The Scott Sisters and the Notorious 'Black Codes' of Mississippi
Jan 9, 2011 Tempie Williams
Two black women leave prison after suffering 16 years of a double life sentence supported by social, political and racial motivation
Two women; two black women; two black women sisters, Jamie and Gladys Scott, on January 7, 2011 made headline news all over the world when they were freed from each serving a life sentence at Central Mississippi Correctional Facility. Mississippi’s second term Republican Governor Haley Barbour suspended their life sentences for their involvement in a crime where two men had been hit over the head with a shotgun by three teenage boys and allegedly robbed of $11 .
Nancy R. Lockhart , a legal analyst and advocate has worked tirelessly, after receiving a handwritten letter from their persistent mother and widow, Mrs. Evelyn Rasco in 2005, telling their story and how injustice had been inflicted upon her daughters. Lockhart not only returned a call to this God fearing woman but made a commitment to get her daughters freed from this unethical injustice they had each suffered for 16 years.
On December 24, 1993 , Scott County Sheriff's Department arrested the two sisters for armed robbery. On October of 1994, both sisters, having had no prior convictions, were convicted by a jury and sentenced to double life sentences in prison for an incident where no one was murdered, hurt or hospitalized.
Mississippi: A State socially, politically and racially motivated
Further reports indicated the three teenage boys, all related and aged from 14 to 18 confessed to hitting the two men over the head with a shotgun and robbed them of $11, and implicated Jamie and Gladys. It was later said, "coercions, threats and promises later led these men to turn state's evidence on the Scott Sisters.
The 14-year- old testified that he had signed a written statement without an attorney present. He was told that he would be sent up to Parchman Farm - the notorious Mississippi Penitentiary/Plantation - if he did not cooperate. In addition, he was told that he would be "made out of a woman" (raped by men) at Parchman. Later reports indicate the three boys served less than three of their eight year sentences.
What exactly, then, was the two sisters' involvement in this crime? Why was such an extreme sentence given to each of them? Was it because of the two men? Was race an issue? Was politics an issue? Or was the real crime that these two sisters were simply black and poor in a socially, politically and racially motivated state known for its white supremacy after the Civil War? Mississippi is a state where the notorious " Black Codes" were passed by legislatures, described as a revival of slavery in disguise.
“We’re free” was reportedly shouted by the sisters on January 7, 2011, as they fought through crowds of news media to later hold a press conference with the national NAACP leader Ben Jealous in Jackson, Mississippi. They were later scheduled to return to Pensacola, Florida where their mother and children live.
The Contingency of the sisters release from prison
Gov. Barbour suspended both sister’s life sentences conditionally, instead of giving them the pardon they requested. Their conditional release is contingent upon the younger sister, 36-year-old Gladys Scott, giving her 38-year-old sister, Jamie Scott, her kidney. Jamie needs daily dialysis due to receiving inadequate healthcare while in prison. This was a voluntary donation from Gladys, willing to help her sister Jamie. Lockhart further reported, "Jamie Scott has stated that she is going blind; her vision is getting worse daily and she has NOT received glasses as of yet."
Daily dialysis treatments improve the quality of life and are very expensive. Kent Croker, spokesman for the Mississippi Department of Corrections shared that the state was paying $200,000 a year to provide them. It was decided by Gov. Barbour that since both sisters were no longer a threat to society and they were eligible for parole in 2014, he would suspend their life sentences.
"For the governor to mandate this donation is both unprecedented and unconscionable. As others have pointed out, releasing Jamie Scott before she has this costly life-saving surgery could also stand to save the state a considerable amount of money; a donation from her sister could save even more and is apparently part of the price of their freedom." states James Ridgeway of San Francisco BayView.
Additionally, Lockhart said, regarding the sister's release, "each will have to pay $52 a month for the administration of their parole in Florida, where their mother lives and where they plan to reside." Since they were serving life sentences, that means $624 a year for the rest of their lives. Both women are now in their 30s; if they live 40 more years, each will have paid the state $24,960. Of course, Jamie, in particular, will be lucky to live so long." Recorded in The Law Office of the Southern Center For Human Rights , "Contrary to what many people may believe, there are debtors' prisons throughout the United States where people are imprisoned because they are too poor to pay fines and fees."
Evelyn Rasco, the sister’s mother, clearly expressed her gratitude for having both her daughters released and soon to be home with her and their children, but expressed her scepticism regarding the Governor’s motives. She said, “To me it was a political decision,” and “It’s not that he actually had any sympathy for my daughters or cared bout them.” Barbour had been mentioned as a possible presidential contender in 2012.
Black women seeking justice in Mississippi
As Nancy R. Lockhart, M.J. read the handwritten letter of a mother and widow, persistent and determined to get help for both her convicted daughters, after 11 years of no response, knowing the cry of injustice, she became compelled and was convinced that it had occurred on the judicial bench. This same mother has a son: "Jamie and Gladys' older brother serving in Iraq for the US Army, while Americans have wrongfully placed his sisters in prison," Lockhart stated.
She recognized immediately the signs, and knew the misrepresentation of poor black women and their fight for justice in Mississippi's legal system as she explains in her telling, The State of Mississippi verses Jamie Scott and Gladys Scott: My first encounter with Justice denied. Lockhart, decided to leave Chicago and go to Jamie and Gladys Scott with the commitment to get them freed as she had promised their mother. Freed from a system that had denied them. Freed from, " the laws that had imposed severe restrictions on freed slaves such as prohibiting their right to vote, forbidding them to sit on juries, limiting their right to testify against white men, carrying weapons in public places and working in certain occupations. Free from the 'black codes' of Mississippi.
While we are happy that the Scott sisters have been released from wrongful double life sentences and are about to battle paying their debts by way of another reprehensible and unwarranted contingent condition and fines; it is imperative that we continue fighting unethical injustice, even in an era with a black president of the USA; that to many is used to legitimize the system and mask its ugliness so that laws such as the 'black code' still enforced in Mississippi and elsewhere are not repassed by legislators and cease to exist.
"Scott sisters free at last" , A Brown Publishing Company, blackvoicenews.com. Accessed Jan 2011
“Sister’s kidney donation condition of Miss. Parole.“ Associated Press, kxxv.com. Accessed Jan 2011
"Scott sisters freed from prison,” The Clarion - Ledger, clarionledger.com. Accessed Jan 2011
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
Copyright Tempie Williams. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.http://www.suite101.com/content/has-freedom-truly-been-gained-a333388