by Andy McNeil
Our state gun club had its winter show not long ago in Little Rock. After looking over all the displays, I sat down behind the table of a friend and fellow club member to visit. While there I was glancing through some of the used books he had for sale or trade, and spotted one titiled Worse than Slavery, Parchman Farm and the ordeal of Jim Crow Justice by David M. Oshinsky (copyrighted in 1996).
The book brought back memories.
One summer in the late 1940's, while working for the Mississippi Highway Department, I was assigned to drive the packing machine and sweeper at Parchman Penitentiary during the surfacing of the gravel roads and parking area around the headquarters area. Several inmates were assigned to help me.
The preparation of the parking lot and road beds for surfacing meant that everything had to be scheduled and I had a lot of free time which I spent visiting with the inmate that ran the camp telephone switchboard and the inmate that operated the camp ice house. (At that time almost the entire prision was run by other prisoners.)
Kenny Wagner was not in prison at the time, but both inmates told me stories of Kenny's exploits. Years later while living in Drew I heard other stories of how he would sometimes drive a prison pickup into town on Saturday afternoon to see a movie while in prison uniform. And how he was wanted for capital offenses in other states and how he would conveniently "escape" about the time that his sentence was up to avoid being extradited to those states -- and how he would later have the sheriff of the county he was hiding in to "conveniently" (and with full media coverage) recapture him. It seemed that he was too much of a folk hero for any of the Mississppi governors to extradite him to another state.
I bought the book.
Andy McNeil served as Chancery Judge for the Twentieth Arkansas Judicial District and now acts as a Retired Judge on Assignment. He is a Life Member of the Arkansas Judicial Council.
Read more of Andy's stories at USADS:
Arkansas Civil Air Patrol
Halls of Justice (humor)
Korean War History - Andy's Story
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