Monday, January 10, 2011

Low on Sympathy

Keeping up with the release of the Scott sisters "wrongful conviction." The sisters, Gladys and Jamie were convicted in Mississippi in 1993 of armed robbery and given life sentences. They have recently been freed, sentences suspended by Gov. Barbour (R), after agreeing one sister would donate a kidney to the other sister if they match, if not they still have their freedom.

Yes, life terms for armed robbery without serious injury sounds excessive. On the other hand, when lighter sentences are given and the parolee then commits a more heinous crime the same sympathetic folks are screaming - why was this guy not behind bars..... The sisters were eligible for parole in 2014. The Scott sisters reportedly did not have any previous criminal record.

There are a few theories out there as to why the judge handed down such a stiff penalty, one being that a black deputy sheriff was shaking down the Scott sisters dad (James "Hawk" Rasco) who owned a night club, selling liquor in a dry county. Also reportedly a Rasco nephew gave evidence against a crooked white sheriff who was sent to prison for corruption and kickbacks.

If you know anything about dry counties there are always juke joints and illegal booze, and the sheriff is paid off. The fee was $100 per week to sell illegal liquor, but when the black deputy came for his shakedown, Rasco didn't feel he had to pay. So the theory goes that the sisters stiff sentence was revenge - by the black deputy sheriff Marvin Williams. Deputy Williams is said to have promised the father (Rasco) that he would "get" him, even if through his daughters. Robbery with double life terms is the method deputy Marvin Williams used to "get" Mr. Rasco. The sisters' mother says it was payback for her family giving testimony in a corruption case against the white sheriff (Glenn Warren) which sent him to prison.

Let me say this, good ol' boys are not brought down by anyone's testimony - they are brought down by others in the good ol' boy inner circle (ask Blagojevich), testimony gives the appearance of due process. I don't believe the deputy "got" Rasco by framing his daughters. That's not how the good ol' boys work down here. The system could have busted Rasco for bootlegging liquor and a dozen other connected crimes and sentenced his butt to prison for life. And then have their prison guard cousins give Rasco extra hard times.

But imagine, if true, a black deputy in Mississippi was powerful enough to trump up charges, coerce witnesses, convince the prosecutor to charge them, with evidence for a jury to convict them, and tell an elderly white judge to hand out life sentences to the sisters.

Was it revenge? Was it Mississippi racism? Was it wrongful conviction or excessive sentencing? Is there truth to the Biblical statement that the sins of the father are visited upon the child? Seems that way sometimes (i.e. the sins you teach your children come back to visit you.) You don't have to be black though. Our state recently freed a white boy who served 15 years for a murder he did not commit. Folks said the same things about the "good ol' boy" system and justice in his case, just no cries of racism around it. Of course, the ones who hate our local sheriff the most are the ones in and out of jail, or their family members. Apparently, if you keep your nose clean and mind your business - the good ol' boys don't even notice you.

In most cases of injustice it's people in the wrong place at the wrong time, usually because they're doing something they shouldn't be doing anyway, and life hammers them hard for it. Life tends to do that unfair thing to us from time to time. It's up to us individually and as families to guard ourselves against life's smack downs.

The saddest thing about the whole Scott story is not that the sisters were in prison for years but that they were both mothers when they went to prison. Jamie, the oldest has 3 children, ages 15, 18, and 21. Gladys has 2, ages 15 and 22. The girls were arrested when they were 19 and 22 and already had 5 children between them. They began their birthing careers in their early teens. They now, at age 36 and 38 have 2 grandchildren each, ages 3, 4, 5, and 7. Which means their children began their birthing careers in their teens. And how much do you wanna bet there are no marriages or a father's commitment in any of these young lives?

According to this story the sisters' children are all mentally handicapped to some degree. "Courtney's father lives in Jackson, Mississippi. He had also been sentenced under the same judge (Marcus Gordon) as Gladys and Jamie. He received a 30 year sentence for drug charges. He has been out of prison for about a year. He stays in close contact with Courtney and tries to help her as much as he can. The other children's fathers have not been in their lives at all."

The Scott sisters' mother, Evelyn Rasco, at one point was raising 10 grandchildren, 5 of the Scott sisters kids, and 5 more from other children. The saddest part of the story is, this is 3 generations in or on the prison and/or welfare system. My oldest daughter said once, discussing the epidemic numbers of lone women raising grandbabies and great grandbabies, that if you raise your kids right you won't be raising grandkids. And, honestly, I wonder how many more children would the Scott sisters have contributed to the system, had they not been incarcerated.

I do hope the sisters used their years in prison to become productive thinkers and doers who can convince those around them to break the cycle of welfare/prison, dependency/ignorance, and blaming mighty whitey's justice for everything wrong in their lives. But, as we are entering the 4th generation of degrading behavior I'm not expecting much to change.

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