that Parchman Farm violated modern standards of decency and ordered the facility end all unconstitutional practices and activities. Unfortunately, even despite the landmark case, Parchman Prison remains open and full of mostly Black and Brown poor men who are subjected to unconstitutional violence and cruelty.

Parchman Prison has recently taken space in national news after 40-year-old Terrandance Dobbins died during a “major disturbance” on Sunday alongside other slain people, forcing the facility and others across Mississippi to enter a statewide lockdown. Mississippi WJTV reported speaking with an incarcerated man at the penitentiary who said, “I ain’t took a shower since December 31st. Ain’t brush my teeth. We ain’t got mats, no blankets, no running water. I’m in Parchman. We are locked in 32, a condemned building. It’s the closest thing to hell.” Since Dobbins’ suspicious death, incarcerated people at the prison have said that the deaths of other people inside were caused by a gang war starting in Wilkinson by a woman CO. Fellow guards contributed by popping cell locks and proving keys to specific people. A young man is said to be hanging in his cell days after his death with no one checking on him or removing his body. One man was killed after a fire and a riot on Thursday and two men escaped the facility altogether. After the last man was killed, prison officials moved the slain bodies to a part of the facility that has no running water or electricity. The person who shared the earlier comment also said “I know we all make mistakes. I’m not saying we don’t deserve to be here. But if we are in prison, please give us what we are supposed to have. We don’t want anything extra. Running water, sheets, blankets.” The images above show full views of what life is like in Parchman Prison. People are subjected to inadequate food or dishes that are covered in mold and animal feces, cell blocks are constantly flooded with rainwater and urine, liquid sewage is spreading throughout the buildings, rats roam freely around the floor, and bloodied people and dead bodies lie in every dorm and hallway.

Despite the horrific conditions shared by currently incarcerated men, Mississippi lawmakers and state officials are refusing to stop the madness. The federal courts eliminated facility oversight in 2011, which led to the neglect and chaos that is erupting in Parchman today. The prison gangs responsible for the mass killings and violence control all of the drugs, food, weapons, sleeping materials, and resources in Parchman while COs are either working with the leaders or aren’t present at all. Incarcerated people have complained for months about their water being contaminated by sewage and tasting and smelling like metal, which previously violated the Safe Drinking Water Act dozens of times. The prison is in a full-blown state of pandemonium and the only way to stop the violence and brutality is to shut the entire facility down. Burn it to the ground, if you will. Keeping people in cages in buildings without working electricity or AC, forcing them to drink contaminated water, feeding them food that the FAA says is unsafe for animals to eat, housing them in cells where urine and feces float next to them as they sleep, and helping them perpetuate violence does not make anyone safer. These conditions only breed brutality and danger. They force people to make reckless decisions and not take responsibility for their actions. Prisons like Parchman treat men like wild animals and expect them to be peaceful and become better citizens. Of course the violence enacted by people in gangs at Parchman is a main cause of the facility’s terror, but the prison itself does nothing to heal and soothe those same men. Parchman Prison is a torture facility, just like every other jail and prison in America and the violence will continue if state officials don’t act fast to rely on other alternatives to incarceration.

If you’re as disgusted by the prison’s killings and cruel living conditions as I am, please join me in contacting Mississippi elected officials such as Governor-elect Tate Reeves at (601) 359-3200, Parchman Superintendent at (662) 745-6611 #2301, MDOC at (601) 359-5600, and MDOC Director Pelicia Hall at peliciahall@mdoc.state.ms.us. Let these officials know that we stand with all of the people in facilities across Mississippi and especially during the violence at Parchman Prison. True justice, healing, and restoration occurs in a world where Parchman Prison is shut down and every prison’s doors are unlocked. Let’s join the currently and formerly incarcerated activists in their fight to stop the violence forever and close Parchman.