By Holbrook Mohr/The Associated Press
PEARL — Two sisters whose life sentences were suspended on the condition that one donate a kidney to the other were released from a Mississippi prison on Friday after serving 16 years for an armed robbery.
Jamie and Gladys Scott waved to reporters and yelled “we’re free” and “God bless y’all” as they left the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in an SUV.
The sisters are moving to the Florida Panhandle, where their mother and grown children live.
Jamie Scott, 36, is on dialysis, which officials say costs the state about $200,000 a year.
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour agreed to release her from prison because of her medical condition, but 38-year-old Gladys Scott’s release order says one of the conditions she must meet is to donate the kidney within one year.
The idea to donate the kidney was Gladys Scott’s, and she volunteered to do it in her petition for early release.
The sisters’ attorney, Chokwe Lumumba, said the first thing they want to do is eat a good meal.
“And you know how women are. They want to get some clothes,” he said.
Lumumba spoke in an open field used for law enforcement training just across a highway from the prison on a cold winter morning. A news helicopter circled over the massive prison, which sits on a rural stretch of highway in Pearl in central Mississippi.
Their freedom will allow not only for a reunion with family, but also with each other. The two women have been held recently in different parts of the prison in Pearl, and it’s unlikely they had much interaction in the sprawling complex of 13 housing units on 171 acres.
The Scotts were convicted in 1994 of an armed robbery in central Mississippi the year before. The robbery didn’t net much; amounts cited have ranged from $11 to $200.
Lumumba said the women hope to get government-funded Medicaid health insurance in Florida and begin the needed steps to make the transplant happen. He said a few doctors have expressed interest in performing the kidney transplant, but there are no firm plans yet. And the sisters need to undergo testing to make sure they are compatible.
Some medical experts said the arrangement for the sisters’ release raises legal and ethical concerns, but their supporters say Gladys Scott wants to try to save her sister’s life.
The sisters are black, and their case has been a cause celebre for the NAACP and other advocacy groups.
The Scott sisters’ attorney and advocacy groups have long cited $11 as the amount taken in the robbery, though there’s been some dispute about exactly how much was stolen. The lower amount has been used to argue that the life sentences were excessive.
However, one of the victims in the case testified that he was robbed of about $200. A 14-year-old boy involved in the crime testified that his cut was between $9 and $11. Lumumba has said the $11 amount trumpeted by advocacy groups is based on the indictment, which says they stole “in excess of $10.”
Mitchell Duckworth, one of the women’s victims, told The Associated Press in a phone interview Thursday that the robbery was a terrifying experience and that he was thankful to be alive. But he said he wasn’t concerned the sisters were being released because he thought they had served enough prison time.
“I think it’s all right as long as they’ve been there,” Duckworth said.