Former tough-talking lawmaker dies on Coast at 79

OCEAN SPRINGS — Mack McInnis, a former South Mississippi lawmaker known for his tough talk on prison issues, has died.

McInnis’ daughters said their father died in his sleep Sunday. He was 79.

McInnis’ memorable statement about a push to make Mississippi prisoners wear striped uniforms made national news in 1994.

“We want a prisoner to look like a prisoner, to smell like a prisoner and taste like a prisoner. When you see one of these boogers aloose, you’ll say ‘I didn’t know we had zebras in Mississippi,’” McInnis said during a House debate. “Some of them prisoners, you couldn’t humiliate them with a humiliatin’ machine.”

His daughter Rhonda Jahns said McInnis was strict but loving as a father, lawmaker, teacher and longtime football coach. He coached and taught at Leakesville High School, Stone High School and Greene County High School. His students and players knew him as “Coach Mack.”

“I remember being in the ninth grade and meeting a guy who told me, ‘I’d really like to ask you for a date, but there’s no way I’m going to because you’re Coach Mack’s daughter,’” said Jahns, who is a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force reserve.

McInnis served the 42nd District in the Mississippi House from 1976 to 1980 and the 105th District from 1992 to 2000. Jahns said her father loved people and enjoyed the campaigning process, when he got to knock on constituents’ doors and talk with them.

“Anytime we went somewhere, we were always the last people to leave, because as long as there was someone left to talk to he would want to stay and talk,” Jahns recalled.

McInnis lived in the south Mississippi town of Vernal at the end of his life. He was born on the same piece of property in 1934, the 12th of 13 siblings. Many of his relatives still live near his home on McInnis Vernal Road, across from the church he attended as a child and the family cemetery, Janhs said.

McInnis was recently diagnosed with congestive heart failure and hospitalized, but released when his condition improved, according to his daughters. He died at his daughter Denise Bruno’s home in Ocean Springs. McInnis had been in good mental and physical health until recently, his daughters said.

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