VOICES FROM THE FIRE: The Mississippi Prison Writing Project

Instead of featuring a particular artist and/or writer, I’d like to draw attention to The Mississippi Prison Writing Project.

The editor. Louis Bourgeois first reached out to Dumpster Fire Press about a month ago…

“Hope all is well. Our organization wanted to bring to D.F.P.’s attention our recent publication, Mississippi Prison Writing from VOX PRESS We feel this book is an important cultural work which includes narratives and poetry from 30 inmate writers from several prisons throughout the state of Mississippi. In any case, we just wanted to make ourselves known to you for a possible interview, review, etc., or just to share our link with you.”

Cover art from the third volume

An excerpt

DEAD MAN WALKING 

The subject for this paper has been on my mind for some time now.  I hope I can give it the justice it deserves.  

The subject is about life sentences and about the length of time one is supposed to serve.  More importantly, what is the point of a life sentence?  When does the correctional aspect change to punitive and retributive?  

In the State of Mississippi prison system, life sentences fall into one of two categories: those sentenced before 1995 and those after.  We will be writing about people sentenced after 1995.  

A judge at the time of sentencing has the latitude to use discretion, he can impose a life sentence or life without the possibility of parole.  

A life sentence in Mississippi is supposed to hold out the hope of eventual release to the one sentenced, but it doesn’t.  M.D.O.C. has in its lack of wisdom misinterpreted the law and holds the position that everyone has life without.  We are not writing about the insanity of this position, but rather the effects it has on the individuals it is imposed upon.  

In multiple studies done on the criminal justice system it has been found that by taking the hope of eventual release away from a prisoner, you also take away the incentive to follow the rules so to speak.  You’ve created in essence an uncontrollable animal that answers only to itself for its actions.  I am happy to report that not all prisoners stoop to this level of conduct.  

I find myself in this situation with no hope of any type of future outside the prison system.  

Like others I’ve gone through various stages during my incarceration.  

First I had to accept that I was even in prison and that I might not get to go home any time soon.  I think you could say this is your bewildered stage.  At the same time you look at your surroundings and see they are simply terrible.  The roofs leak and the paint on the walls is drab and peeling off.  Everything is filthy and the toilets are overflowing.  The food is bad and at times inedible.  

You soon realize pretty quick that the vast majority of officers you come into contact with all possess double digit I.Q.s, the inmates mostly at the same level.  It took me about 6 months to accept my predicament and move on, some never do.  

Then you enter a stage where you find ways to improve not only your living conditions but your legal position too.  Most people do this and do it in various ways.  

I decided to work and do the best job possible at any task I was assigned to.  Need a really clean bathroom?  I was the man for the job!  This attitude upgraded me a year early from C custody to B custody which entitled me to better housing.  

I strived for years to show M.D.O.C. that underneath everything I was a model prisoner.  I always worked and I attended the Christian College.  I took any available educational course to show I was a changed man.  I volunteered at all the church services.  I’ve taken care of Alzheimer’s patients, I’ve always strived to be seen as part of the solution instead of part of the problem.  

For what?  Being someone completely different from the person I was all those years ago does not change a thing.  M.D.O.C. says they will never release me under any circumstances.  

So the question still begs to be answered, when did the sentence cease to be correctional and strictly become retributive?  While everyone is different so their times will not be the same time as mine.  Mine snuck up on me when I wasn’t aware.  What changed?  

I woke up one day after spending 12 plus years just on Parchman grounds and asked myself what’s the reason for my further existence?  There is none, with no hope for eventual freedom, what’s the point?  

So now I find myself as an elderly inmate in failing health with no viable reason for my existence.  Again what would be the point?  When man does not have an obtainable objective to work towards, men tend to give up.  

I’ve given up, I don’t have a reason for my existence anymore.  So what am I doing?  I guess I’m sitting here waiting to die…. “

-Roger Ewing

One of the things DFP is passionate about is giving a voice to the voiceless and that includes helping those that exactly that as well, no matter on how marginalized the voices may be in our society.

Most especially when most of prisoner aren’t being rehabilitated and are the brutalized victims of an industrial incarceration complex mainly fueled by atavistic narcotic laws as is our society’s present methods in dealing out the old fashioned crime and punishment model.

I’d like to thank Louis for reaching out regarding this project of his and all the prisoners involved, it’s one of those projects that if it doesn’t directly force criminal justice reformation, it will instigate discussion at the very least and hopefully put a human face to the animals (usually drug crazed according to propaganda) deemed fit for cages.

Check out the links below…

https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780980194463

https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780980194401

https://www.facebook.com/inmateartandwriting

http://voxpress.org/index.html?fbclid=IwAR11m3N_GrG1AItjwg-j6x8te6PT1a0vnPvAlU4QnBh_HoA2rX_kFE4vlz0

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