*** DEBUG END ***

Music: Parchman Prison Prayer: Some Mississippi Sunday Morning (Glitterbeat Records)

22 September 2023

Simon Cross hears a recording from one of the world’s worst jails

WHEN the Grammy-winning world music producer and political activist Ian Brennan first approached Parchman Prison, the Mississippi state penitentiary, to ask whether he could record there, he started a ball rolling on a project that would yield extraordinary results. Brennan takes a particular interest in prisons, and the plight of those incarcerated. His previous prison recording, “I have no everything”, recorded the voices of those locked in Malawi’s maximum-security facility in Zomba. Such was its vibrant urgency, it earned a Grammy nomination in 2016.

Brennan tried for several years to get permission to record in Parchman, one of the world’s most notorious penal institutions. When it was finally given, with only a week’s notice, he was only allowed to record sound: no photographs and no video. The resulting recording is truly remarkable, in turns stark and mournful, and then joyful and hopeful. It seems to capture the authentic spiritual life of the Parchman prisoners.

Parchman is an awful place. Founded in 1901, the maximum-security penitentiary occupies 28 square miles of farmland, and houses death-row prisoners and the state execution chamber. In 2019, five prisoners were killed, and dozens more were injured, in a series of riots. Lawsuits filed the following year claimed that the prison was violent and rat-infested, and that prisoners lived in “abhorrent conditions”.

Long after slavery was outlawed, campaigners claimed that Mississippi authorities were circumventing legislation by “leasing” the majority African American prisoners to farmers, in effect re-enslaving them. Although conditions have improved markedly over recent years, the sonorous cries of the jailed men speak of the deep spiritual need still felt by those behind bars. One baritone simply, repeatedly, intones “Solve My Need” — perhaps the most authentic prayer that I have heard. In documenting their songs, Brennan has ensured that the plight of the incarcerated cannot be overlooked.

Parchman Prison Prayer: Some Mississippi Sunday Morning is released by Glitterbeat Records.

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

Forthcoming Events

Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards


Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

tickets available



Festival of Faith and Literature

28 February - 2 March 2025

The festival programme is soon to be announced sign up to our newsletter to stay informed about all festival news.

Festival website


ViSIt our Events page for upcoming and past events 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)