Saturday, June 27, 2015


The bowels of the George County Mississippi jail are as soul crushing as you might expect them to be.  The small box with 4 or 5 smaller cells, has the stiff smell of urine poorly masked by an equally nauseating hint of bleach.
George County Court House and Jail

I was actually pretty shocked that Sheriff George Miller Sr. was willing to let me check it out in the first place, "Can I go in?" I asked the grey haired, potbellied lawman a few minutes after we'd interviewed him about a local minister arrested for sexually abusing several young parishioners.   Miller, who had  an odd habit of blinking very hard and rapidly when talking. blinked even harder and faster when he was thinking.  "I s'pect," he nodded," and pulled what looked like a skeleton key out of his brown polyester trousers.  As the rusting, heavy metal door labored open, the hinges let out a painful moan, that summoned the handful of prisoners to life, each peering though a small 8 by 12 inch window, slatted with imposing iron bars.  "Don't get too 'cited boys, lunch still an hour off," the Sheriff blinked and twirled his heavy ring of keys on his index finger, looking in corners for contraband
George County Sheriff Miller

The well worn concrete floor, likely laid when the building was construction in 1910, had a slight groove pressed into it, a path that lead from the door of the jail to the cells inside.  I could imagine deputies guiding and wrestling drunken inmates in and out of the sad little boxes, bringing bologna sandwiches on white bread for lunch as the prisoners pleads with his captor, who, in this rural county,  he likely knew from high school,' Daryl, you gonna call my mamma," he might scream, "tell 'er to come get me."

The eyes of the all black jail population, in holdings cells of this predominantly white county, peered out of their sad boxes, "we treat ya'll good in here don't we boys?" the sheriff asked with plantation boss confidence, as he jangled his keys to his side, "yes su," the weary men answered unconvincingly.  

The Moss Point jail was equally as depressing, but lacked the brawny quality of construction of the antebellum George county lock-up.  The exposed PVC pipe dripped dirty water onto the cold crumbling concrete floor.  As you entered the Moss Point jail, the walls were not brick and iron, but simple, cheap Sheetrock, that, were long ago, punctured in places by a rage filled fist or a angrily flung plastic lunch tray.   The old holes in the new walls were there to stay, violent markers in time, never to be patched up.  Oddly the putrid mix of urine and Clorox that I breathed in in George County was ever present inside this jail.  

Moss Point Police Patch
It was in the Moss Point jail that Marcus Malone, a black man, died.  The arresting officers assured everyone; the press, the courts, the Jackson County DA that Malone was alive the muggy night he was arrested on McCall Street for traffic violations and drug charges by 4 white officers.  " "I believe my officers acted appropriately," Chief Butch Gager told me in the parking lot of the Moss Point police department.  Gager never really wanted to be chief, he only took the job because the man who had it before him had to quit when the state pulled his law enforcement licence for incompetence.  Gager, a burly good ol' boy was a street cop, not an administrator, or a leader and his handling of the Malone case would prove.

The cops said Malone died of a drug overdose overnight during his stay at the jail, but 2 inmates told state investigators, that wasn't true, "When they dropped that man on the ground face first, even if he was overdosing, he would of grunted or something," inmate Kenneth Turner said, "He had no reaction at all."

That's how I ended up seeking shade under a Magnolia tree as a monstrous yellow backhoe, began burrowing into the ground at the Moss Point Cemetery.  Ripping the soft, silent Kentucky Bluegrass from the ground and carelessly tossing it to the side.  Malone's body was exhumed at the families request, and another autopsy suggested Malone had been beaten and strangled to death.

After the body was removed from the earth, I found myself standing in the driveway of Malone's mother's home.  The stately woman was exhausted, and weary.  "I just miss my baby," she shook her head, eyes welling up, like they had most every day for the last year.  "I doubt we'll ever get justice." she said as she shifted the strap of her heavy purse from one shoulder to the next, "That's Mississippi," she breathed with sad acceptance.

After federal investigators prodded the state, it appeared, for a moment anyway, that Mrs. Malone may just get that justice.  Three of the 4 officers were indicted and tried.  Officer Steve Strickler who admitted grabbing Malone's chest, "for a second" was acquitted.  The charges against the 2 others dropped.  

I had left Mississippi for my new job at a another TV station here in Utah. by the time the case played out, but when I  read the reports out of my old stomping grounds, I thought about those sad inmates in the George county jail nodding wearily and frightfully when asked by the sheriff, if they "were treated alright." and I could only imagine Malone's mother the day the officer was cleared, burying her face into her hands and mumbling "That's Mississippi."

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