Tag Archives: Mississippi

The Issue at Parchman Prison is Bad Conditions not Cellphones

Amsterdam      If Parchman Prison in the fertile Mississippi River delta of Sunflower County is in the news, it means there’s bad news, never good news.  Parchman is the only men’s state prison in Mississippi.  Parchman is part of the Leadbelly story.  Parchman was the hellhole where civil rights and Freedom Riders were taken.  Parchman is the prison that is one of the central features of Jesmyn Ward’s award-winning book, Men We Reaped.  Parchman is a stain on the state of Mississippi that for inexplicable reasons, the state simply never seems willing to fix.

I’ve spent time in Parchman Prison.  No, not behind the bars, but in front of them, when I was a boy.  When my family visited my grandmother in Drew, Mississippi, my brother and I would sometimes take a ride the dozen or so miles down the road with our great aunt, Sue Bullock, the Drew Postmaster, to deliver the mail there.  The guards would waive us in.  We could walk around, wide-eyed, while Aunt Sue did her job.  Parchman was a plantation prison, and by that, I mean it was a working cotton farm when we were there.  Trustees on horses and prisoners in the fields were part of the scenery.  Everyone in Drew seemed to have stories of alerts from Floyd, the town police chief then, when prisoners would escape and might be coming their way.  Some told of finding escapees at their back doors, running across their yards, and under their pecan trees.  I drove by Parchman a half-dozen times last year after meeting with people in Drew and heading from there to Little Rock.  I didn’t stop.  I wasn’t delivering mail, but even slowing down, looking through the window,  the buildings looked old and dilapidated.

Recently violence broke out in Parchman and other Mississippi prisons.  Some died.  It was easy to ignore, until cellphone pictures of the horrid conditions in the prison and ill-treatment surfaced and ended up in places like the New York Times.  The pictures show prisoners sleeping on the floor.  Rats and roaches proliferate.  There’s no good news in these pictures or the oral reports from prisoners inside.

A huge amount of the response though isn’t about fixing the problems or doing better, but about cellphones.  They are contraband.  No doubt.  Officials claim they are dangerous and stir up trouble.  They are at least partially correct, because pictures from these phones create images that are impossible for people on the outside to forget.

Convicts have to do their time, but that doesn’t mean being treated like animals in the process.  Officials in Mississippi and other states need to stop with the cellphone coverup and get to work on the cleanup.  It’s a disgrace.

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Please enjoy 1. Gregory Porter – Revival

Thanks to WAMF.

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Come on up, Mississippi – Time for a New Constitution!

Little Rock      On the Peoples’ Daily News that I do for the Affiliated Media Foundation Movement (AM/FM) and all of our stations, I scrounge the daily papers for factoids and news bits that might interest our listeners and give them a brief sense of the fine hands that are pulling the strings behind current events.  An item caught my eye recently that snapped by head back:

Under the 1890 Mississippi constitution passed as a Jim Crow measure, statewide officers must win a majority of the popular vote and a majority of the 122 House districts comprising the state House of Representatives.  If no one wins a double majority, the House may choose the governor.

Make no mistake, this was all about white supremacy and a result of the work of the Redeemer movement organized in the South to undermine the Reconstruction effort after the end of the American Civil War.  In the wake of the war and the end of slavery, more than 80% of black males registered to vote.  In the 19th century, no women in the United States were yet allowed to vote so of course their servitude continued.  Mississippi in writing its constitution in the perverse wisdom of its political leaders could see the day coming when they might not have the majority so this doubletake effort at preserving white rule in the constitution might postpone that day.

Now, almost 130 years later, with the highest percentage of African-American population in the country at 38%, the racists seem to have done their work well.  Of course, taking away the votes gained under Reconstruction until the late 1960s and beyond worked marvelously for them as well.  As I visited with the Delta Foundation and WDSV in Greenville and then We2together, the nonprofit community development corporation, in Sunflower County’s Drew, Mississippi, I asked about this weird piece of political science.  Most were surprised to hear this clause was in fact still in the Mississippi constitution, but Spencer Nash, the executive director of the Delta Foundation, knew about it and told me that in some areas of the state, as well as the recent election for governor, it was in fact raised as an issue.  The Democratic candidate for Governor, Jim Hood, a four-term Attorney-General, had narrowly lost with 47.2% of the vote, but had indicated that if he won, he would ask for this clause to be amended.

In fact, twenty years ago it was a factor.  According to governing.com,

“When Ronnie Musgrove became the last Democratic governor of the state in 1999, he and his Republican opponent won an equal number of state House districts. Musgrove had carried the state by a plurality and the House installed him in office.  But back then, the House was still controlled by Democrats. Republicans now control 74 of the 122 Mississippi House seats. GOP House members aren’t going to install a Democratic governor who fails to carry the state outright.”

It all makes me think of the Nanci Griffin song, “Come on Up, Mississippi!”  The lyrics aren’t really available, but the point of the song is hard to missShe’s singing that it’s time for Mississippi to come on up to the standard that the rest of the states are at least pretending to maintain.  1890 is a long time ago.  It is indeed time for Mississippi to come on up!

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