CHICAGO-- As Freedom Riders from the summer of '61 prepared for a 50th reunion visit to the "New Mississippi" with a red carpet welcome by governor Haley Barbour, some were appalled to discover last week that a piece of the "Old Mississippi" still exists.
Set to visit Parchman prison and see what it has become, they learned of two women, the Scott sisters, who have been incarcerated there for almost 20 years, each serving two life terms for the theft of $11. The victims of the crime and the perpetrators have all sworn that the women were not involved.
Why the draconian sentences? There is speculation that the sisters' father had declined to pay off the sheriff.
Scott County, Mississippi, is a dry county. According to court records, the sheriff secretly allowed night clubs to serve drinks privately for a fee - $100 a week. The sisters' mother, Evelyn Rasko, says that when Jamie and Gladys Scott's father arrived with his family from Chicago in the early 90's and bought his nephew's night club, he declined to pay the fee.
"I will get you one way or the other, even if it is through your daughters!" deputy Marvin Williams, now deceased, is reported to have said. And it would appear that he did. A trio of teens was arrested for a minor robbery. By coercing testimony from a 14-year old, telling him, according to the victim, that he would be sent to Parchman and he would "be made out of women" - raped - if he did not implicate the Scott sisters, deputy Marvin Williams appears to have built a phony case. The sisters were arrested, told by their attorneys not to speak during the trial, and were sent directly to Parchman, where they still sit today, almost 20 years later. One of them is dying.
Inadequate treatment for diabetes can cause both kidneys to fail. Jamie Scott's kidneys have both failed. She is going to die soon if she doesn't get proper treatment. Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour has referred the whole matter to his Parole Board. But he can release the sisters tomorrow, he has that power.
On behalf of the sisters, the Freedom Riders to Free the Scott Sisters committee has just released the following request to Governor Barbour:
"As we plan to celebrate our 50th Freedom Rider reunion next May in Jackson, we respectfully ask you to commute the Scott Sisters' sentence or pardon them well before then. We hope to see that, because of your justice and compassion, these two women are no longer imprisoned in the very place where we did time.
In the words of the Prophet, Isaiah 42:7, we call upon you, [t]o bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, them that sit in darkness out of the prison house."
Whether Jamie Scott dies in Parchman for a trumped-up offense depends now on Governor Haley Barbour's signature.