Health Concerns Could Send Jamie and Gladys Scott Back to Prison

The sisters must lose a combined 160 pounds in order to test for the kidney transplant that was a condition of their parole.

By Jamilah King Feb 25, 2011

Gladys and Jamie Scott, the two sisters who spent nearly 17 years in a Mississippi prison for an $11 robbery, may be in danger of losing their parole. The Washington Post reported this week that a kidney transplant that was central to conditions of the the women’s release may be in jeopardy if they don’t lose a combined 160 pounds and one quits smoking.

The two sisters were paroled early this year by Gov. Haley Barbour amid national outcry from civil rights groups who claimed the sisters’ life sentences were too harsh. Jamie Scott, who’s 38, is in dire need of a kidney transplant. The Post reported that when Gov. Barbour announced his decision to release the sisters, he noted that Jamie’s dialysis alone was costing the state $200,000 each year. Gladys Scott, 36, had already volunteered to donate a kidney to help save her sister’s life, and was released on the condition that she do so within one year.

But probably comes as no surprise to anyone that nearly two decades of prison living haven’t been kind to the sisters. Jamie Scott told reporters from the Associated Press on Wednesday that doctors have ordered her to lose more than 100 pounds before they’ll even test her compatibility to donate to her sister. Gladys has been required to shed more than 60 pounds, and give up smoking. Since their release, both women have moved to Pensecola to live with their mother and children, where they work with a personal trainer and have started aerobics classes.

"I have my good days and I have my bad days," Jamie Scott told the Post. "Some days I can move around real good like there is nothing wrong with me and some days I can hardly get out of bed."

But what remains unclear is how the sisters will cover the costs of the kidney transplant — if they’re compatible — along with any costs related to losing weight to even begin the required tests. And if they’re proven not to be a match, or the transplant is unsuccessful, it’s still unclear whether the sisters will be sent back to prison. The Post did note that Barbour’s requirement troubled some organ transplant specialists, who said it could violate ethical and legal rules. Dan Turner, a spokesperson for Barbour’s office, certainly didn’t offer anything useful to reporters when asked about the case this week.

"That’s a medical call," Turner told reporters on Wednesday, according to the Post. "Not something imposed as a condition of their release."

Yet the underlying issue in all of this isn’t the sisters’ individual battle with weight loss, but the far deeper systemic problems associated with health and nutrition for the nearly two million people incarcerated in America’s jails and prisons. Imara Jones and Yvonne Yen Liu have documented how the country’s growing food crisis hurts both food workers and low-income consumers. And certainly no bubbles burst at news that folks of color suffer disproportionately from a slew of diet-related health diseases. But in prison, those problems are much worse.

Chokwe Lumumba, the sisters’ attorney, says he plans to hold a demonstration on April 1 in Jackson to call for a full pardon.