|The Mississippi State Prison, Parchman Farm, is a storied place. It was where Alan Lomax visited in the process of creating the folk music collection now held at the Library of Congress. Leadbelly's "Midnight Special" is a description of the late night train that brought the convicts wives and girlfriends up for the week-end conjugal visits. It was medieval in its consciousness.
It housed generations of desperados on its 100,000 acres of Delta cotton land. The inmates took care of all their food needs, built most of the equipment that they used in the fields, and guarded themselves with shotgun toting "trusties": often convicted murderers who used their position of power in the way that, well, prisoners have always used their positions of power. The strap, hung on the walls in the camp buildings, ruled.
It was where young Freedom Riders had been taken a few years before in an effort at "shock incarceration". It didn't work. The constant singing of freedom songs made some guards walk off the job.
It was utterly segregated, with separate "camps" for the black and white inmates. (I think that the chinese convicts were with whites and the Indians were with the blacks).
The place was being carpet bombed with law suits even as I visited that fall.
Mississippi State Penintentary, Parchman, Mississippi © D. Gorton 1970