Women released from Mississippi prison make life in Florida
PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) — Serving double life sentences for taking part in a 1993 armed robbery that netted $11, sisters Jamie and Gladys Scott hit bottom at different points.
It happened to Gladys six months after she entered the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Pearl, Mississippi, two months after she gave birth to a baby girl that she was not allowed to raise.
“I tried to commit suicide because it bothered me so bad. I fell into a bad depression. I cut myself with a razor blade, but God wasn’t ready for me,” she said.
It happened to Jamie in 2003 when she learned her father died.
“I felt like something inside me died. I think he died of a broken heart because he couldn’t get us out of prison,” she said. “I saved up pills because I wanted to end my life, I couldn’t see my life keep being in that place.”
Guards found the pills and confiscated them during an unannounced search of her cell.
“I took that as a message from God that he didn’t want me to die,” she said.
Seven years after the Scott sisters made national headlines following then-Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour’s unusual agreement to release them from prison, the women have fought to build a life for themselves in Pensacola.
It hasn’t been easy.
Barbour indefinitely suspended the sisters’ sentences on the condition that Gladys donate a kidney to Jamie, who was on dialysis and in failing health. Legal scholars questioned whether Mississippi could put such conditions on the sister’s release, but both sisters agreed to the deal.
The sisters’ original sentences drew widespread condemnation from Civil Rights leaders and others. The women were 19 and 21 and had no prior criminal convictions when they were arrested and charged with orchestrating the Christmas Eve armed robbery of two men in Forest, Mississippi.
Prosecutors said they led the men, who were hit on the back of their heads with shotguns, into an ambush. Three male teenagers charged in the case testified against the sisters in exchange for lighter sentences.
The sisters maintain their innocence and are seeking a full pardon from Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant so they can be released from parole requirements. Bryant has so far declined to issue pardons in the case.
The women moved to Pensacola after their release from prison because that is where their mother, Evelyn Rasco, was living. Rasco died in 2013 at the age of 65 from diabetes and other health complications.
“You cannot measure a mother’s love. She did everything to fight for us, including letting her health go down. When we came home, her health was already failing and she was tired. But the three years I had with her were the best of my life,” Gladys said during a recent interview from her sister’s west Pensacola home.
Jamie has yet to receive her desperately needed kidney transplant and spends nearly four hours, three days a week on dialysis.
She had lost 61 pounds following weight-loss surgery. She was also working and taking classes at Pensacola State College.
Everything changed April 9, 2017, when an intoxicated driver struck the car she was driving and caused her to crush her ankle while attempting to press the brakes to keep her car from spinning out of control.
Surgeons amputated her right foot in late May after seven unsuccessful surgeries.
“It was a hard decision, and I wasn’t going to do it at first but Gladys started crying and told me that she would rather have me here with one leg than not have me here at all. Eventually I knew it was what I had to do so that I could live,” Jamie said.
The two sisters are incredibly close.
“I used to ask my mom whether we were twins because we had such a close connection,” Gladys said. “People are always saying that when you see one of us, you see both us.”
After the amputation, Gladys took Jamie to a nail salon for a manicure.
The sisters laughed because the salon charged Jamie the same for manicuring one foot as for manicuring both feet.
“They didn’t even give me a discount for having one foot,” Jamie said, laughing.
The sisters’ tight bond helped them make it through 16 years in prison. They shared a cell for much of the first 10 years before the state of Mississippi ordered that relatives could not be housed together.
In the seven years since their release, they have relied on each other like never before. Gladys now works full-time as runner for the Michaels and Booth law firm.
“She is the only one who really knows what I have been through,” Gladys said. “We have seen things (in prison) shouldn’t no one have to see.”
Gladys wakes up in the middle of the night with her inmate number — 19142 — going through her head.
“You don’t have a name when you are in there, just a number and sometimes you don’t believe it is real that you are out. You think that if you close your eyes it will all go away,” she said.
Greater Little Rock Baptist Church Pastor Lonnie Wesley III has become close friends with Gladys and Jamie in the last seven years.
“They have taught me a lot about what the newly released from prison person goes through. People don’t realize the stigma that they have to fight while simultaneously trying to play catch up,” he said.
Despite all the women have been through, “not one time have they complained,” Wesley said.
“Our prayer is that they won’t let the fight get the best of them and they can keep on fighting,” he said.
Although Mississippi prison officials said Gladys was a match to donate a kidney to Jamie, the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville needs to do more tests. If Gladys is a compatible donor, the women will have to spend weeks in Jacksonville before and after the transplant. Because of her amputated foot, Jamie will not be able stay without someone to help her.
The sisters are worried about the expenses associated with the trip and about whether their parole conditions with the state of Mississippi will allow them to be away from home for so long.
“It’s discouraging because I will have to stay in a hotel there for a long time even after I am released from the hospital,” Jamie said. “And we have to be able to leave here very quickly when the time comes for the transplant.”
Jamie’s son, 24-year-old Richard Scott, is close with both women. Richard has watched his mother and aunt try to adapt after 16 years behind bars.
“You cannot get back that time that was lost. When I was younger, it created some anger in me,” said Richard, an Army soldier who will deploy to Afghanistan later this year. “If you stay back on grudges, you are never going to move forward.”
He laughs about the women’s unfamiliarity with cellphones and other technology. The trio joke about how he tried to Face Time them on a recent deployment.
“You could just see Gladys’ nose,” he laughed.
The women collaborated on the 2016 book, “The Scott Sisters: Revealing the Truth, Exposing Injustice and Trusting God.” They donated all proceeds to help women released from prison adapt to life outside.
“It was scary reliving some of the things we saw in prison to write the book, but it was like you releasing something with every chapter. It was therapeutic,” Gladys said.
The state of Mississippi prohibited the women from traveling to some book signings in that state because of the conditions of their parole.
“We are not through with our fight,” said Jamie, who added that the parole stipulations mean that she and her sister are not truly free.
“We haven’t come this far, 16 years and 32 days, to give up,” Gladys said.
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