Since the start of the new year, nine men have died in Mississippi’s Parchman Prison and some units in the prison have been placed under lockdown. Over three thousand men — almost all poor and largely of color — have languished in a state of nearly perpetual and escalating emergency. Desperate to break through their isolation, some who are incarcerated have used contraband cell phones to share stories and photos of alarming violence and inhumane conditions — including dry water taps, overflowing toilets, men sleeping on concrete floors, and little more than sliced bread to eat. And this is not a one time crisis. Just last summer, a state inspection discovered hundreds of environmental health and sanitation problems at the prison.
The truth is that Parchman, a prison farm and former plantation, has a long history of intolerable conditions and human rights abuses that we would decry in another country.
The Mississippi Poor People’s Campaign, building on deep relationships inside and outside Parchman, has helped to organize moral outrage around this emergency. They have connected and marched with other community leaders from across Mississippi who refuse to allow their friends, neighbors, brothers, and fathers to suffer in silence. Together, they are demanding that the state not only responds to this critical moment, but that Parchman itself be permanently closed. The Kairos Center joins these powerful leaders in their call for justice.
We also join the Mississippi Poor People’s Campaign in their call for a transformative movement to end poverty and the war on the poor in their communities, because we know that the emergency at Parchman is connected to a deeper and long-term emergency in Mississippi and the nation as a whole.
Today, 52% of Mississippi is poor or low-income and close to 20,000 people are incarcerated across the state. This is a generational emergency that has been ignored and dismissed by those who hold power in the capitol in Jackson. Instead, when they address poverty at all, they tell us that people are poor because they have made bad and immoral decisions. Through their policies, they teach us that if poor people have failed to succeed, their lives are disposable, and their methods of survival are punishable by cages or death. But the truth is that the majority of Mississippians, and 140 million other poor and low-income people in America, are being hurt and killed by rotten economic and political systems that must be challenged directly.
The majority of Mississippians, and 140 million other poor and low-income people in America, are being hurt and killed by rotten economic and political systems that must be challenged directly.
Truly ending the system of mass incarceration in Mississippi and across the country will require systemic changes to how we invest in communities, how communities are policed, how cases are prosecuted, how courts try cases, and how we reintegrate those who have already been incarcerated. It will require nothing less than a fundamental shift away from a militarized approach to criminal justice that weaponizes racism and punishes the poor for their poverty.
It will require a movement led by the poor and directly impacted that can be, as Dr. King once called for, “a new and unsettling force in our complacent national life”. The Mississippi Poor People’s Campaign will continue to build that movement in the Magnolia state and will be joining forces with poor people from every state for the Mass Poor People’s Assembly and Moral March on Washington, on June 20, 2020.