‘We ain’t got no power, we ain’t got no water’: A&E documentary to highlight problems at Mississippi prison

Published 7:45 am Thursday, May 11, 2023

A&E Network has teamed with Roc Nation, ITV America’s Good Caper Content, and Red Summer TV for the investigative documentary “Exposing Parchman” which explores the ongoing efforts to reform the Mississippi correctional system, led by a team of attorneys on behalf of Parchman Prison’s incarcerated population. Executive produced by Jeanmarie Condon (John Ridley’s “Let it Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992”) and Directed by Rahman Ali Bugg, the three-hour “Exposing Parchman” documentary premieres on Saturday, June 17 at 8pm ET/PT on A&E.

Parchman began to make national headlines in December 2019 for its inhumane prison conditions that resulted in massive deaths of incarcerated individuals by homicide, hanging, and untreated illness. In a cry for help, brave and desperate inmates shared prohibited cell phone footage from inside. Team ROC (Roc Nation’s social justice and philanthropic arm), Shawn “JAY-Z” Carter, multiplatinum musician and entrepreneur Mario “Yo Gotti” Mims, and a group of lawyers stepped in to procure legal representation on behalf of 200+ incarcerated men against the Mississippi Department of Corrections. They went on to file multiple lawsuits that prompted the U.S. Justice Department to launch an investigation and found that the Mississippi facility violated the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

The documentary unpacks Parchman’s disgraceful history, includes interviews with families with loved ones suffering in the decaying prison, and delivers a never-before-seen look at the inside of the notorious facility. Additionally, “Exposing Parchman” examines how  the legal team worked closely with Team ROC across three years of legal battles to end the deadly conditions for those incarcerated at Parchman once and for all.

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“Exposing Parchman” includes interviews with Shawn “JAY-Z” Carter, Mario “Yo Gotti” Mims, Congressman Bennie Thompson, activist Tamika Mallory, activist Rukia Lumumba, family members of current and formerly incarcerated men, prison reform activists, the legal team that led the lawsuit, and more.

The United States is the leading incarcerator of its citizens in the world, and those who are incarcerated are disproportionately people of color. The issues at Parchman started when the prison opened in 1904. By exploiting a loophole in the Thirteenth Amendment which abolished slavery “except as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted,” Parchman became a cash cow for the state of Mississippi. There was a slaughterhouse, sawmill, canning plant, brickyard, and two cotton gins on prison grounds, and inmates toiled for 15 hours a day under brutal conditions with severe forms of punishment routinely inflicted by prison officials.

Between 1904-1970, Parchman housed 1,800-2,500 inmates, but that figure more than tripled to 6,500 following President Nixon’s War on Drugs and President Clinton’s crime bill. In 1971, a Civil Rights class-action lawsuit, Gates v. Collier, charged that “the deplorable conditions and practices” at Parchman denied the plaintiffs their rights. The lawsuit included a list of murders, rapes, beatings, and tortures at Parchman between 1969-1971 that was over 51 single-spaced pages long. The ACLU filed a number of lawsuits against the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) over inadequate medical care, cruel and unusual punishment, and the brutal conditions of cells that were awash in sewage from broken plumbing, infested with insects, and where temperatures reached 120 degrees. Conditions inside trigger escalating violence and rioting after MDOC calls for a statewide lockdown of prisons.

“Exposing Parchman” is a vivid and horrifying portrait of how the American system of incarceration is able to break families, communities and our society. It is an intimate portrait of those whose lives are forever changed when they are caught up in the system, of a battle to bring about change, and a vision for how America might break the vicious cycle.

“The accounts of the individuals incarcerated at Parchman and their desperate family members are heartbreaking. There are so many untold stories like this that have a profound impact on American culture, communities, and families. Shining a light on human rights atrocities and the need for reform has been a cornerstone of the A&E brand and we hope ‘Exposing Parchman’ brings awareness to the public and sparks much needed change to the American prison and justice system,” said Elaine Frontain Bryant, Executive Vice President and Head of Programming for A&E.

“The incarcerated population in Parchman and their loved ones have experienced immeasurable pain and suffering, so we felt a responsibility to help them share their stories with the compassion and consideration that it deserves. Our hope is that this documentary will educate the public about these torturous injustices, hold the leaders in Mississippi accountable for fostering unconstitutional and inhumane conditions in Parchman, and create swift and comprehensive change to eradicate the state’s depravity in this prison and disregard for the criminal justice system,” said Desiree Perez, CEO of Roc Nation.

“Exposing Parchman” will be available on demand and to stream on the A&E app and AETV.com. For more information on the series, visit the official “Exposing Parchman” site – www.aetv.com/parchman.

“Exposing Parchman” is produced by ITV America’s Good Caper Content, Roc Nation, and Red Summer TV for A&E Network. Jordana Hochman and Jeanmarie Condon are the executive producers, with Alison Dammann serving as co-executive producer. Rahman Ali Bugg is Director and executive producer for Red Summer TV. Desiree Perez, Lori York, Jana Fleishman, and Mario “Yo Gotti” Mims are the executive producers for Roc Nation. Elaine Frontain Bryant, Shelly Tatro and Brad Abramson serve as executive producers for A&E. A+E Networks holds worldwide distribution rights for “Exposing Parchman.”