Parchman is the prison in which Pop, Stag, Richie, Bishop, and Michael are all imprisoned at different points in the novel. When Pop is sent there as a 15-year-old boy, Parchman is a working farm structured as a camp, where inmates are forced to toil in the fields all the day. This highlights the strong sense of continuity between Parchman and slavery. Indeed, this continuity is not unique to Parchman but, as Leonie reflects when Misty mentions wanting to see a “pretty courthouse,” is true of the criminal justice system in general. Slavery may have technically ended, but black people like Pop and Richie are still arbitrarily detained and forced to work in conditions that are almost indistinguishable from those under slavery. The extreme violence and brutality that characterizes life at Parchman shows how black people’s lives are treated as disposable within the highly racist world in which the characters live. Although Michael is not black, his imprisonment in Parchman highlights the pervasiveness of incarceration among poor people in Mississippi, and again emphasizes a vicious cycle of injustice. Poverty, racism, drugs, and prison are a daily reality for all the characters in the novel, and escaping them can seem nearly impossible.
The Sing, Unburied, Sing quotes below all refer to the symbol of Parchman. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one: Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Scribner edition of Sing, Unburied, Sing published in 2017.).
The timeline below shows where the symbol Parchman appears in Sing, Unburied, Sing. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: Jojo
Chapter 2: Leonie
Chapter 3: Jojo
...“Keep this close.” It could be either Mam or Pop’s handwriting. Jojo starts thinking about Parchman again. Pop describes Parchman as “mass murder.” He once told Jojo that there was “spirit... (full context)
Chapter 4: Leonie
Chapter 5: Jojo
...and get back in the car to continue their journey. Before long, they are at Parchman and suddenly reunited with Michael, who embraces Leonie before anyone else. In the parking lot,... (full context)
Chapter 6: Richie
...true for Richie. Things got worse when the enormous white man nicknamed Hogjaw returned to Parchman. Hogjaw was a “killer” who had escaped Parchman once but was brought back. Richie wants... (full context)
Chapter 7: Leonie
Chapter 8: Jojo
Chapter 9: Richie
...white settlers. Luckily, Richie never wakes up in the time he and River were at Parchman. Back then, River “had a woman,” a prostitute nicknamed the Sunshine Woman because she wore... (full context)
Chapter 10: Leonie
Chapter 11: Jojo
Chapter 13: Jojo