“People were begging for their lives as they were stabbed,” said Kelly Mallett, a recent inmate at Mississippi’s crumbling state penitentiary at Parchman. “There were fires being set. Trash everywhere. Rats. Roaches. It was just total chaos.” Mallett, 44, is one of the first eyewitnesses to speak about the days of bloody rioting inside Parchman over the new year, The Guardian reports. In a week, five inmates in Mississippi prisons were killed, three in Parchman, during violence state officials tied to a bitter gang rivalry that dominates prisons in the state. The bloodshed has drawn attention to what lawmakers say are routine constitutional violations, as well as the chronic underfunding of a system that incarcerates people at a rate almost twice the U.S. average.
Mallett, 44, said highway patrol officers eventually stormed his unit and retook it. A prison source said that as of Friday there were still many injured inmates at Parchman who had not received treatment. On Friday, the state lifted a statewide prison lockdown but excluded Parchman, with more than 3,000 inmates. A heavy police presence remained outside the sprawling complex, which was built in 1901 and modelled after a slave plantation to extract free labor from inmates. Three people with family or partners in Parchman said they had not heard from them since the violence began. Those who contacted their loved ones did so via contraband cellphones. “It’s just extremely rough not knowing what’s going on,” said Romania Harry, 38, whose partner Richard O’Kelley is in the eighth year of a 10-year sentence for aggravated assault and burglary. O’Kelley is in the notorious “Unit 32,” which was shuttered in 2010 in a settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union, after the group documented inhumane conditions including permanent solitary confinement. After the recent rioting, it was reopened.