(PARCHMAN, MS) — Inside the Mississippi State Penitentiary, formerly known as Parchman Farm, a group of nine individuals sit attentively at their desks. Clad in green-and-white striped pants and shirts labeled “MDOC convict” for Mississippi Department of Corrections, these men, convicted of crimes ranging from drug possession to armed robbery to homicide, are now college students in this unlikely setting.
The subject at hand is “The Blues Tradition in American Literature.” In this austere classroom, they delve into the expression of blues themes in literary forms. Together, they listen to blues songs by renowned artists such as Big Joe Williams, Ma Rainey, Little Walter, Hound Dog Taylor, and Bessie Smith. They engage with poetry from Langston Hughes and explore a play by August Wilson.
For these inmate students, the course syllabus introduces new material, yet the essence of the blues resonates deeply within them.
To read the full story by John Burnett/NPR, click here.