Cecily McMillan (OWS Activist) Released from Rikers Island: Uses Platform to Challenge Systemic Injustices Incarcerated Women Face Daily

This is from: SparrowMedia, July 2nd 2014

[NEW YORK, NY] Imprisoned Occupy Wall Street activist Cecily McMillan was released from Rikers Island on Wednesday morning, July 2nd, after serving 58 days. She spoke publicly at a 1pm press conference outside the jail’s outer gates on Hazen Street.

This was the first time she was able to speak publicly after testifying in her trial. Cecily’s controversial trial garnered international media attention. She was supported by elected officials, community leaders, and celebrities. While serving her term at Rikers Island she was visited by members of Russian rock group Pussy Riot, themselves unjustly imprisoned in 2012.

The Following is Cecily’s Statement as read to members of the press at 1pm EST:

“Fifty nine days ago, The City and State of New York labeled me a criminal. Millionaires and billionaire–who had a vested interest in silencing a peaceful protest about the growing inequalities in America–coerced the justice system, manipulated the evidence, and suddenly I became dangerous and distinguished from law-abiding citizens. On May 5th, the jury delivered its verdict, the judge deemed me undesirable, and officers drove me across that bridge and barred me within. On the outside, I had spent my time fighting for freedom and rights. On the inside, I discovered a world where words like freedom and rights don’t even exist in the first place. I walked in with one movement, and return to you a representative of another. That bridge right there, that divides the city from Rikers Island, divides two worlds – today I hope to bring them closer together. Crossing back over, I have a message to you from several concerned citizens currently serving time at the Rose M. Singer Center.

“Incarceration is meant to prevent crime. Its purpose is to penalize and then return us to the outside world ready to start anew. The world I saw at Rikers isn’t concerned with that. Many of the tactics employed are aimed at simple dehumanization. In the interests of returning the facility to its mission and restoring dignity to its inmates, we, the women of Rikers, have several demands that will make this system more functional. These were collectively drafted for me to read before you today.

“First of all, we demand that we be provided with adequate, safe, and timely healthcare at all times. That, of course, includes mental health care services and the ability to request female doctors if desired at all times for safety and comfort. We often have to wait for up to 12 hours a day for a simple clinic visit, and occasionally 12 hours a day for up to a full week before we see anyone.

“The women of Rikers feel a special sense of urgency for this demand because of a particular event that occurred recently. About a week ago, our friend Judith died as a result of inadequate medical care. Judith had been in RSMC for a while, but was transferred to our dorm 4 East A, where I was housed, only a few days before her death. She had recently been in the infirmary for a back problem, and had been prescribed methadone pills for the pain for quite a while. A few days before she died, they decided to change the medicine to liquid despite her dissent. They gave her a dosage of 190mg, which any doctor will tell you is a dangerous dosage, far higher than what anyone should be taking unless it is a serious emergency. Judith was not allowed to turn down the medicine or visit the clinic to get the dosage adjusted.

“After three days on that dosage, Judith could no longer remember who or where she was and had begun coughing up blood, accompanied with what we believe were chunks of her liver. We attempted unsuccessfully to get her medical treatment for the entire day, at one point being told that this was “not an emergency,” despite the fact that Judith was covered in blood. That night they finally removed her to the hospital, where she remained in critical condition before passing away a few days later. This was a clear case of medical malpractice, both with the ridiculously high dosage of methadone and the refusal of adequate treatment. Stories like this are far too common in Rikers Island, and we demand that no more of our sisters be lost to sickness and disease as a result of inadequate medical care.

“Our next demand is that Corrections Officers should be required to follow the protocol laid out for them at all times, and that at some point soon that protocol should be examined to make sure that all rules and procedures are in the best interests of the inmates. We also demand that we have a clear and direct means to file a grievance that will be taken seriously and examined fully, so that Officers can be properly disciplined and removed from the area quickly when they abuse or endanger us.

“Recently my friend Alejandra went to file a grievance about being denied access to medical treatment for a concussion until she awoke one morning unable to move. When she met with the captain after filing the grievance, she was presented with a different sheet and a different complaint than the one she had provided and was forced to sign it. Inmates should be able to trust that situations like that will not concern, and that our safety and dignity be respected by those designated to supervise us. There is a clear protocol for officers already laid out in the inmate handbook, but it is seldom followed. Officers are allowed to make up the rules as they go and get away with it, which we find unacceptable.

“Our final demand is that we be provided with rehabilitative and educational services that will help us to heal our addictions and gain new skills, and that will make it much easier for us to adjust to the outside and achieve employment when we are released. Specifically, for our education we would like access to classes beyond GED completion, maintenance, and basic computer skills, access to a library, and English classes for those attempting to learn the language. We feel that the addition of these programs would significantly help us prepare for release and reentry into the world, which would lower re-incarceration rates.

“We also feel strongly that Rikers Island needs to have much better drug rehabilitation programs. Many women who come through here are addicts, and many women are imprisoned here because they are addicts. That’s the area in which reentry rates seems to be the highest. This is likely a direct result of the failure of the meager programs that we are given. Thus, it seems only logical that serious and effective drug rehabilitation programs be provided to those who need them, assuming that the Department of Corrections would like to help work to achieve a better, healthier society and keep as many people as possible out of jail.

“Working with my sisters to organize for change in the confines of jail has strengthened my belief in participatory democracy and collective action. I am inspired by the resilient community I have encountered in a system that is stacked against us. The only difference between people we call “law-abiding” citizens and the women I served time with is the unequal access to resources. Crossing the bridge I am compelled to reach back and recognize the two worlds as undivided. The court sent me here to frighten me and others into silencing our dissent, but I am proud to walk out saying that the 99% is, in fact, stronger than ever. We will continue to fight until we gain all the rights we deserve as citizens of this earth.”

Cecily McMillan is a New York City activist and graduate student wrongfully imprisoned for felony assault of a police officer after an incident at an Occupy Wall Street event on March 17, 2012. Officer Grantley Bovell grabbed her right breast from behind and lifted her into the air, at which other officers joined Officer Bovell in beating McMillan until she had a series of seizures. She was convicted on May 5th after a trial in which Judge Ronald Zweibel disallowed key pieces of evidence from the defense. On May 19th she was sentenced to a 90-day sentence and 5 years of probation after a large public campaign for leniency, which included an appeal to the judge signed by 9 of the 12 jurors, who thought she should be given no further jail time. The sentence on this charge is typically a term of 2-7 years of incarceration.

Herman Wallace of Angola 3 ill: Plz send messages of Support to Herman and Albert!

Photo of Herman taken in April 2013

Today, our allies at Amnesty International and Solitary Watch released articles and statements reporting on Herman’s condition and calling for increased public support at this critical time.

As Solitary Watch writes, two months ago Herman “complained of feeling ill. Prison doctors diagnosed his condition as a stomach fungus and put him on antibiotics. By last week, he had lost 45 pounds, and was sent to a local hospital, where he received the news that he has liver cancer. He was returned to prison after a few days.”

“A team of lawyers, an outside doctor who has taken care of Wallace for years, and a psychologist briefly visited Wallace last week in a prison hospital room. Wallace was not manacled or shackled. The door was locked. There is no television and little contact with the outside world. Telephone privileges which were made available in the beginning have been revoked by the prison. According to one source, a warden ordered visitors out after ten minutes,” reports Solitary Watch, quoting lawyer Nick Trenticosta, who reflected that this “level of inhumanity I am not used to.”

It is with great sadness that we write to share the news of Herman Wallace’s recent liver cancer diagnosis.
In a statement of support released on Monday, Jasmine Heiss, Amnesty International USA’s Individuals & Communities at Risk Campaigner said: “Herman’s condition is grave and we are still waiting for details of his prognosis. Once we know more, we will ask you to make your voices heard to the Louisiana authorities so that our calls for justice ring from the state’s northern border to the very end of the Mississippi river.”

Until then, Amnesty is urging supporters to write letters to Herman and Albert “reminding Herman and Albert that they are not alone – that there are hundreds of thousands of people standing with them, even as the state tries to keep them in total isolation. You can download cards to send to Herman and Albert here. You should add a personal message and, if possible, also send pictures of your hometown, nature or animals to lift the two men’s spirits. Albert and Herman are held in two different prisons, so please be sure to write to both of them separately – Albert is struggling with the news of his friend’s illness, so he needs your words of support just as much as Herman.”

The importance of writing both Herman and Albert cannot be overstated. The Solitary Watch article reports on Albert’s visit last weekend with his brother Michael Mable, where Albert was very distraught over news of Herman’s health. Exemplifying the punitive conditions that Albert continues to endure, “Mable was only able to see Woodfox through a glass partition, and Woodfox sat with his hands manacled and feet shackled while a captain and a lieutenant stood behind him, Mable said. Woodfox was strip searched, even though the interview was just a short ways from his cell. He is allowed one visit a month.”

Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox, 2002

In another statement of support released on Monday, Amnesty International UK’s Urgent Action

Further calling for letters to be sent to Herman and Albert, Amnesty UK declares: “One of Amnesty’s roles is to shine a light on injustice wherever it takes place. So I’m asking you to please shine the brightest possible light upon Louisiana, and to write postcards (preferably with a picture of your home town) to Herman and Albert. Please let them know that you are standing beside them at this difficult time. These letters will not only give much-needed support to Herman and Albert, but it will also show the Louisiana authorities that the world is watching them.”

We promise to keep you updated in the coming days as we learn more about Herman’s health and further develop our approach for best supporting both Herman and Albert. For now, please heed Amnesty International’s call to action and write to Herman and Albert today.
Address your cards to:

Herman Wallace
#76759 SNU/CCR
EHCC PO Box 174
St Gabriel, LA 70776
USA

Albert Woodfox
#72148
David Wade Correctional Center, N1A3
670 Bell Hill Rd.
Homer, LA 71040

Network wrote: “This is heart-breaking news and everyone associated with the campaign remains shocked. But, taking our lead from the Angola 3, we are determined to fight, and we desperately need you to stand beside Herman, Albert and Robert at this difficult time. We need to put our collective voices together, louder than ever, and link arms with these men across the ocean.”

Alabama’s segregation for inmates with HIV faces court scrutiny

From: Reuters
Sept. 17th 2012

By Verna Gates

(Reuters) – Alabama, one of two U.S. states that segregate inmates with HIV from the rest of their prison population, will seek to defend the policy against a class action lawsuit headed to trial in federal court on Monday.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued Alabama in 2011 for what the group contends is a discriminatory practice that prevents most HIV-positive inmates from participating in rehabilitation and retraining programs important for their success after prison.

The state says the civil liberties group has failed to prove that there would be no significant risk of the infection being transmitted to other prisoners if inmates with HIV were fully integrated, according to court documents.

An appeals court upheld the segregated housing policy in 1999, but ACLU attorney Margaret Winter said advances in treatment for HIV infection warranted the court taking another look at the practice.

“It is based on an uneducated view on HIV and how it is transmitted, which really goes back to the dark ages of when it first started and there was hysteria,” she said.

South Carolina is the only other U.S. state that houses inmates with HIV away from other prisoners. Mississippi ceased a similar practice in March 2010 and has since integrated inmates with the infection, Winter said.

Two of Alabama’s 29 prisons have dormitories set aside specifically for prisoners with HIV. A handful of prisoners have been allowed to live and work in non-segregated settings in two work-release programs, Winter said.

Approximately 270 inmates out of the 26,400 in the state prison system have tested positive for the virus and none has developed AIDS, according to Alabama Department of Corrections spokesman Brian Corbett.

Read the rest here:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/09/17/us-usa-alabama-hiv-idUSBRE88G0KS20120917

60% Of Louisiana Prison Doctors Have Been Disciplined

. By Judy Molland
. July 30, 2012
From: Care2

Louisiana is the world’s prison capital. The state imprisons more of its people, per head, than any of its U.S. counterparts. First among Americans means first in the world. Louisiana’s incarceration rate is nearly five times Iran’s, 13 times China’s and 20 times Germany’s.

That’s how the New Orleans Times-Picayune introduced its gripping series on Louisiana’s prisons last May.

Now comes more bad news.

Of the 15 doctors working full-time at Louisiana state prisons, nearly two-thirds have been disciplined by Louisiana’s medical board for issues ranging from pedophilia to substance abuse.

Here’s more from the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

Louisiana state prisons appear to be dumping grounds for doctors who are unable to find employment elsewhere because of their checkered pasts, raising troubling moral questions as well as the specter of an accident waiting to happen. At stake is the health of nearly 19,000 prisoners who are among the most vulnerable of patients because they have no health care options.

About 60 percent of the state’s prison doctors have disciplinary records, compared with 2 percent of the state’s 16,000 or so licensed medical doctors, according to data from the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners. The medical board is aware of the prison pipeline – in fact, a board-employed headhunter has sometimes helped problem doctors get prison gigs.

Here’s an example of one of those doctors: Dr. Randy Lavespere, who is the assistant medical director at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, spent two years in prison for purchasing $8,000 worth of crystal meth from an informant. His medical license was reinstated in October 2009 on the condition that he practice in an “institutional, prison or other structured setting.”

Another former New Orleans doctor accused of unprofessional conduct with female patients now practices at this all-male prison.

So Louisiana is taking the state’s lowest-quality physicians, with criminal records and problems with how they deliver medicine, and having them practice with one of the state’s most vulnerable populations, who have no choice in the matter.

Maybe it’s time to revisit that policy, which is both unethical and dangerous?

Read more: http://www.care2.com/causes/60-of-louisiana-prison-doctors-have-been-disciplined.html#ixzz22AvapWJ8

Wal-Mart, Martori Farms and Women in Prison Labor: "I Ain’t Gonna Work On Martori’s Farm No More"

Note: This is the contact email for Wal-Mart’s “ethics” office. Please take a  minute and write them about the horrific labor conditions for the women at Perryville. Wal-Mart’s Global Ethics Office can be emailed at ethics@wal-mart.com.

“I Ain’t Gonna Work On Martori’s Farm No More”
Posted: 06/29/11
By Al Norman, Founder, Sprawl-Busters
in: Huffington Post

For the past 20 years, Wal-Mart has fed its stores with agricultural produce from a company called Martori Farms. According to Hoover’s profile of the company, Martori is “a fruit and vegetable grower, packer, shipper, and wholesaler and is the largest commercial agricultural company in Arizona.

The agra business was “hand-picked” by Wal-Mart, and in 2007, the giant retailer showcased Martori Farms as part of its “Salute To America’s Farmers” program. The Martori farm operations took seed in the 1930s Arizona soil, later specializing in melons and broccoli. The company today has 3 major locations in Arizona, and one site in California. One of its holdings contains more than 15,000 arcres of farmland.

Wal-Mart has described its relationship with Martori Farms as an example of “fruitful collaboration.” The retailer’s first 35 superstores were stocked with organic cantaloupes from Martori Farms. “Our relationship with Martori Farms is an excellent example of the kind of collaboration we strive for with our suppliers,” a Wal-Mart spokesman said four years ago. “Wal-Mart buys more United States agricultural products than any other retailer in the world and we’re proud to salute American farmers like Martori Farms.”

But new allegations about the use of prison labor at the Scottsdale, Arizona-based Martori Farms could blight the fruitful relationship between the retailer and the farmer.

For almost 20 years, Wal-Mart has had a clear policy forbidding the use of prison labor by its vendors. “Since 1992 Wal-Mart has required its supplier-partners to comply with a stringent code of conduct,” Wal-Mart said in a 1997 press statement. “This code requires factories producing merchandise for Wal-Mart to be automatically denied manufacturing certification if inspections reveal…evidence of forced or prison labor.”

The Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) has supplied prisoner labor for private agricultural businesses for almost 20 years. For at least the last four years, the state of Arizona has fined employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers. Farmers responded by calling up the ADC for workers. “We are contacted almost daily by different companies needing labor,” the manager of the business development unit of Arizona Correctional Industries (ACI) told the Christian Science Monitor in 2007. “Maybe it was labor that was undocumented before, and they don’t want to take the risk anymore because of possible consequences, so they are looking to inmate labor as a possible alternative.

One of those businesses that turned to prison labor was Wal-Mart’s vendor, Martori Farms. According to a disturbing story published June 24th by Truth-Out.org,(http://www.truth-out.org/abusive-conditions-martori-farms/1308844017) Martori Farms “pays its imprisoned laborers two dollars per hour, not including the travel time to and from the farm.” Women from the Arizona state prison complex at Perryville Unit are assigned to work at Martori Farms.” Arizona law requires that all able bodied inmates work.

One of the women prisoners at Martori Farms told Truth-Out: “We work eight hours regardless of conditions …. We work in the fields hoeing weeds and thinning plants … Currently we are forced to work in the blazing sun for eight hours. We run out of water several times a day. We ran out of sunscreen several times a week. They don’t check medical backgrounds or ages before they pull women for these jobs. Many of us cannot do it! If we stop working and sit on the bus or even just take an unauthorized break we get a MAJOR ticket which takes away our ‘good time’!!! We are told we get ‘two’ 15 minute breaks and a half hour lunch like a normal job but it’s more like 10 minutes and 20 minutes. They constantly yell at us we are too slow and to speed up because we are costing $150 an acre in labor and that’s not acceptable… In addition, the prison has sent women to work on the farms regardless of their medical conditions.”

Wal-Mart’s focus on labor conditions has basically been in Third World producer nations, not on domestic shores. In 1997, Wal-Mart wrote: “The issue of global sourcing and factory conditions is very important to Wal-Mart and to our suppliers. Since 1992, we have spent enormous amounts of time and money to assure compliance with our standards and there has been much improvement.”

Yet here in America, prisoners are working under intolerable conditions picking produce for Wal-Mart superstores. In its Standards for Suppliers, Wal-Mart acknowledges that “the conduct of Wal-Mart’s suppliers can be attributed to Wal-Mart and its reputation.” If for no other reason than to protect its reputation, Wal-Mart should take immediate action against Martori Farms. Such actions should include:

1. an unannounced inspection of working conditions at Martori Farms by an independent auditor

2. enforcement of the Wal-Mart’s own Conditions for Employment, including fair compensation of wages and benefits which are in compliance with the local and national laws, reasonable employee work hours in compliance with local standards, with employees not working in excess of the statutory requirements without proper compensation as required by applicable law.

As long as Wal-Mart allows Martori Farms to exploit its prison workers, Wal-Mart is complicit in the scheme. This arrangement violates the company’s ethical sourcing standards. Such working conditions are not right in Sri Lanka, not right in Bangladesh, and they are not right in Scottsdale Arizona either.

The next time you squeeze a melon at Wal-Mart, think about the prison farmworkers who got squeezed to produce it.

Wal-Mart’s Global Ethics Office can be emailed at ethics@wal-mart.com.

Al Norman is the founder of Sprawl-Busters, and is the author of organizer’s classic big box story, Slam-DunkingWal-Mart.

Article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/al-norman/i-aint-gonna-work-on-mart_b_886596.html

Witness to a Reprehensible and Uncaring Prison System

From the blog of the Disarm Now Plowshares:

May 22, 2011 (from Joe Power-Drutis)
Hello
Twenty four hours ago I visited Sr. Jackie Hudson at the Blount County Correctional Facility in Maryville Tennessee, and the information she conveyed was deeply disturbing. By bravely speaking the truth about a reprehensible and uncaring system, Jackie chose to take a personal risk and I want to honor this by passing her message on to you.

This is an account of the struggles of four inmates and their attempts to receive basic medical care.

First is the indomitable and quick-witted (soon to be 84), Jean Gump. Like Bix, Jean’s age and physical presence conceal an interior spirit deeply rooted in the power of love that will always be underestimated by the dark forces so prevalent in our world.

She, like the others, would rather be home with family and friends but is not afraid to pay the price of following the dictates of her conscience. She like the others, consented to going to jail; but, expects these places of confinement to follow the law regarding human rights and rules of imprisonment. But, in the Blount County Correctional Facility, expectations and reality part ways.

Jean is a relatively healthy woman who has obviously taken care of herself; however, she is also under the care of a Nurse Practitioner in Portage Michigan. Jean has been diagnosed with hypertension and carotid artery disease; in other words, the high pressure in her arteries is further complicated by the narrowing of the large carotid artery that feeds her brain. Jean must take one anticoagulant and 2 blood pressure medications to thin her blood and lower her pressure. Failure to do so puts her at high risk for a stroke.

For these chronic conditions she has faithfully taken her medications each day – each day that is until she was remanded to the Blount County Correctional Facility. Though she has made numerous requests for help, she has received no medical assistance, not once has her blood pressure been taken, and she received no medication for nearly 2 weeks. She filled out paperwork for the jail to notify her husband, health care provider and pharmacy; they have received no calls from the jail.

Just for the record, Ralph Hutchison, Erik Johnson and I sang one verse of a less than spectacular barber shop quartet Happy Birthday to You. Moved beyond herself by emotion Jean said, “Don’t give up your day job boys.”
The reality is much the same for 63-year-old Sr. Carol Gilbert. Carol has taken an antihypertensive medication for many years. She too has gone without her medication and no one at the jail has taken her blood pressure.

Three months ago, 76-year-old Sr. Jackie Hudson underwent surgery that left her with residual periodic left-sided chest pain. Several days ago she began to experience severe musculoskeletal pain and made repeated requests for medical assistance. Eventually a nurse arrived and said “Your just one of 500 people here and I am way behind in my work.” Jackie received nothing. That night, many hours after the onset of pain, the night nurse provided her with 2 tabs of Tylenol. Well after this acute onset of pain she was able to receive a “one time” packet of 20 tablets of Tylenol and Ibuprofen due to her indigent status; but was informed she would receive no more. Jackie also suffers from asthma. She was able to take one of her inhalers in with her but is without the needed second one. Jackie also filled out paperwork for the jail to notify Sue Ablao, her health care provider and pharmacy; they also have not received any calls from the jail.

75-year-old Sr. Ardeth Platte is also under the care of a doctor. I do not know the extent of her medical needs but, like Jackie and Jean, Ardeth is receiving no medications or health care.

Though serious, the above matters are straight-forward and easily resolved.
The following is not so.

A woman in the jail experienced a Grand Mal Seizure. Apparently in the early stages of the seizure she was able to tell other inmates a seizure was about to occur, and as the seizure commenced and she was falling they were able to catch her and guide her to the concrete floor.

They called for medical help and the nurse and another woman arrived and stood next to the woman. Several minutes later – while the seizure was still in progress – a half-dozen large men entered the cell block. While a younger guard began yelling at all of the inmates “return to your cells” another of the men kicked the woman repeatedly. Later, inmates reported that kicking a person undergoing a seizure was commonplace, “They think someone is faking it.”

The following day the woman began to experience similar symptoms that occur prior to a seizure and she related to the inmates that another seizure may occur. The inmates called for assistance and a voice over the intercom instructed the inmates to put her on the concrete floor. No staff person, medical or otherwise ever responded. Fortunately the woman’s premonitions did not result in a seizure.

Complicating the health picture even more, the inmates know that, if a medical problem or emergency occurs during the weekend, they are out of luck. No nursing staff are available during the weekend. During weekends, either non medical, non licensed jailers perform nursing duties or inmates get no response at all.

As a LPN I have worked in a number of medical venues over the past 35 years and I have seen nothing to compare with this. How did this high risk, cruel “medical response” become commonplace? These standard operational procedures are not only inhumane; they are illegal.

I wish to share this with you, as I seek guidance and support from leaders in the local community here in East Tennessee about where to go from here.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Epilogue: As I was being given this information yesterday, prison eyes (cameras) and ears (phone surveillance) were upon us; as we spoke between a wall of glass, I wrote down each detail.

It is important to remember that the playground bully is one filled with fear, and the need to control; but, knowing he/she must be careful to protect themselves from the truth.

I just received phone calls from Joe Gump and Sue Ablao; someone from the Blount County Correctional Facility phoned them today inquiring as to what medications Jean and Jackie were on. They were told that Jean and Jackie’s prescriptions will be filled by day’s end and they will be receiving all of their prescribed medications no later than tomorrow, May 23rd.

Shame on Mississippi! Article: For Two Sisters, the End of an Ordeal

For Two Sisters, the End of an Ordeal
By BOB HERBERT
Published: December 31, 2010
New York Times
I got a call on New Year’s Eve from Gladys Scott, which was a terrific way for 2010 to end.

As insane as it may seem, Gladys and her sister, Jamie, are each serving consecutive life sentences in a state prison in Mississippi for their alleged role in a robbery in 1993 in which no one was hurt and $11 supposedly was taken.

Gladys was on the phone, excited and relieved, because Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi had agreed to suspend the prison terms.

“I’ve waited so long for this day to come,” she said.

I was happy for the Scott sisters and deeply moved as Gladys spoke of how desperately she wanted to “just hold” her two children and her mother, who live in Florida. But I couldn’t help thinking that right up until the present moment she and Jamie have been treated coldly and disrespectfully by the governor and other state officials. It’s as if the authorities have found it impossible to hide their disdain, their contempt, for the two women.

The prison terms were suspended — not commuted — on the condition that Gladys donate a kidney to Jamie, who is seriously ill with diabetes and high blood pressure and receives dialysis at least three times a week. Gladys had long expressed a desire to donate a kidney to her sister, but to make that a condition of her release was unnecessary, mean-spirited, inhumane and potentially coercive. It was a low thing to do.

Governor Barbour did not offer any expression of concern for Jamie’s health in his statement announcing the sentence suspension.

He said of the sisters: “Their incarceration is no longer necessary for public safety or rehabilitation, and Jamie Scott’s medical condition creates a substantial cost to the state of Mississippi.”

By all means, get those medical costs off the books if you can.

I asked Gladys how she had learned that she was to be released. “Oh, I saw it while I was looking at the news on television,” she said.

The authorities hadn’t bothered to even tell the sisters. After all, who are they? As Gladys put it, “Nobody told me a thing.”

I asked if she had seen Jamie, who is in another section of the prison, since the governor’s decision had been announced. She said no one had tried to get the two of them together for even a telephone conversation.

“I haven’t seen her or heard from her,” Gladys said. “I want to see her. I want to see how she’s doing and take care of her.”

I am not surprised at Governor Barbour’s behavior. He’s not the first person who comes to mind when I think of admirable public officials. The Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, Miss., noted that the governor had been on the radio this week asserting that there was hardly anyone in prison who didn’t deserve to be there. It’s an interesting comment from a governor who has repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to free prisoners convicted of the most heinous crimes.

The Jackson Free Press, an alternative weekly, and Slate magazine have noted that Mr. Barbour has pardoned four killers and suspended the life sentence of a fifth. So cold-blooded murder is no reason, in Mr. Barbour’s view, to keep the prison doors closed.

This is also a governor who said recently, while reminiscing about the civil rights struggle and the treatment of blacks in his hometown of Yazoo City, Miss., in the 1960s: “I just don’t remember it being that bad.” The comment was in an article in The Weekly Standard in which the governor managed to find some complimentary things to say about the rabidly racist White Citizens Councils.

Faced with heavy and widespread criticism, he later pulled back on the comments, describing the era as “difficult and painful” and the councils as “indefensible.”

The only reason the Scott sisters have gotten any relief at all is because of an extraordinary network of supporters who campaigned relentlessly over several years on their behalf. Ben Jealous, the president of the N.A.A.C.P., emerged as one of the leaders of the network. The concerted effort finally paid off.

Gladys Scott said her 16 years in prison have been extremely difficult and that she had gotten depressed from time to time but had not given up hope. “It was a very bad experience, ” she said.

What is likely to get lost in the story of the Scott sisters finally being freed is just how hideous and how outlandish their experience really was. How can it be possible for individuals with no prior criminal record to be sentenced to two consecutive life terms for a crime in which no one was hurt and $11 was taken? Who had it in for them, and why was that allowed to happen?

The Scott sisters may go free, but they will never receive justice.
————————
Many people helped to free the Scott Sisters, first and foremost their mother Mrs. Evelyn Rasco, Nancy Lockhart, Jim Ridgeway, many hundreds of grassroots supporters that  kept this the reality of the injustice done to them alive. 
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/01/opinion/01herbert.html?ref=opinion
A version of this op-ed appeared in print on January 1, 2011, on page A19 of the New York edition.