by Scott Grammer
In August 2019, businessman Bryan Shaver worked as a volunteer prison minister at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman. On the 23rd of that month, he was told that the water in Parchman Unit 29 had been turned off and prisoners were relieving themselves on the floor and into bags. He began making phone calls to the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) to inquire about the water outage. The next day, he was told that his volunteer ministry privileges at all state prisons had been revoked.
MDOC officials told Shaver by phone that the water was not turned off. However, the Clarion Ledger reported that according to MDOC spokesperson Grace Fisher, “The water pressure was low at Unit 29 because the fire hydrants were being tested by allowing the water to drain, which is an action done in the free world. The testing began at 11 a.m. and the water was restored by 2 p.m.”
The Ledger reported Shaver as saying, “The water in Parchman is not the best in the first place but just the fact that these guys, when I saw firsthand what it was like in Parchman, I was stunned. I was one of those people who believed the Republican line that they’re living in high life, watching colored TV and air conditioning. That is not how it is at Parchman. They’re spraying water with spray bottles on the concrete floors in their cells just to keep cool. It’s horrendous, absolutely horrendous that they should be treated this way.”
State Rep. Bill Kinkaide, chairman of the Mississippi House Corrections Committee, was reported as saying that prison ministers “are there to minister,” and that it was a “security risk to talk about what goes on inside the prison.” But he added, “I don’t know whose motives were what at the moment. I’m going to do the right thing and it’s never going to be to restrict clergy.”
That, however, is exactly what the MDOC did. “We are guests at the warden’s house so we have to abide by their rules,” said Paul Morris, who had introduced Shaver to the prison ministry.
Following a spate of unrelated violence that included multiple prisoner deaths in December 2019, including at Parchman, MDOC Commissioner Pelicia Hall announced her resignation.
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