Moved to Parchman Penitentiary

We were driven in our gray bus into the inner sanctum of the penitentiary, to the Maximum Security Unit (MSU). This is the building where death row and the electric chair were housed, and where the most violent and incorrigible prisoners were housed.

We were completely stripped, and given only underwear to wear: a tee shirt and undershorts. Our cells were arranged in a long row, all facing a single hallway with slit windows in the opposite wall about seven feet above the floor. What would have been the first cell was a shower. The whites were placed in the first few cells, the blacks the rest, and additional Freedom Riders housed on the other side of the wing of MSU.

In our cells, we were given a bible, an aluminum cup and a tooth brush. The cell measured 6 x 8 feet with a toilet and sink on the back wall, and a bunk bed. [Note in the image taken in 2011, the bunk beds are removed, and stainless commode/sink installed.]  We were permitted one shower per week, and no mail was allowed. The policy in the maximum security block was to keep lights on 24 hours a day.  The light fixture served a double purpose and allowed observation into the cells by the guards from the catwalk between the two rows of cells.36_Cell_floorplan Cell_in_MSU_MG_172735_maximum_security_unit MSU_floor_plan_MG_1435

MSU_Plaque_MG_1575sm Parchman_Entrance_sm

Parchman penitentiary is located on 20,000 acres in the heart of the Delta and since the turn of the century it has remained one of the most feared institutions in the state. A totally self-contained working farm and miniature city, Parchman is the "county farm" referred to in dozens of blues songs written through the years. William Faulkner called Parchman "destination doom" and auther David Oshinsky described it as "the quintessential penal farm, the closest thing to slavery that survived the civil war." It was in prisons like Parchman that the work chant, a series of rhymed song couplets used to synchronize mass work, survived the longest. The work chant used the African-American musical call and response style as it's base and the song leader's use of off-color lyrics and spontaneous creativity were archetypes that found wide-spread use in the blues.
Parchman penitentiary is located on 20,000 acres in the heart of the Delta and since the turn of the century it has remained one of the most feared institutions in the state. A totally self-contained working farm and miniature city, Parchman is the “county farm” referred to in dozens of blues songs written through the years. William Faulkner called Parchman “destination doom” and auther David Oshinsky described it as “the quintessential penal farm, the closest thing to slavery that survived the civil war.” It was in prisons like Parchman that the work chant, a series of rhymed song couplets used to synchronize mass work, survived the longest. The work chant used the African-American musical call and response style as it’s base and the song leader’s use of off-color lyrics and spontaneous creativity were archetypes that found wide-spread use in the blues.

Parchman_historic_plaque_

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