January 30, 2017
MS State Penitentiary (Parchman), Unit 29A
– Chris Roy
Those lovely words greet me every morning when I wake, and are the last thing I see before sleep. It’s written above my door in large block letters. Stemming from the “F” and “K” are inverted crosses. And the “O” is an inverted pentagram with three 6s arching over it.
“HATE” with an anarchist’s “A” is to my left in even larger letters. “HUSSLE STRUGGLE STRIVE DIE” has a prominent place next to my door. All manner of derogatory phrases stain my walls, drawn in anger, during bouts with mental illness, or scrawled in sheer boredom by the men who lived here before me.
My sink doesn’t work. Maintenance repaired it three times to no avail. The cold-water dribbles. The hot doesn’t work at all. When it did it ran nonstop for months, steam like a sauna, water condensing on the walls and pooling in craters on the broken, exposed concrete floor. The roof and windows leak, the walls are growing mold, roaches outnumber us by the hundreds, and there are no sprinkler systems installed in case of fire.
Last night’s dinner consisted of two spoonfuls of brown lettuce drenched in a vinegar dressing, a single soy patty, one rock hard biscuit, and a stale square of cake. Breakfast will be a serving of plain grits, a cornbread pancake, a grammar-school boxed milk, and a soy ‘sausage’ link just slightly bigger than an Oreo cookie. Building-wide lockdowns for no reason are a standard here. There’s been no canteen for weeks for some, nutrition is not a high priority for the Administration.
I often pace the wrecked floor. Four steps take me from the window to the door, solid steel that resonates day and night with the dissonance of screaming prisoners. Insomnia is a close friend of mine.
Showers are offered three times a week. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays an officer puts me in handcuffs, escorts me across the zone and locks me in a larger cell with showerheads mounted inside. Exposed wiring hangs overhead. Yard-call is similar. An officer cuffs and escorts me outside to a larger cage. Yard is “officially” as often as showers, though the reality is I’ve been outside twice since Halloween. The prison administration cares nothing for the perks of sunshine in regards to depression and disruptive behavior.
This is Unit 29 in Parchman. My home for the past six years. Before I was transferred here I endured a total of seven years in Parchman’s old supermax, Unit 32. The same kind of inhumane conditions I’m living in now were reason to shut down the notorious supermax in 2010.
How did I manage to land myself into such a Hell? I escaped. Twice. Before that I was in a much different facility, in general population, with a good job and visitation privileges. I got to hug my family every few months.
Why did I escape if I was doing good? Surely, they would have let me out early for good behavior, right?
I came to prison with a life sentence, for a murder conviction. At my trial, the public defender failed to put on the more convincing act for the jury. The prosecution team were far more effective courtroom performers.
I did kill someone. In a self-defense fistfight. He and I were teenagers. Just stupid kids. Our combined ignorance cost him his life. The ignorance of our justice system cost me mine.
A conviction of murder advances law enforcement careers. Manslaughter does not.
That was seventeen years – nearly half my life – ago. I won’t have another chance at life as a free man until I’m 65 years old. According to the law, a person convicted of murder between 1995-2014, no matter their age, isn’t eligible for parole until they turn 65. If I had been 50 at the time of the fight, I would be free now. Unfortunately, I was a teenager.
In 2014 the murder statute changed. Now a person convicted of murder is eligible for parole after 10 years. I’ve met several guys with fresh life sentences who will be free decades before me.
My only real chance at freedom is if the legislature makes the life sentence law retroactive. I would be eligible for parole immediately. Considering I’m incarcerated for violence and have zero violence on my institutional record, it’s likely parole would be granted.
I said it’s “my only real chance”. Recently it was my only “hope”. But that was during Obama’s term as President, an administration that spurred meaningful change for prison reform, slowly but surely influencing lawmakers and changing correctional philosophy around the country. In the last eight years, lawmakers finally became open minded about brain science determining laws for teenagers.
That hope is completely gone now. The Trump administration’s tough on crime nonsense won’t benefit “the People”, and certainly won’t benefit guys like me. Money will again replace science in determining sentencing laws. Prisons will continue to fill and contain immense waste of life.
Who benefits? Directly, the very rich, the folks whose wealth insures their transgressions are never heard in a courtroom. Most of them go about their lives insulated from the lower classes they enrich themselves from. Republican lawmakers benefit; their campaigns are funded by their fishing buddies whose corporations own the prisons. Corrections officials, the zookeepers who include “corrections” in their titles as if they take part in some sort of rehabilitation, certainly benefit.
All the headway Obama’s administration made ridding our country of harsh sentences, showing the value of second chances and clemency, the need for science in courtrooms, will be drowned by the kind of ignorance that takes the lives of our youth.
And parole for guys like me… What do you think?
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