PEARL, Miss. – Sisters Jamie and Gladys Scott left prison on Friday for the first time in 16 years, yelling, “We’re free!” and “God bless y’all!” as they pulled away in a silver SUV. That freedom, though, comes with an unusual condition: Gladys has one year to donate a kidney to her ailing sister.
Now, with their life sentences for armed robbery suspended, their future is uncertain. Their children have grown up. Their family moved to Florida. They are using technology like cell phones for the first time. And questions abound: Who will pay for their medical care? Would Gladys’ conditional release hold up in court? And perhaps the biggest mystery ahead: Are they a compatible match for the kidney transplant?
An afternoon news conference for the sisters in Jackson was attended by dozens of supporters. Many cheered. Some sang. A few cried.
The sisters – Jamie wearing pink, Gladys wearing purple – sat smiling at a table, their hands clasped before them as their attorney, Chokwe Lumumba, thanked a list of advocacy groups who worked for their release.
“We just totally blessed. We totally blessed,” Gladys Scott said. “It’s been a long, hard road, but we made it.”
Gladys said she learned about her release on television.
“I just started screaming and hollering. I’m still screaming and hollering,” she said.
Jamie said the reality of the situation will probably sink in when she sees her grown children, who were young kids when they went to prison. She said she would have a dialysis treatment this morning in Florida.
The sisters are moving to Pensacola in the Florida Panhandle to live with their mother. They hope to qualify for government-funded Medicaid insurance to pay for the transplant and for 38-year-old Jamie Scott’s dialysis, which officials said had cost Mississippi about $200,000 a year. A few doctors have expressed interest in performing the transplant, but there are no firm plans yet.
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour agreed to release Jamie Scott because of her medical condition, but 36-year-old Gladys Scott must donate the kidney within one year as a condition of her release. The women weren’t eligible for parole until 2014. The supporters who fought for the sisters’ release insisted that Jamie Scott may not live that long without a new kidney.
The Scotts were convicted in 1994 of an armed robbery in central Mississippi on Christmas Eve the year before. The robbery didn’t net much; amounts cited have ranged from $11 to $200.
The Scott sisters’ attorney and advocacy groups have long said $11 was taken in the robbery, arguing life sentences were excessive for such a small sum.
The sisters would not discuss the crime during an afternoon news conference in Jackson.