Pressure on Prisons: Life in lockup

A former state inmate talked about his time in the Mississippi prison system.

Posted: Mar 4, 2020 10:46 PM
Updated: Mar 12, 2020 9:45 AM

TUPELO, Miss. (WTVA) - The death toll in Mississippi prisons is now 24.

Just one week ago, WTVA told you the death toll was 19.

That means in seven days, six more inmates have died in Mississippi prisons.

We may never know what life in lockup was like for those people, but we can get close.

WTVA anchor Emily Leonard sat down with a former Parchman inmate who considers himself lucky to have made it out alive.

"It made chill bumps go down my spine because I know what really was going on. In my head, I knew what was really going on," Steven Austin said. 

A view from the inside.

"I was scared. I'm not gonna lie. I don't think anyone who goes down there ain't scared," Austin said. 

For Austin, life looks a lot different now. He no longer takes for granted the simple pleasures in life, like riding his bike. 

"Imagine trying to eat, and you find a snake or big frog or grasshopper in your food. That was everyday living right there," he said. 

An addiction to alcohol landed him in the Mississippi prison system.

Locked up for three felony DUIs, he served his time in Unit 29 at Parchman and was released in 2016.

Using words like disgrace, sickening and infested, Austin holds nothing back when describing the conditions at the state's oldest prison. And neither does civil rights attorney Cliff Johnson.

"We had situations where water was turned off for 10 days and the inmates were made to defecate in bags and boxes and collect it in the same cells where they are served food, where there is no water to wash their hands, no access to showers," Johnson said.

"In 2020?" Leonard asked.

"In 2020. In the United States," Johnson replied. 

Austin said field rats scurried through holes in the ceilings and walls.

"Them rats come through those vents and they will bite you," Austin said.

Mosquitoes swarmed in the summer.

"You have to have a fan and cover up with a sheet with the fan blowing under you to keep the mosquitoes from eating you up," Austin said. "And then in the morning from where the mosquitoes went through the fans, it looks like you've been slaughtered under there."

His description of the conditions backed up by in a June 2019 inspection by the Mississippi Department of Health.

The 154-page report cited flies, roaches, mold and plumbing issues, just to name a few.

"There is violence. There are conditions that would surprise people," Johnson said. "The cells are that small, the toilets are that foul. In many instances, it is as bad as anyone can imagine."

"It's bad living arrangements, and they don't do anything about it," Austin said.

Scroll for more content...

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 115763

Reported Deaths: 3263
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds7973177
DeSoto703979
Harrison522384
Jackson457884
Rankin394086
Madison383194
Lee357380
Forrest304678
Jones292484
Washington258399
Lafayette250443
Lauderdale2478135
Lamar225538
Oktibbeha202454
Bolivar201677
Neshoba1849111
Lowndes179962
Panola170040
Leflore167187
Sunflower162349
Warren154855
Monroe150673
Pontotoc147220
Marshall143129
Lincoln140157
Pike138456
Copiah137536
Scott125429
Coahoma124937
Grenada122638
Yazoo122234
Simpson121549
Union118825
Tate116839
Leake115041
Holmes114760
Itawamba113925
Pearl River113660
Adams108544
Prentiss106120
Wayne101722
Alcorn100112
George99218
Covington97527
Marion95042
Tippah90322
Newton86627
Chickasaw85526
Tallahatchie84526
Winston84121
Hancock84028
Tishomingo81241
Attala79426
Clarke75851
Clay69321
Jasper68717
Walthall63927
Calhoun62612
Noxubee59817
Smith59416
Montgomery54923
Yalobusha54514
Claiborne53716
Tunica53517
Lawrence51814
Perry49423
Carroll49312
Greene47818
Stone47514
Humphreys43816
Amite42513
Quitman4206
Jefferson Davis41011
Webster37613
Benton3416
Wilkinson33820
Kemper32615
Sharkey28514
Jefferson27610
Franklin2423
Choctaw2086
Issaquena1074
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 158701

Reported Deaths: 2680
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson23292377
Mobile16916315
Tuscaloosa10345140
Montgomery10250197
Madison935096
Shelby739063
Baldwin665869
Lee654665
Calhoun459961
Marshall439550
Etowah428551
Houston417034
Morgan416435
DeKalb342629
Elmore320853
St. Clair295542
Limestone287230
Walker279492
Talladega266435
Cullman248024
Lauderdale229442
Jackson215915
Autauga205931
Franklin205531
Colbert202132
Russell19493
Blount193225
Chilton188432
Dallas186627
Coffee177111
Dale176351
Covington174729
Escambia172730
Clarke135217
Chambers135044
Pike134113
Tallapoosa132987
Marion108129
Barbour10339
Marengo101922
Butler101140
Winston92913
Geneva9067
Lawrence85832
Pickens85218
Bibb84014
Randolph82716
Hale76830
Washington74912
Clay74412
Cherokee73814
Henry7176
Lowndes71328
Bullock64917
Monroe64610
Crenshaw60830
Perry5926
Fayette57713
Cleburne5698
Wilcox56812
Conecuh56113
Macon53620
Lamar4965
Sumter47221
Choctaw39212
Greene34216
Coosa2043
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Overcast
59° wxIcon
Hi: 68° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 59°
Columbus
Overcast
58° wxIcon
Hi: 73° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 58°
Oxford
Overcast
55° wxIcon
Hi: 62° Lo: 50°
Feels Like: 55°
Starkville
Scattered Clouds
55° wxIcon
Hi: 67° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 55°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather