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Parchman's Farm by Mark Anthony Given

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Oh listen you men, I don't mean no harm If you wanna do good,
you better stay off old Parchman Farm We got to work in the mornin', just at dawn of day
Just at the settin' of the sun, that's when the work is done.
 -Bukka White, Parchman Farm Blues
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TURNING OFF HISTORIC Highway 49, which runs from Memphis to the foot of the Gulf of Mexico at Gulfport, Mississippi, you immediately cross a set of railroad tracks and pass under a big sign over a guard shack that says’s "MISSISSIPPI STATE PENITENTIARY," and going under it felt like passing the threshold back in time. I was in a van full of felons from various detention centers throughout the Great State of Mississippi and we never even slowed for the guard standing outside the shack looking at us with a look of “You poor bastards!” That’s exactly what it felt like to except I felt quite lucky. In another time or another place, three years for getting caught red handed during a drug store robbery? As soon as we got to Building 10 right inside the gate to the right was the Reception Center. It resembled the bunkhouse seen in the movie “Cool Hand Luke,” except four times bigger, with chicken wire on the windows, right out of the Thirties. They were building a brand new massive new Receiving and Delivery and a Maximum Security Unit, somewhere on its 50,000 acres of property; Flat delta as far away as you could see. If you took off running, they’d let you go and then go out there and get you after you wore yourself out real good. Elvis Presley’s father may have been in the very same bunk I was assigned, because he too did three years at “Parchman’s Farm,” in the 30’s for kiting checks. Wherever they have stupid people, they have check kiters because right next to tearing the tag off your mattress or sniffing bicycle seats at the elementary school, it remains the lamest crime on the books.
       I immediately sent out typed resumes to all the top departments and got a job in the hospital pharmacy.  If you ain’t smart enough to get a job, they will put you out in the fields, and if you refused to work, they chained you to the fence and made you watch everyone else work.  My Judgment and Commitment Order said Burglary 3rd.  When they asked me what I burglarized, I told it was a shoe store.  I was sent straight to a Trustee camp and right behind my desk was three large boxes slap full of prescription pills that had been returned to the pharmacy from any inmate who left or found in a shakedown, whatever reason.  I could just dip my hand down in any of the boxes like a cookie jar and come out with anything and sell it.  Most of them dummies wanted Thorazine, Stelazine, stuff that will knock off three weeks of your sentence with cup water.  You will sleep day and night and be zoned like a zombie for weeks.   I fucked them out of many a day in the county jail knocked out on that shit.  I’d trade my food for it and just sleep 20 hours a day, get up and exercise, take a shower, eat some fruit and back to the drawing board. 

                  I THINK I DID ABOUT twelve or fifteen months there.  I was in Camp 20, the “Hospital Camp,” because all the Hospital Workers lived there.  Like nearly every joint I been in I wind up somewhere at the top in job market simply because of my ability to type and non-violent offense.  Looking back on my Mississippi Penitentiary “Parchman’s Farm,” experience, I remember very little because I stayed so busy.  What does stand out was a routine “Shake Down,” where unexpectedly 20-30 men dressed in black SWAT attire with the faces covered handling huge German Sheppard’s and Doberman Pincers do a takedown style robbery of the entire UNIT by forcing everyone “On Your Bunks!”  “Face Down!”  I was scared to death, and I hadn’t even done anything.  I remember being face down on my bunk looking out the side of my eye as a big black Doberman snarling just inches from my face;  I could feel his hot breath on my face, and I noticed the snarling beast hand four or five of his teeth Gold Capped.  I found out later that the dogs got a Gold Cap for every Inmate they caught trying to escape.  After they had the Unit under control they walked the dogs around; some were for tracking, and some were sniffing for narcotics. All the guards were Good 'Ol Boy country boys who loved their jobs more than Georgia Ice Cream (Grits with milk and sugar on it). One of the handler's let the dog pauses right by my face while hollering "Face down! No looking!" That snarling sweaty bastard was practically drooling on my Army blanket and acted like he either wanted to cozy up to me or bite my head off the second I moved...

       I got in a pissing match with a black female fat Sargent who had one of her boys write a note saying I planned on raping and killing her.   The Captain called me in his Office and read the note to me and said he knew I didn’t write it because the spelling and grammar were so bad…    And who would write a note on themselves?  He picked up the phone right in front of me and called the “Security Office,” and spoke to the Sargent and got me a job right then and there.  Probably the most trusted position on the compound as far as I know.  Chauffeured to and from work because there were only two inmates who worked there, right next to the Women’s Death Row.  All day long people would call from all over the Farm or the State and ask where such and such an inmate was.  This was the early 80’s.  I and another Trustee were placed in from of a five foot long Rolodex which we constantly updated.  Photographs were attached to every inmate card.  I left there all pumped up from working out like a mad man and took a hand full of pictures of notorious prisoners with me and sold them to United Press International on Canal Street in New Orleans for $750, a few days after I left there… Never went back, no parole, no probation, scot free.




Copyright 2016 by Mark Anthony Given 
All Rights Reserved 
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