Chemical Zombie

Line drawing of Black person's head, showing thoughts of a Black man with raised fist on one side and on the other hooded Klansmen, a lynching victim, and a US flag, all above Black bodies swimming in waves, and at the bottom a Black man and women


Cover for Southern Exposure's Southern Black Utterances Today cover featuring a woodcut print of a Black man's face gazing upward, by Atlanta artist Lucious Hightower

This article originally appeared in Southern Exposure Vol. 3 No. 1, "Southern Black Utterances Today." Find more from that issue here.

The following article contains anti-Black racial slurs.

The following article contains references to sexual assault. 

The following is an excerpt from an unpublished manuscript about Parchman Prison in Mississippi entitled Parchman Genocide. The 100-page account of prison practices documents the genocidal policy/effect of what the author maintains is a plantation system rather than a rehabilitation center or correctional institution. The excerpt is a shocking, though not surprising, reminder not only of how drugs in general have been used as a genocidal tool, but how the African captives, in particular, were summarily drugged with opium during the period of slavery. (Laudanum, opium dissolved in alcohol, was the traditional "tonic" for niggers.) 

We would like to thank Ken Lawrence of the Southern Conference Educational Fund for bringing the manuscript to our attention, and we hope that the complete manuscript will soon be published.


That night I slept with no problems. Being in this hospital ward was a tremendous difference from the prison camp. After breakfast I was informed that I would be interviewed by the doctor at Camp 7 later that day. Camp 7 is supposed to be for people having nervous disorders; most call it the "nut ward." So I was going to see the Bug Doctor, huh? Either they believed I was crazy to tell these white people what I thought about their plantation set-up, or they would cleverly try to commit me permanently so I could be isolated and destroyed. Maybe they wanted me transferred to Camp 7 so that when I testified in court about the genocidal practices of Parchman, they could discredit my testimony by maintaining I was unfit to stand trial. It was now obvious to them that I didn't give a damn about aiding in the perpetuation of slavery —that I now demanded to be treated like a prisoner, with the rights and treatment my people pay taxes for me to receive.

On Saturday, January 8, 1972, about 1 p.m., I was taken to Camp 7. Right away I could tell that this was the most unique camp I had ever been at —possibly the most unique one on the farm. The entire atmosphere was filled with a morbid drowsiness. Most of the prisoners were walking around stone-faced and apathetic, or were drugged out on their beds. The hall-boy came to the door and yelled, "Pills!" Everyone got a cup of water and filed into the hall one at a time. After taking their pills, those apparently on heavy medication went back and flopped on their beds, and the rest started gambling or watched TV.

I noticed that all of the beds were hospital-types that could be adjusted. All of the mattresses were in good shape . . . and clean! Even the sheets, pillows and pillow cases were clean. Matter of fact, the whole place was clean and neat. Every bed had a footlocker where it was supposed to be. Each aisle had plenty of space and a bucket for trash or cigarette butts. This place was really odd. 

But the most unique thing about the camp was that it was integrated. I mean truly integrated. No large-scale racial confrontation was feared because everyone was doped up, fed well and not forced to work. Prisoners who cause trouble are threatened with immediate transfer back to a work camp, or to the much feared Maximum Security Unit.

Only Blacks are full trustees and hold all the keys, guns and knives to the camp. There is no fence around the camp. Whites are half trustees and sleep locked up in the gunmen's cage. They do most of the labor, being cooks, yard-boys and general handymen, but are denied the freedom generally allotted to trustees. They are not allowed to carry anything much bigger than a pocket knife because they sleep with the gunmen. They have nothing to do with camp security.



The back of the North End was completely sectioned off to make four rooms, two of which were used by the psychologist, or "Bug Doctor" as he is known by the inmates. A Black bodyguard stays with the doctor all the time he is in the camp. During an interview, he either stands by the door within calling distance or goes in with the visitor. It didn't surprise me that when my name was called, he followed me into the room. They considered me as one requiring close watch. The little office consisted of a desk and three chairs. The trustee sat in the chair behind me, and I sat in the chair in front of the desk. On the desk, half hidden, was a tape recorder and a microphone. The white man behind the desk was the Bug Doctor.

He stuck out his hand and said, "Hello, Mr. Holloway, I'm Doctor Ritter."

That blew his game from the start. No white man at Parchman calls those in captivity "Mr." and offers to shake his hand unless he is trying to throw him off guard. I just looked at him hard. He looked at my bald head, my head band, then at me, and slowly withdrew his hand.

"Well now, Mr. Holloway, the Superintendent has called me and told me to talk to you, that you had a problem."

"I don't remember asking to talk to you, but I do remember telling him he had a problem," I responded.

"Well, he told me to talk to you to see if I can be of some assistance." After a pause he said, "Do you want to tell me about it?"

"What are you talking about?"

He opened a file with my name and picture on it. Pretending to study it, he said, "Did you write the Superintendent a letter requesting a transfer to the Maximum Security Unit?"

"You know I did."

"I have a copy of the letter here. You're pretty intelligent, Mr. Holloway. Why do you want to go to the lockup?"

"You've got the letter there. You can read."

"What do you mean by saying you are an irrational man," he asked, continuing to look down at my file.

I panicked. Did I say something as stupid as that? Something that could be used against me? On impulse, I reached across the desk and snatched the folder from his hands. There was a photostatic copy of my letter with a part underlined which read: I'm tending toward irrationality.

"You know you quoted me wrong," I said angrily.

"Well, what did you mean by it anyway?"

"See, you are constantly waving at that fly buzzing around your head. The more it persists, the more annoyed you get. Soon you'll become angry enough to do something irrational. The camps are much the same way to me — the overcrowding, the atmosphere, the filth, the food and the illegal rules. They annoy me, and I want to eliminate the annoyance."

"I see," Ritter nodded. "Why do you think we can't rehabilitate you?"

"I never said that. I said that unless a man takes the initiative, you can't rehabilitate him. There is no rehabilitation program here, and the environment runs counter to any program that I could set up to rehabilitate myself. Do you think you can do something about it since you're so concerned?" 

"That's not in my department," he said shortly. "But I would like to talk with you a bit more on this. We have a pretty nice, clean camp here. What say you come and stay with us for awhile?"

"I don't want to stay at no nut camp. If I can't be sent to maximum security, then send me back to Camp B."

"This is not a nut camp. People come here and get a chance to rest their nerves and become more stable."

"Oh yeah, like those zombies you got out there not knowing whether they are coming or going?"

"They are not zombies!" he responded heatedly. "Some have problems worse than others, and I prescribe a little medicine to make them feel good and get well faster."

I was not convinced. "You can keep your camp and your dope, too. I wasn't a dopie out in the streets and I don't intend to be one now. Those people out there will suffer serious withdrawal consequences if they ever try to get off that dope. I'm not going to be your chemical zombie!"

By this time the doctor was highly agitated and red in the face. "I told you that's not dope. It's medicine. Can't you see I'm trying to help you? Don't you want to stay with us? We feed good, and we don't work you."

"Nope. Definitely not. If you are really concerned about helping me, then help the Superintendent make up his mind whether or not he's going to send me to maximum security."

He leaned back, sighed, and said, "Okay, Mr. Holloway. Thank you."



When time came for those of us from other camps to return, it was discovered there was no transfer slip for me to return to Camp B. I knew from experience that one does not go from one camp to another without a transfer slip. Anyway, they said, it was too late to go to Camp B and I would have to stay the night.

After the others had left I was placed on the South End. Immediately I noticed that noise was kept at a minimum. The TV and radios weresurprisingly low. I also noticed that every time the slightest noise was made the floorwalker would yell and be "shhhing" every few minutes. Rap Down came and I was given one of those clean beds —the cleanest one I'd had since my arrival at Parchman. I noticed that earphones had to be used on radios and that only two white prisoners in the entire cage had books.

The next day was Sunday. No transfer. None came on Monday. Dope was given out three to four times a day. Believe me, they had some of every kind of dope you can find — tranquilizers, heavy sedatives, quarter grain morphine tablets, thorazine pills. The prisoners stayed stoned to the bone! The medicine either kept them knocked out or reduced their movements to a slow shuffling action. You could hear people talking in monotones all day long. A few brothers must've had their medicine prescribed wrong because their bodies would go into convulsions and they would have to be rushed to the hospital. One brother got his medicine changed, but another was so scared to question the order of a white man that he just tortured himself.

Tuesday morning the Sergeant told me to get in the pick-up truck, and I unhesitatingly did so, thinking I was leaving. He took me back to the hospital. I thought that it was back to isolation.

We got inside and the Sergeant said to a male prisoner who was acting as a doctor's aide, "Here's Holloway to get his shots."

"What shots? What kind of trick is this?"

The aide went into the doctor's office getting the shot ready, telling me that I was to have one a day.

I said, “Hold on buddy. What kind of shot is that?"

“Oh, just something to make you feel good," he said.

"Where's the doctor," I asked.

"He's not here, but he gave me orders about what to do."

"Wait a minute. You're not authorized to give me shots. No doctor is present. I've had no examination, and you haven't told me what that stuff is or how it's supposed to effect me."

The aide was completely furious by this time. "I told you this is something to make you feel good. These are the doctor's orders, not mine."

"You heard me the first time. And I already feel good!" I yelled.

He stomped out of the office, called the goon squad and security officers. Well, that would be the only way I would take it. They'd have to beat me down and force it on me. One thing for sure: I'd get that doctor's aide first and, if I had time, get the Sergeant for bringing me up here.

We had a stand-off in the hall, with me backed into a corner. "You still refuse to take the medicine?" the aide asked.

I thought fast. "There are only two ways I'd take that medicine. One, you give me a written letter stating that you have no license, but you have been authorized by the doctor to give me shots in his absence. Put down what kind of medicine it is, what possible side effects if any, who prescribed it, and that I had not been examined. Then sign it. I'll send it to my lawyer and if he says it's safe I'll take it. Other than that you'll just have to jump me."

That did it. They stopped and went into a huddle. I heard the Sergeant verify that I had a lawyer who stayed in close contact with me. Then a few of them went into the office and started typing.

The aide came back with a slip of paper which read something like, "I, the undersigned, refused to take the medicine prescribed to me by orders of the doctor, and hold myself responsible." It wasn't anything like I had said. I looked up at the goon squad and thought it best to sign anyway.

The Sergeant rushed me to his pick-up truck and started towards the administration building. We passed maximum security, and then for no reason he turned around and went back to camp, merely telling me I was wrong.

Well, I couldn't care less. I'd heard too many tales of how they'd take brothers who had given them trouble, beat them up so bad they'd have to go to the hospital, and thinking he's receiving medical attention, gets doped—a zombie. If they missed making you a physical zombie, then they'd try other means. They want to control you, and that's all. A zombie is a zombie.



Well, now they had kidnapped me. Nobody knew where I was. I had no change of clothes or a toothbrush for four days. There was nothing constructive being done at all. It seemed to me that the only things we could do were eat, gamble, watch TV and drink pops. The medicine kept the majority of the inmates so dried out, they'd drink as many as seven or eight pops a day. Sports and exercise were very heavily frowned upon. One night Shooter threatened to shoot my feet off when he saw me doing a head stand around 4 a.m. To make matters worse, a fat hillbilly was transferred to Camp 7 and made floorwalker. The first thing he did was start rearranging the beds, loudly proclaiming, "I ain't going to sleep next to no niggers," almost causing a race riot. He was placed on strict orders to say nothing to me regardless of what he saw me doing and to tone down his rhetoric and open antagonism toward Blacks.

I noticed that the Sergeant would use little subtle threats to get different assignments done. No matter what type of work he wanted done, he'd get it done by light suggestions of transfers. He used that to get 100 percent participation for church services. He'd threaten people with a food cut, loss of their TV privileges, transfer, etc., and it was surprising how many submitted. Those that were reluctant were simply dragged out. When they came to me about going to church I told them that I couldn't believe in a religion where there was more lying, cheating, jealousy, hatred, discrepancies, perversions, misappropriation, racism and ignorance going on during the actual services than afterwards, that I would not allow myself to sit in such an atmosphere. I wasn't asked again.

I was also angry at the so-called "con-men" who were going around "playing on somebody." They would sell crushed aspirin for dope and tea for nutmeg to people who wanted to get high. I thought it a shame that while brothers were running around here conning each other out of nickels, dimes and cigarettes, the biggest con game in the world was being played on them.

The only things that I could do were sleep, read or go outside. Before long, I noticed that I was being closely and critically monitored. Somebody would always be looking at me from a window or a particular trustee would always be standing around watching me. If I sat down for a few minutes out of view from the inside, they would actually come searching for me. I very seriously questioned whether or not I was becoming paranoid, so I pulled this trick about five times to prove I was under observation. I would be in the dining room one minute, outside the next, in the cage next or running around the building. Then I would duck around the corner of the building and sit down where I could not be seen. In less than 30 seconds the hall-boy or one of his flunkies would come running around the building and be frantically looking. After this happened again and again, I felt sympathy for them and went back to my business. While all of this was going on, the Sergeant thought I was becoming too energetic, so he called me out in the hall, and had the hall-boy give me a red pill. I asked what it was and he said thorazine. I looked at him real hard and gave it back. Man, Parchman had a million tricks all designed to exploit, retard and destroy a man!



One day as I was walking, I was thinking bitterly about being held captive by such a wicked enemy. I thought about the way white citizens of America lament at the top of their voices of the “foul" and "unjust" treatment of the prisoners in North Vietnam. They too are guilty of murder, robbery, theft, rape and all sorts of illegal activities and atrocities. Yet their families want communication. They want their loved ones to receive just and humane treatment. And all the time, thousands of Black religious, political and social prisoners are treated much the same way. There are no protest marches and loud lamentations of "foul" and "unjust" by white or Black people in support of us. Prisoners are not licensed to kill, rape or rob. Nor are we backed by the American government.

There is a white time and a Black time. White prisoners are free moral agents in Amerikkka and are prisoners by their own choice. Black prisoners have had no choices; they have been victimized and systematically forced into prison. Why then are the Black men and women in the outside communities so ashamed of us? Why so quiet? I'm so alienated from them that I might as well be on the other side of the world.

As I walked, I began to wonder how long it would be before they got me. I can't even begin to estimate how many brothers have lost their lives or are being completely controlled because no one cares for them. I believe that this place gets the overwhelming majority —at least 80 percent —in the end. I say this because the majority has become entrenched in wicked filth and total selfishness. Apathy for the next man is the practiced doctrine. "It ain't me, I'm doing my own time," is heard so much it's sickening.

The atmosphere here is not designed to make the individual a better man, not to rehabilitate, and not even to punish for some alleged evil or to rid society of dangerous elements. Rather, it is exclusively designed so that our enemy can legally control our lives. I mean every aspect! Our food, our work, our clothes, even the toilet paper we use or the soap we wash with is controlled and can only be obtained by the consent of the slave master. One cannot step outside for a breath of fresh air without the consent of the slave master and then he is monitored. From the time we get up till the time we go to sleep, from religion to law, radio to the band, the cotton fields to the basketball court, from writing letters to conjugal visits, from how sick we can be to how we can exercise. All this is in the hands of a wicked and vicious enemy. Nothing can be done without their knowledge.

It is not even a secret that I am writing this. I'm being watched this very minute. The informers have long since told the slavemasters that I'm writing a bit out of the ordinary. Any Black man doing too much reading and writing automatically becomes a target of suspicion. I could have been stopped long ago or had my materials stolen. But who knows? Maybe their twisted egos will find something complimentary in this book. Maybe they feel the full significance of this will be missed, or that it will never be published. They know it though.



Time wears one out. No one is an exception. Either you'll be brutally killed or you will be caught at a time when you are no longer able to ward off future attacks. After four or five years, who will remember me? I am disconsolate at the things I know they will do to a prisoner when they feel no reprisals will result, no publicity. As far as that is concerned, many prisoners hate to remember. It is a rare thing to find a prisoner who will tell his story, for if he is not still under the influence of the slavemaster, he is ashamed at how he responded when manhood, strength, courage and determination were called for.

"Power to the Prisoner!" That could mean the difference between life and death here. With just enough power to pursue human rights, we could come back to our brothers and sisters without wanting to hate, kill or destroy. If we had just enough power to do something for ourselves instead of our slavemasters, this zombie system could be destroyed forever.