In a growing trend taking place across the country, inmates from three Mississippi prisons used smuggled phones to leak a series of videos and photos from inside prison walls last month, providing a rare glimpse of the ghastly living conditions inside prisons.
Their goal is prison reform but one expert believes it could have the opposite effect.
The videos and photos leaked from the Marshall County Correctional Facility, Parchman Prison and South Mississippi Correctional Institute do nothing to disprove that notion. We have posted some of the photos in this story as well as edited a couple of videos.
The video above is especially graphic, showing a prison guard on the floor bleeding from a head wound with several inmates behind a glass window commenting that he was a "good police" as well as commenting on how long it is taking to get him help.
Another guard walks past the guard on the ground, completely ignoring him. He then walks back to the guard and radios for assistance. The wounded guard is placed on a stretcher halfway. At least one other inmate can be seen recording besides the one recording the video.
The video then shows a fire breaking out inside the Marshall County Correctional Facility as well as two inmates fighting inside a dark cell as other inmates cheer them on.
The injured guard was airlifted and suffered severe head trauma, according to WTVA. WTVA also reported that the fire was started by the same inmate with the assistance of other inmates, sparking a lockdown.
The images and videos were first published on Twitter by Prison Reform Movement. Through them, Photography Is Not A Crime reached out to one of their sources, a former inmate of Marshall County Correctional Facility named Kelvin Sanders.
Sanders also provided other videos showing smoke coming out of the wall that he says was an electrical fire. Sanders provided pictures of the walls and ceiling containing damage and black mold. A third video shows music blasting through the halls.
Sanders also sent photos he took inside the prison, including one of him holding an object shaped like a gun, wearing a beanie and a necklace made out of chicken bones.
Some of the images show inmates lying on the floor shirtless due to hot temperatures. Instead of providing proper air conditioning, the prisons are using industrial fans to circumvent the heat which not always help since some of them are broken.
According to PBS:
“In 1999, Margaret Winter, at the time associate director of the National Prison Project at the ACLU, represented HIV positive inmates who were not receiving necessary antiviral HIV combination therapy. They alleged that they were segregated from the general population, were barred from holding jobs, and lived in squalor. They were re-integrated in 2001, and the ACLU later reported that conditions for them improved. In 2002 and 2003, Winter and the ACLU pursued a series of cases on behalf of the death row inmates in the supermax unit, Unit 32. They alleged the conditions were inhumane and that the temperature reached 130 degrees Fahrenheit in some cells. Inmates described to the ACLU intense stench from sewage backups, extreme isolation, and lack of personal hygiene.”
More than a dozen dehumanizing images of inmates were also shared that showed them looking famished, exhausted, and drugged. The images of the inmates looking famished could be explained by the images of the amount of food, or lack of, that was served to the inmates.
The images from Sanders and the Prison Reform Movement of the food that is served is worse than expected.
According to Prison Policy Initiative:
“The American criminal justice system holds almost 2.3 million people in 1,719 state prisons, 109 federal prisons, 1,772 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,163 local jails, and 80 Indian Country jails as well as in military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, state psychiatric hospitals, and prisons in the U.S. territories.”
Mississippi Department of Corrections recorded the cost per day of their facilities. In 2012, Mississippi State Penitentiary had an operating cost of $60,439,642, Central Mississippi Correctional Facility had an operating cost of $46,156,319, and South Mississippi Correctional Institution had an operation cost of $40,641,194.
Even with the abundance of income, the prisons do not cater to special needs such as diabetes, according to family of the inmates. Mississippi prisons are not alone when it comes to not catering for medical and religious food.
In 2018, a New York inmate went to court stating the prisons would not accommodate to his allergy to dairy nor accommodate to his diet as a Nazarite Jew. He originally lost his case with the judge stating it would put to much of a burden on the prison system, but it was appealed and the ruling was overturned.
According to a 2016 report by Prison Voice Washington:
“As [Correctional Industries, Washington state's prison food vendor] took over food services around the state, it gradually eliminated all freshly prepared, natural food. Without exception, every single main course is now a reheated, highly processed CI product with high amounts of sodium. Apart from the occasional serving of beans, lean, natural proteins are never served at any meal. Unprocessed meat is never served.”
So why are the inmates not being properly fed across the nation? Money either gets mismanaged, misplaced, or the funds get abused.
For instance, last year, Alabama Sheriff Todd Entrekin took home more than $750,000 on top of his $93,178.80 annual salary by pocketing “surplus” funds. Entrekin defended himself stating a law that was put into place before World War Two makes it legal to keep surplus inmate-feeding funds, according to Salon.
Earlier this year, 2,000 photographs from the St. Clair Correctional Facility in Alabama were leaked to the media by a correctional officer.
And last year, an inmate inside a South Carolina prison leaked a video during a prison riot. Also last year, photos and videos from a women's prison in Great Britain were leaked. And three years ago, photos and videos were leaked from a Hong Kong prison showing brawls, self-harm and a suicide attempt.
And in 2014, inmates in a South Carolina prison recorded a music video which has been viewed almost a million times.
Gizmodo reports the phones are usually smuggled into the prison inside the anuses of prisoners and they sell for between $300 to $700.
With everything that has been revealed through inmates having access to technology, will the prison system be reformed?
Dan Berger, the prison reform advocate quoted in the beginning of the article, believes it needs to take more than just prisoners leaking photos and videos.
The entire history of prison reform, rebellion & opposition has been prompted by the urgent need to interrupt the enforced isolation of captivity—motivated by the hope that the country would “fix our prisons” by seeing inside of them.
But when seeing inside of prisons, chronicling the abused that happen there, begins with photos of shanks & bloody bandages, any attempt at grappling with the violence of incarceration is already foreclosed.
He also said it will take the work of journalists to add context to the images which can only be done if they are communicating with the inmates, so we are always open to hear from inmates as we support prison reform.
We have published some of the photos in this slideshow where you need to scroll down to view the photos and edited a second video below.
Carlos Miller contributed to this report.