Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Dia de los Muertos

This coming Thursday Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead will be celebrated here in Mexico City.

The ritual is celebrated in Mexico and some other parts of the world - but it is mainly a Mexico City celebration. 

The history is interesting. 

Although the ritual has since been merged with Catholic theology, it still maintains the basic principles of the Aztec ritual, such as the use of skulls. The Aztecs kept skulls as trophies and displayed them during the ritual. The skulls were used to symbolize death and rebirth.

Now, during the celebration, people don wooden skull masks called calacas and dance in honor of their deceased relatives. The wooden skulls are also placed on altars that are dedicated to the dead. The skulls are used to honor the dead, whom the Aztecs believed came back to visit during the month long ritual.

Unlike the Spaniards, who viewed death as the end of life, the native Aztec's viewed it as the continuation of life. Instead of fearing death, they embraced it. To them, life was a dream and only in death did they become truly awake.  

As the Spaniards considered the ritual to be sacrilegious. They perceived the indigenous people to be barbaric and pagan. (sound familiar?)

In their attempts to convert them to Catholicism, the Spaniards tried to kill the ritual. But like the old Aztec spirits, the ritual refused to die.

To make the ritual more Christian, the Spaniards moved it so it coincided with All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day (Nov. 1 and 2), which is when it is celebrated today.

Stay tuned for Photo's...

oh yes - dinner was a prawn cocktail - Mexican style - chilli, tomato, avocado - with a cerveza!

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Mexico City

Food & Weight.
Now out of the USA, one can feel slightly relaxed about the diet issue (not too relaxed); So - have I lost weight? Well.... I can say I have not put on weight. Clothes & pants the same - the scales in Mexico indicate I have NOT put on weight, but the real truth will occur on the weigh in at head office (and home).

I indulged in the THE most delicious - Taco - completely different to what I have ever had - rolled like a cannelloni and stuffed with shredded roast chicken with; minced avocado, very finely sliced lettuce, an amazing bean sauce and.... feta cheese. Taco's will never be the same.

Today I took a quick tour of Mexico City.  It is Sunday, so naturally I went to two churches (catholic of course) - the first San Augustine Palanco. To enter the church and hear the piped organ and choir singing would have and affect on an atheist. 

A quick trip to central Mexico City revealed (on a Sunday morning) revealed a history that, as an Aussie, is difficult to comprehend. It is quite and easy to move around (see later) When you look carefully at the following photo's you will notice that some buildings (their walls) appear to be leaning;  It's a common phenomenon in this city, where many buildings are sinking, as each year Mexico City's 23 million thirsty residents suck up water from the aquifer beneath one of the world's largest metropolises. As the water level in the aquifer drops, the ground above it sinks (unevenly) which means in some parts of the city, sidewalks buckle, window frames lean, subway lines need expensive repairs and drainage canals no longer flow downhill!

Following a visit to the sights above, it is 2pm. 
It is now a crowded city (23 Million people awake!)
The same population we have in Australia.

A true extrovert would love this moment! 

so many people, so many cars, so much activity and so many conversations,
all in Spanish (Mexican) and I have NO Spanish knowledge. 

 - It's a great experience, making you appreciate what it must be like for so many people who, for what ever reason, can not - or have difficulty with communication. 

Mexico City is the host city to the 2012 ICPA Conference - ( International Corrections and  Prison Associations) The ICPA was formed to operate as an Association for corrections and prison professionals, dedicated to improving global understanding and professionalism in the sector. 
There are over 500 delegates from countries all over the planet.

The question is - is someone working in the care of aged prisoners.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

San Luis Obispo – California Mens Colony

The main “East  Facility” that was visited houses medium security (level 111) inmates, with individual cells, housing two prisoners in each cel; it has a fenced perimeter with armed guard coverage from watch towers. The housing is divided into four quadrangles. Each quadrangle has its own dining room, work rooms, recreational area and two three-story housing units. There is also a fully licensed hospital located centrally to the four quadrants that provides a comprehensive  range of medical services; those services that are not provided on site are provided either at other correctional institutions (Haemodialysis) or the general hospital system (specialist surgery). The facility has a comprehensive Mental Health Delivery System in the form of an Enhanced Outpatient Program and Outpatient treatment for inmates. Offenders may also be  assigned to the Correctional Clinical Case Management System, as well as a Mental Health Crisis Bed Unit.

There is also a West facility that houses minimum security inmates in dormitory settings – this facility was not reviewed. 

As of March 2012, the CMC’s total population (East & West)  was 5,524, which is 143.9 percent of its design capacity of 3,838. The West Facility opened in 1954, and the East Facility opened in 1961; whilst the facility is somewhat old and seemingly overcrowded, it is essentially well maintained and an air of harmony within the prison walls is sensed.

The security arrangements are again different at the CMC East area. I am checked in at the first / front entrance and my passport is cross referenced to an approval form. Shoes off, belt off and walk through scan. I receive a prison visitor ID and I am only allowed to proceed through locked doors, and lethal high voltage fencing with my contact host. During the process, I notice other corrections staff walk in with bags etc. show ID’s and walk through. Some are carrying pizza boxes and other sort of food containers. Long terms staff appear to be considered less risk and do not have to undergo a daily complete screen. Whilst, no doubt, some correctional authorities would not tolerate this risk; I consider there is something refreshing and trusting about this approach and wonder what I will see ahead.
Once inside the prison, another check occurs at the central area. We quickly tour the hospital, which on quick inspection is similar to other hospitals visited. My host and I agree, there is more learning to be gained by reviewing the housing units for the cognitively impaired and seeing the Gold Coats working; than reviewing another hospital. (The Gold Coats are prisoner support roles)

As mentioned, the east  facility is designed as a set of four quadrants (A,B,C,D) each separately secure and each radiating from a central court yard. There are two three story buildings (housing units) that run the two external walls of each quadrant. Each housing unit / building houses approximately 300 offenders – that is approximately 600 offenders per quadrant. Each quadrant has wide open yard about 100 metres x 100 metres square. One side of the quadrangle has  a high solid wall (that is use for racket and hand ball) and the other side of the quadrangle is staffing / support areas.



Guards are visible on the route to each quadrant, but once you are in the quadrant, you have to look hard to see guards. There are towers on the most external corner with armed guards, these seem unobtrusive and no threatening despite their presence.Again, this whole security overlay is different to what has been observed. There are at least 100 to 200 offenders intermingling in the court yard. Some playing ball, some sitting and talking some doing exercises some just pacing. It reminds me of the high school yard I spent many years at (it was a quadrangle to – run by the Christian Brothers ) I am struck by the large amounts of offenders grouped in one area and the apparent harmony. Offenders are dressed in blue trousers, white tee shirts and intermingled amongst the blue and white are gold (faded yellow) coats. These are the Gold Coats. I also notice a few women? I am told these are transgender offenders. (This answers a question I had in the back of my mind – where are transgender offenders placed – male or female prisons? – In California at least, in male prisons.) Some offenders are noticed to be wearing vests. Hearing impaired and vision impaired have special observable vest so guards and others offenders (Gold Coats) will know that an offender who fails to respond to a call or whistle etc, has a special need and should be assisted not reprimanded.

As we walk across the yard to observe one of the housing units, one notices a female staff member (social worker) walk across the yard on her own, unaccompanied. This seems out of keeping with other correctional structures viewed before. Here you see single women (she is not a guard), walking through approximately 200 medium security, cognitively impaired offenders, in a yard 100 x 100 metres unaccompanied. Yes there are guard towers, I have not witnessed such “freedom” in other correctional facilities I have visited before.

I discuss these observations with my host. In some ways, it is difficult for them to understand my fascination as it is what they live every day, what they have become used to. I wonder why this works the way it does. I am also told that CMC is the prison most offenders in the State of California want to be transferred to. This is interesting in itself. There is nothing glamorous about CMC. It is an old prison. Sure you can see the sky and some mountains and the climate seems very comfortable. I initially think to myself “the other places must be pretty bad” – but again I reflect on the observed harmony, the “freedom” of staff to walk through a large cohort of offenders – yes this is behaviourally very different. My host, a senior psychologist tells me, he thinks it has a lot to do with offenders having their own key to their cell. “What?” – I think to myself.

On entering the housing units one is greeted by a guard in a raised platform desk type area that is  central to two long corridors. Off each side of the corridors are the offender’s cells. As mentioned, each offender has a key to their shared cell.  Most cells are shared cells some are single cells. 

One is immediately confronted by the small size of the cells. These cells are the smallest I have seen. They are small for one person, let alone two. One bed must fold upwards during the day so offenders can move in the cell and use the toilet in the cell. My guess is that these cells are 2.5 metres by 1.5 metres! Each cell has a solid door with a small window and the other external window is barred and approximately 300mm x 300mm. The other two longer walls are solid concrete. Offenders are locked in during the night, approximately 2100 – 0600, by a central locking system, but during the day the doors to the cells are controlled by the offender and their “roomy”. Some rooms do not have a power outlet and some do. Some offenders have televisions. Rooms are heated but there is no cooling. There is a central showering area for each floor and a small TV room (2 metres x 4 metres with rowed seating. (I am told group counselling session also occur in these rooms)

It is hard to describe one’s emotion / feeling on seeing the size of the cells. I inwardly protest and think how inhumane these cells are, thinking “this is wrong – this is so wrong”. I cannot help but comment to my host and I feel somewhat embarrassed at my escaped thoughts. My host acknowledges the cell size as an issue but says it is all that they have, and the offenders don’t seem too bothered by it. We view some more cells and I have chat with a couple of offenders. Again I notice the harmony, there is definitely less agitation here. A couple of offenders confirm, CMC is considered one to be the best prison in the State to be at.

As meals are served on the third floor of each building; there are no offenders with significant ambulatory concerns at CMC. Older more frail offenders, who cannot manage their own care or ambulation, are either transferred to the hospital or another facility that is better equipped for offenders with disability needs. Unit D does house offenders who have mental health concerns and or cognitive impairment (including dementia). Offenders who are capable, self manage their medication. (Opiate and mood altering medication are controlled and dispensed through similar structures and staffing systems seen in other facilities). There is one registered nurse per quadrant who oversees and provides triage for offender’s health care needs (1:600). There is a significant number of psychologists and counselling staff (approximately 1:30).

There is nothing like the moment when you have your whole world turned on its head! The assumptions you have made; the opinions you have formed; I can’t help smiling and thinking wow! The cells are very small. Some don’t have power. There are quite a few older offenders here. The outside yard, whilst a good size is relatively crowded. This is an old prison.  So against all of these factors, what makes CMC a popular prison as judged by offenders?
  • ·         Is it the offenders control over the key to their cell, as my host has indicated? I am told CMC is the only Californian prison where offenders have a key to their cell. I am not aware of other US prisons with this practice but it appears this is a practice in the UK with some controversy http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2007/mar/26/immigrationpolicy.ukcrime http://www.correctiveservices.qld.gov.au/Publications/Corporate_Publications/Miscellaneous_Documents/Healthy%20prisons%20handbook.pd
  • ·         Is it the significant mental health program and mental health support offered? CMC appear to have a greater provision of mental health service than other facilities visited. All facilities visited in the USA have had, by Australian standards, significantly more mental health support; but CMC seems to have more support than their US comparators. There is a respectful transaction noticed between correctional staff and mental health physicians that is different to other facilities visited. I had formed the opinion at other facilities that correctional concerns over-road all other concerns; in turn this provided correctional staff with the “final say” over issues of concern. At CMC’s guards were seen to defer questions of behavioural concerns to the mental health physicians; that is, their default on behaviour concerns was to the psychologists. There appeared to be a subtle difference in the custodial power relationship within CMC. One example of this occurred during my discussion with Michael the recreation therapist. Michael is youngish and full of energy (he could easily fit into the Wintringham’s Recreation Team) Michael descries the recreation program; there is a significant exercise routine; some of which, he tells me, is about maintaining function (use it or lose it). Other activities include basketball, and other modified ball games, domino’s and jigsaw. He indicates there are budget restrictions and corrections considerations that impede some recreational ideas. Further he says he would like to get more involved with the offenders, be involved in their ball games etc,  but he has been advised, by the custodial authority, that he should not – because of the risk an offender may take advantage of the situation and the possibility Michael could be hurt. This is interesting given my previous discussions with my psychologist hosts. One doubts the guards would insist the same concerns and precautions with the psychologists and I raise this doubt with my hosts. They tend to agree with this observation. There are other examples where the risk assessment and activity is left to the discretion of the psychologist. This does seem quite different to other institutions visited. Eventually this same deference of risk may extend to other staff?
  •       Could it be because of the “Gold Coat’ program? The program is now about 15 years old. It involves younger offenders being trained to support a cognitively impaired prisoner. I am counselled and assured this support model does not involve assistance with personal care. If an older / cognitively impaired offender needs support with any form of personal care, they are either transferred to the hospital or another facility. On further discussion with my host and a Gold Coat by the name of Phillip, I find the role is like a buddy role. They prompt, they advocate, they support; they are in effect the peer support, the team leader. Examples are sited where the general prison population defer concerns to a Gold Coat. (there are examples sited where some of the more hardened inmates might call them “dogs”, but these occurrences are few and far between. Phill (gold coat) tells me, the program has given him a total new outlook on life. The themes he raises are similar to what I have heard from other: orderlies/prisoner supports. I am absolutely convinced of the benefit a prisoner support model has for a correctional facility: enhanced caring culture, savings in cost of care, prompt and improved care delivery, improved self esteem of inmates and more harmonious correctional environment.
  • ·     Is it the approach to the correctional support and security overlay seem to have a more trusting approach (of staff and offender alike)  and this “culture” provides for greater harmony? – as it would in any work place.

·      It is probably all of these issues and more? Before this visit, I had placed a large significance on design and structural issues. I m left believing that whilst the design and structure are important for enhanced care of older inmates, they are not the key issue.

I was able to return to CMC the next day to observe the recreation program with a group of cognitively impaired older offender. The program was being run in an indoor  hall / recreation area that doubled as a gym, basket ball court area. Whilst it was aged and dated with signs of patch repairs – it was a good space away from the business of the the court yards. I am greeted by Michael the recreational therapist. Friday was movie day. My hosts were disappointed that I could only observe movie day as there were a lot of other recreation activities the older offenders are involved in but they genuinely enjoined movie day. The film on show was Captain America (2012). About 20 offenders were observed (16 cognitively impaired / aged and 4 gold coats). The Gold Coats were evenly dispersed amongst the group. 

I observed the session for about 30 minutes whilst talking with my hosts and “Marti” one of the guards. At first nothing seemed too grand; seeing these offenders watch a program. All of these “guys” just sitting quietly and enjoying the program. After some further thought about this seemingly unremarkable event, one realises that most of these men have cognitive impairment. One is noticed to get up and pace around a table every so often, and another staring blankly into a distant spot “somewhere”. They are generally well engaged and well behaved during the show. Gold coats are noticed, every now and then to help focus some individuals.

During these observations I have a discussion with Marti, the guard. Marty has been working with this group for at least 25 years. I ask why here. Marty shares he has a family member with special needs, so he understands the issues. He also says he loves coming to work. “There has not been one day, that I have not looked forward to coming to work”. Marty also tells me, “you have got to learn about the guys. You have to know what’s normal and what’s not. You need to know how to listen & not just with your ears – your eyes as well”. I observe the offenders and Marty are on first name basis. (no Sir, Mr. or Boss) Marti also tells me there are times you need to correct a behaviour, but you need to understand why the behaviour occurred. He says the education he has received from the doctors has been very helpful. 
Every prison needs a Marty.

I later wonder..... “could we possibly introduce a structured “gold coats” program at Wintringham? Could some of our younger more active residents be engaged as a support person for some of our more impaired residents? ..........

There is no doubting that the cohort of offenders D block have support needs beyond the standard offender populations and similar to populations previously observed. They are well supported to maintain their independence so they can stay in their “home” environment. Following the review of the recreation program I engage in further discussion with my hosts. They inform me, every new prisoner has a cognitive screen undertaken. CMC use the QUICK assessment too lhttp://www.pearsonassessments.com/HAIWEB/Cultures/en-us/Productdetail.htm?Pid=015-8328-000 Offenders who are flagged through this tool may have a follow up assessment completed using the TONI assessment tool.

Some other important considerations come to light. California has a highly litigious culture. Several significant cases are quoted, where an offender’s representative has taken legal action against the State and the resultant law suit has seen major changes to care and support within the correctional environment. The result of which drives a watchdog approach from many authorities which result in further “quality improvements” to support offenders. There is no doubt the support and care is available and working for CMC, but one is left thinking the same support and care could be achieved differently.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

San Luis Obispo – California Mens Colony

Today’s visit was to the California’s men colony. Again the visit was very enlightening. There is something brilliant about having your assumptions / hypothesis destroyed. Ideas that that you have developed from seeing other systems turned on their head because the next system you see, does it so differently that you realise the reasons for behaviours are not about a structural design issue (they may have something to do with behaviour – but they are not the key issue) – more on that later. 

Given a food review has not occurred for some time – this update will be about food and diet.

The diet. You may ask, how is the diet? Well, limiting food intake has helped, but it has been difficult. 

Having committed to salads for nearly the last week and forgoing the South’s “deep fried expertise”- there was not a lot to write about. Have I mentioned baby carrots? They are my best friend. You can buy small bags of these finger size delicacies and they are REALLY nice – sweet and crisp. Combine these with baby broccoli and some humus and you have a very nice meal.... but give me MEAT.  Hello California!

Last night, the choice was grilled calamari and onion rings. Well, I tried! On presentation the grilled calamari was crumbed and deep fried “what the!”. Oh well, combine that with a Samuel Adams Seasonal Octoberfest Ale and you have a nice (but high fat meal)

Today, an early lunch saw me at Franks Hot Dogs http://www.franksfamoushotdog.com ; where the choice was an easy Bacon Lettuce and Tomato. When I ordered, I was not asked “what sort of bread?, What sort of sauce etc etc etc....I asked for a BLT and I got the BEST BLT I have ever had: heaps of lettuce, fresh tasty tomato and REAL bacon on wholemeal toasted bread. Simple but wonderful. Thanks Frank! Seriously – the simplicity was the best bit. 

Whilst at the CMC today, there was an under current of excitement between the staff. (and no, it was not because I was visiting!) One of the staff had delivered home made Tamale. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tamale I was offered one, but because I knew they were “currency” and  I politely refused. My host “Hed” insisted, so I agreed – OMG – sensational! THE BEST TAMALE I have ever had (here comes Mexico!

Following my visit to CMC, I made my way to Montana De Oro State Park – to see the park, to see GUM TREES (I love a gum tree) and I needed to put my feet into the easterly Pacific Ocean. After a good walk to the beach and back I noticed the following signs!

but then again - I might have missed these views

I then, on advice from Cheryl from CMC, I strolled through the local evening farmers market. http://visitslo.com/cm/Activities/Farmers%20Market.html – What great advice! 

Given it was the farmers market before Halloween, many store owners and many families came in fancy dress. There was music, entertainment and Food! So many choices and SO MANY calories. The choice – a Mediterranean style gyros with garlic yoghurt and large amounts of lettuce accompanied by two home made dolmas (they were small!)  

Tomorrow night ... I have been saving myself for this moment... It’s off to Mo’s http://www.smokinmosbbq.com/awards.htm

follow up to Mo's Smoke House.....
There were so many meat choices, I went with the "Meat Sampler"...  ribs, chicken & shredded pork, beans, cole slaw, and corn bread.
This was Massive! and I now fee like a grizzly bear ready for hibernation. This was a very nice but big and heavy meal. The meats were moist and the sauces were very nice. I ate too much - I could not eat the corn bread.....  just could not fit it in

Wednesday, 24 October 2012


22 – 23rd October 2012
If you can – try listening to CW Stoneking – Jail House Blues whilst reading this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Pbw4p3U6I8
After having a weekend of “freelancing” accommodation, I try to set Siobhan (Satnav) (thanks Kelly Rogan for your poem)  to take to my next accommodation in Jackson Mississippi. 

After several failed attempts, and a phone call to the Knights Inn, I realise that it the accommodation has been booked for Jackson Tennessee, not Jackson Mississippi. 

Whilst the drive to and from Tennessee, is possible, it is probably not wise to add another 8 hours of driving to Tennessee, back to Parchmann, Mississippi etc and then onto Jackson (MS) for a flight to California. (The whole Jackson thing got me thinkin’; “so which Jackson did Johhny Cash and June Carter singing about?” (both JC’s.... a slightly religious undertone)  and the answer is .... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jackson_(song)  – no one really knows ( I always thought it was Jackson (MS) but had not good reason for this. (Note – there are a lot of Jacksons in the USA!)

The Mississippi State Penitentiary is also referred to as "Parchman Farm". 
There is not really much else in Parchman and it is many miles from anywhere.
Indianola, a town in Mississippi Delta – that is the most half way town between Parchman Farm and Jackson (MS) is where I choose to lay my hat. The population of Indianola is about 12,0000. It has an “interesting social history” - In July 1954, two months after the Supreme Court of the United States announced its unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education, ruling that school segregation was unconstitutional, the local plantation manager Robert B. Patterson met with a group of like-minded individuals in a private home in Indianola to form the White Citizens' Council whose goal was to resist any implementation of racial integration in Mississippi. Indianola itself is quite  remote and has been named as one of the last economically viable small towns in the Mississippi Delta. In August 2011, Delta Pride, a catfish processing company, closed its plant in Indianola. (these facts all came  from the hotel room inflammation!)

There is another more important reason to pick Indianola as the place to stay – It’s historical Blues background. – You probably can’t get more Blue than around here! 

It is the birthplace of the blues musician Albert King – “The Velvet Bulldozer”; The blues harp player, Little Arthur Duncan, and Henry Sloan lived in Indianola. harley Patton died near the city. Apparently,B.B. King grew up in Indianola as a child. He comes to the blues festival named for him every year. King also referenced the city with the title of his 1970 album Indianola Mississippi Seeds.  A visit to the The B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center, dedicated to King and the blues, is essential. There are many streets named after King and his music, including B.B. King Road, Lucille St. (named after his guitar), and Delta Blues St.

As mentioned, there a strong link between Blues music and the prison system in Mississippi.

Parchman is the title of a number of songs about Mississippi State Penitentiary (MSP); historically a hard time prison because of the Trusty system (now outlawed). Under this system, designated prisoners were used by staff to control and administer physical punishment to other inmates.  There have been a number of blues songs written about Parchman Farm and several Blues musicians were imprisoned there, including Bukka White (who wrote "Parchman Farm Blues"),( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jM23S12LXaE
 Mose Allison wrote a song called "Parchman Farm", distinct from the earlier blues songs. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v5hw9T9Ozv4&playnext=1&list=PL47424B3AACC6B286&feature=results_main  It has been covered by Blue Cheer (as "Parchment Farm"), Cactus, Rick Derringer, Georgie Fame, The Kingston Trio, Dead Moon, John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers, Hot Tuna, and others. 

Over the years there have been a variety of bands and music provided by Parchman – see  -http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y111nmkscoQ for one of the earlier songs recorded by the inmates of Parchman Farm. That will do for a history of Blues linked to Parchman

Confirmation of my visit to Parchman had been difficult to obtain in the lead up to my travels. This contributed to me forming the belief there was some reluctance on behalf of authorities to my visit. Final formal approval was only granted on the night before the visit was to take place after a personal call to the Superintendent, Mr Earnest Lee, who was very helpful and arranged approval.

As you may have read, there have been a variety of different housing and care models within the prison systems visited on this tour. The differences have been guided by the prison’s history, the history of legal decisions and events that have occurred around those decisions. 

MSP is a very different prison to any others I have visited; its boundaries are not immediately obvious and it initially presents as rural community. (If MSP Parchman Farm was not where it was, there would be no Parchman) Given its geographical isolation, I learn that many staff have accommodation on the actual prison grounds. 

I am greeted at the front gate, where I am asked to leave my car at the car park opposite the front gate. I am then collected and transported to the administrative building where I am warmly greeted by Superintendent Lee and other corrections and health care staff. 

 Mr Lee provided an over view of MSP service:

  • Mississippi State Penitentiary (MSP), also known as Parchman Farm, is the oldest prison and the only prison with a maximum security section for men in the state of Mississippi, USA. 
  • MSP commenced operation 1901, and was constructed largely by prisoners;
  • It is located on about 28 square miles (in the Mississippi Delta region.
  • There is accommodation for 4,840 inmates. Inmates work on the prison farm and in manufacturing workshops. It holds male offenders classified at all custody levels. It also houses the male death row; all male offenders sentenced to death in Mississippi are held in MSP's Unit 29. The death sentence is enacted by lethal injection in a specific unit at the MSP. Other lethal techniques have been used over the years.
  • In 1961, “Freedom Rider”s (civil rights activists ) had been convicted in Jackson (MS) and many were jailed in Parchman.. The first group sent to the farm were 45 male Freedom Riders, 29 blacks and 16 whites. Although most of the Freedom Riders were bailed out after a month; there experience of ten harshness of Parchman gave the Freedom Riders credibility in the Civil Rights Movement.
  • Most of MDOC's agricultural enterprise farming activity occurs at MSP. 
  • The road from the front entrance to the back entrance stretches 5.4 miles 
  • The perimeter of the overall Parchman property has no fencing. The prison property is located on flat cleared (by the offenders over the years) farmland of the Mississippi Delta.
  • MSP has been referred to as "a prison without walls" due to the dispersed camps within its property. MSP consists of several prison camps spread out over a large area, called "units." Each unit serves a specific segment of the prison population, and each unit is surrounded by walls with barbed wire. The more secure units have “lethal” electric fencing as well. (Unlike my curiosity with farming electric fences, the childish inner self is not interested in testing it!) 
  • The theory behind the disperse geographical design is to prevent large cohorts of offenders thus minimising the potential for mass rioting – it also provides for a tighter, more supportive and less hostile community arrangement amongst the offenders.
  • There are about 50 different buildings across the MSP; It is actually quite difficult to comprehend the size of the MSP
  • There are approximately 4,500 inmates & 1,100 staff . 
  • The units of particular interest to this tour are: 
  • Unit 31 – currently 90 beds which serves as the unit for inmates with disabilities – these may be aged related, physical or cognitive – but offenders must be able to attend to their own ADL’s
  • & Unit 42, the prison hospital, which has 54 beds and also serves female inmates throughout the MDOC system. The hospital also has a Palliative Care Unit for dying prisoners, in the hospital
  • In 1961 the State of Mississippi incarcerated Freedom Riders in the unit 17. Unit 17's prisoner housing was closed on October 25, 2004. At one time the 56-bed Unit 17 housed the prison's death row.
  • The prison has a Visitation Centre which serves as a point of entry and as a security checkpoint for visitors to MSP. After security screening, visitors depart the visitation centre in buses bound for the specific units
  • Mississippi State Penitentiary permits imprisoned men to engage in conjugal visits with wives; The practice began on an unofficial level around 1918. Originally only African-American men were allowed to participate, as society believed that the sexual drives of black men were stronger than those of white men. Prison authorities believed that if black men were allowed to have sexual intercourse, they would be more productive in the farming industries in the prison. By the 1930s, the authorities had permitted white men to receive conjugal visits. The Parchman conjugal visit program is designed so that all members of the family may interact with a particular prisoner. Mr Lee informed me that conjugal visitation programs, also known as the Extended Family Visit, survive in six states: California, Connecticut, Mississippi, New Mexico, and Washington (state).

Mr Lee’s presentation is candid and revealing, presenting some of the difficulties of the past, (these can be further studied with a basic search on Mississippi Prisons). The open exchange experienced during the presentation and on the tour is at odds with the opinion, I had previously formed regarding the difficulties finalising this tour. Like other Wardens / Superintendents, Mr Lee is very proud of his staff and facility and interested to know what other facilities are doing in the area of custodial care of older inmates. It appears the difficulties in establishing the tour are more about communication gaps and external bureaucracy risk assessment; than a real reluctance to share. 

The short version of all of this, there has been genuine reform in corrections in MSP; – see http://www.governing.com/topics/public-justice-safety/courts-corrections/mississippi-correction-reform.html - it is a lengthy article but gives a great overview of the significant changes that have occurred at Parchman over the last 8 years or so.

Following the  presentation I am transported to Unit 31 and then Unit 42. Each are about half a mile from each other. The drive to the units begins to give you an idea of the scale and geographical dislocation of the MSP. Offenders in green striped pants and white tops are seen, walking around the MSP unattended. There are different coloured uniforms for differently classified offenders; there are different restrictions and different correctional controls for differently classified offenders. Green Stripes are low risk offenders who can be seen working in the community. (I engaged three offenders just the previous day at Greenville who were gardening around the tourist bureau. The discussions I had with them were so similar to discussions you could have with a Wintringham clients...) There are black and white horizontal stripes, all orange, all yellow and all red. The distinction is obvious and helpful for staff to know what custodial risk each offender poses.

On the way to Unit 31 we drive by a cemetery. Discussions turn to end of life car for older offenders. As with other correctional facilities; many older offenders either have no family, or family are unwilling to incur the cost of burial etc. As such, deceased offenders are buried, with a simple service / ceremony in a marked grave on site at Parchman.

Unit 31, the 90 bed disability unit has a registered nurse, a custodial care manager, corrections staff and a LPN (Div 2 Equivalent) staffing the  facility 16 hours a day; after hours, only custodial staff are present. If an offender in unit 31 has care needs that require after hours care, they are transferred to unit 42 (the hospital). Some offenders were known to disguise their needs so they could delay (prevent) the transfer to unit 42. This is not a statement about the care or service in Unit 42, it is more about the older offender considering a move to unit 42 as a “final transfer” and a reluctance to leaving the “family” they have bonded with in Unit 31. (there are obvious parallel’s to a hostel clients behaviour; delaying transfer to high care where they can) 

The unit is fenced by cyclone fencing and barbed, not razor, wire; the gate is controlled by a corrections staff member who sits at a main viewing desk within the unit. The call of “gate” can be heard, which is followed by a look for  a familiar face. Gate is open and a check of ID on entry seems to be the process for this unit. Apart from a brief ID check and confirmation that I was meant to be visiting, this is first real security check that I have encountered on the unfenced prison grounds. Offenders are seen to move relatively freely around the fenced unit. A litter of cats is observed outside the unit in a court yard and I am told they are the offenders / the unit’s pets. 

Inside Unit 31 presents as an aged but well kept, airy, well lit and clean unit, built of besser style brick and single level. Floors are level with no obvious trip hazard, doors are wide. Offenders observed seem to have care needs consistent with what you would wee with a Wintringham low care clients. The facility has very good access to the outside fenced and grassed area; an aged offender can easily feel the sun and a fresh breeze on their face if they so desire. The unit has air conditioning and heating. Showers and toilets are noticed to be accessible. Televisions are allowed and for offenders without a television there is a communal television.  Many beds are height adjustable, some beds are fixed. There is a range of multi bed “wards” and some single bed rooms. 

There is no recreation program or support.

There is a suite of Conjugal rooms in unit 31 as well. If a higher security offender is transferred to unit 31 the custodial conditions are adjusted for that offender. 
Unit 31 also has outpatient’s type area., where offenders health is reviewed and any offender who is in the unit for rehabilitation is assessed for return to their usual unit. 
Meals are delivered to the unit ( a sort of cook chill arrangement) and are served in a communal dining areas with fixed tables and chairs similar to the style I have seen in other correctional facilities. I am told a dietician reviews all meals and special diets are available for offenders who require them.

As has been witnessed in other correctional facilities; offenders who are capable can manage their own “non mood altering and non opiate medications. The latter medications are managed by the nursing staff, who have a disciplined count system for these medications as well as all sharps, including scissors etc.

Unit 31 also has housing for about 6 younger inmates “Camp Supports”. Their key role is one of fire officers for the whole MSP. (they are conveniently housed in Unit 31 as the fire station is close by) The “Camp Supports” also provide “non direct care” to the Unit . Cleaning, meal services and laundry duties are what are observed. The skilled staff indicate the “camp supports” do not do direct care, but questioning of what occurs after hours if one of the offenders needs assistance leads me to believe there may be informal direct care provided. 

On discussion with staff about their care model at Unit 31 and in Unit 42 they indicate they have been to  Angola – Louisiana to gain some improvement ideas. They are very positive about the experience, indicating that Angola have a prisoner carer model (like others I have observed) A quick review on line provides: The Louisiana State Penitentiary (LSP, also known as Angola) is a prison farm in Louisiana. It is the largest maximum security prison in the United States with 5,000 offenders and 1,800 staff. It is similar to MSP in that it is located on an 18,000 acre (73 km²) property. Angola is bordered on three sides by the Mississippi River. As of 2012 Burl Cain is the warden. The State of Louisiana's death row for men and the state execution chamber are there. See also:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louisiana_State_Penitentiary  & http://angolamuseum.org/?q=node/58

There appears to be some options for transition for older prisoners into the community. Staff reported there were several nursing homes in the country areas that will take some of the “high care” offenders. On further discussion it becomes apparent that offenders, who have previous histories of assault, have few options and further to this offenders who have “low care” needs do not have many options  and some just stay in prison.

Unit 42 is a registered hospital. The security arrangement s to access the hospital are similar to other facilities I have visited: ID, sign it, metal detector and frisk search. Having said that, there is a difference to the approach, staff are warm courteous and friendly  during the security intervention. 

Unit 42 provides a 24 / 7 nursing support to inpatient offenders as well as providing a triage service to otter units. Offenders who become acutely unwell may be transferred to regional hospital. Offenders requiring surgery will also be transferred to a regional hospital.
A comprehensive array of allied health support also operates from the hospital:
Therapies, mental health, medical, dental service, radiology and an in house pharmacist for the Unit. Offenders requiring dialysis are transferred to another regional unit. Female offenders are treated in the hospital and are isolated from male offenders.
Palliative care is provided for offenders in need of this service. Families, including children, are invited into the unit towards end of life care.

Unit 42 is divided into three wings. One wing is for high security offenders who are isolated in cells. The single cells range from a standard single cell room to rooms that are completely bare – for protective isolation. All cells have video surveillance to provide observation of isolated offenders. All offenders who are isolated receive ongoing mental health support and evaluation.

There seems to be a pretty consistent approach to healthcare amongst the USA correctional services visited thus far.  In part this is because there is a legal obligation of services to provide the health care. The legal reasons for providing health care to prisoners were stipulated in a 1976 Supreme Court Estelle v. Gamble decision, in which the Court held that deprivation of health care constituted cruel and unusual punishment;  a violation of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. This interpretation created a de facto right to health care for all persons in custody. The decision also brought forth the concept of "deliberate indifference," a legal definition that prohibits ignoring the plight of prisoners who need care and translates into a mandate to provide all persons in custody with access to medical care and a professional medical opinion. Correctional authorities and health care professionals who infringe this right do so at their peril and may be prosecuted in federal or state courts http://virtualmentor.ama-assn.org/2008/02/msoc1-0802.html Further there is an authority that provides governance over care in custody; The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) http://www.aclu.org/prisoners-rights - The ACLU National Prison Project is dedicated to ensuring USA prisons, jails, and other places of detention comply with the Constitution, domestic law, and international human rights principles.  The ACLU aims to end policies that have given the United States the highest incarceration rate in the world. 

A further review of the legislative over lay for health care in Victorian and Australian prisons will now be undertaken as a comparison.