Location: Sunflower County, MS
Notable Residents: Stokley Carmichael, Vernon Presley, Samuel Bowers,
Amenities: Contraband cellphone use is not allowed
Mississippi State Penitentiary, also known as Parchman Farm, is the lone and oldest maximum security prison for men in the state of Mississippi. Construction on the prison, which is located in the Mississippi Delta, began in 1901. The massive facility holds 5,000 inamtes, takes up 18,000 acres, and, unlike Alcatraz, the prison is not housed in just one or several main buildings. MSP is composed of several prison camps, called "units," that are spread out over the area. Each unit has a specific purpose within the prison, and they are all enclosed by walls lined with barbed tape. The prison was originally created to house young black males, but that's only part of its history, which is deeply rooted in segregation. By 1917, the prison was organized into a series of camps, holding black and white prisoners of both genders. In 1954, a gas chamber was installed to replace the electric chair, which traveled between counties to execute various prisoners.
Mississippi State Penitentiary played an important role in the Civil Rights Movement, as the first Freedom Riders were imprisoned there. The first batch arrived at Parchman on June 15, 1961. While imprisoned, the Freedom Riders were subject to strip searches, disgusting food, and constant psychological abuse. For rising above the subhuman treatment they received, the Freedom Riders earned significant credibility for the Movement.
During the 1970s, civil rights lawyer Roy Haber started speaking with inmates about the hardships they endured at the prison from the late 1960s into the early 1970s. Four prisoners filed a suit against the prison's superintendent in 1972, claiming that their civil rights had been violated. A federal judge ruled in their favor.
During the late 1990s, the gas chamber was removed and lethal injection was introduced as the new method of execution in 2002. In 2010, it became the first prison to prohibit contraband cell phone usage by installing a system that prevented the operation of wireless devices on prison grounds. That same year, it was added to the Mississippi Blues Trail.
Parchman has made numerous appearances in pop culture over the years. Though filmed in California, Ted Demme's 1999 film Life, starring Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence, was set at the prison. It's referenced in the Coen brothers' 2000 film, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and John Grisham's best-seller, The Chamber is set at the prison. In 1996, the novel was adapted into a film of the same name starring Chris O'Donnell and Gene Hackman.