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Mississippi, stand up!

June 22, 2012

by Amy Buckley

After a long, loud outcry from across the country, the governor of Mississippi finally released the Scott Sisters last year so they could be reunited with their children and grandchildren, but he refused to pardon them. They had served 17 years of double life sentences for an $11 armed robbery that probably never happened.
On Jan. 9, 2012, as his final act as governor of Mississippi, Haley Barbour pardoned 215 convicted felons. Among those pardoned were people charged with murder and rape, along with various other crimes. The citizens of Mississippi were flabbergasted, and the news media with their negative publicity has only made things worse.

The news media made it seem as if all 215 of these people were to be released from prison, when in actuality 189 of them had been released prior to the pardons. Granting those people pardons opened the door for them to get jobs and earn licenses that they would have otherwise been unable to obtain with a felony record. Simply stated, they now have the opportunity to better themselves. If the news media had made this clear in the beginning instead of making it seem like more than 200 criminals were being released from prison, maybe things wouldn’t have been blown out of proportion.

For people who are unfamiliar with the laws in Mississippi or who have never dealt with the Mississippi justice system, these pardons may seem insane. For those of us lost in the system, they are a blessing and a hope. Sadly, the national attention this has received is making it harder on those of us who are fighting not only for our freedom but for law changes as well.

Granting those people pardons opened the door for them to get jobs and earn licenses that they would have otherwise been unable to obtain with a felony record. Simply stated, they now have the opportunity to better themselves.

Unfortunately, Mississippi is a state that seems to place more value on material things and monetary items than it does on a human life. If you kill someone, in all probability you will serve less time than someone charged with armed robbery. Judges are supposed to follow certain guidelines when sentencing, but often they ignore these guidelines and sentence people at their own discretion. First time offenders often find themselves with more time than a habitual offender. As a first time offender, I have experienced this personally.

As it was reported, some of those pardoned had worked at the governor’s mansion, giving them the opportunity to have contact with the governor. Women with violent offenses are compound restricted, meaning that we have no such opportunity. The men have more educational and work programs, affording those who are eligible to earn days off their sentence the opportunity to do so in a more timely manner than women. I’m not saying that the men have it easy because that is far from the truth, but the system does seem biased towards men.

Also Mississippi’s mandatory law has not been amended in more than 30 years. It is time for change! There is no budget to house us, but instead of changing laws to help reduce the prison population, Mississippi takes money from education. Basically, our incarceration is at the expense of our children’s education and future. Why should our children suffer more than they already do?

A Mississippi mother of two teenagers, Anita McLemore, 47, will serve more time in federal prison for lying than a group of people recently sentenced in a multimillion-dollar mortgage fraud scheme. She failed to mention on her food stamp application that she’d been convicted of a drug felony – and served her time. – Photo: New York Times
If people serving time for manslaughter and other crimes can earn time towards release, why can’t those convicted of armed robbery and other crimes that now have mandatory time? If prisoners with murder charges can get parole dates, why can’t all those with other crimes? There is no justice in Mississippi.

Lawmakers say that society is afraid of us, but our family and friends say differently. Most of these lawmakers could not walk a day in our shoes! If they could, maybe they would be more sympathetic to our plight. Not a person in the world can say that they have never made a mistake – one mistake is all it takes! Yet these lawmakers act all innocent.

Instead of changing laws to help reduce the prison population, Mississippi takes money from education. Basically, our incarceration is at the expense of our children’s education and future.

Who doesn’t want and deserve a second chance? As men and women, our desire is to be with our children and our families. We refuse to give up the fight for law changes and our freedom. The majority of incarcerated persons are not mad about these pardons; we choose to see a greater force at work – a force more powerful than any man.

We need to look at this as a positive, as the beginning of change for Mississippi. It is time to give us a second chance, a chance to prove that we have changed and that we are more than the criminals we have been labeled as. Now is the time for us to stand united and press onward in our fight for law changes, sentence reductions and a complete overhaul of our unjust justice system.

Our desire is to be with our children and our families. We refuse to give up the fight for law changes and our freedom.

Let’s take the focus off of Haley Barbour and the pardons he signed and redirect our attention to the corruption in our justice system. People refuse to discuss that for fear of reproach. The captives of the state of Mississippi are breaking our silence and speaking out. What more can they do to us? We are not afraid!

We are striving together for the only things that matter: justice, freedom, peace and equality. If we don’t fight for ourselves, no one will be willing to fight for us. As for those who obtained their freedom and got other rights restored through these pardons, congratulations on your victory, but please do not forget those of us you left behind.

The captives of the state of Mississippi are breaking our silence and speaking out. What more can they do to us? We are not afraid!

In the words of rapper T.I. in his hit “Flex,” “Mississippi, STAND UP.”

Send our sister some love and light: Amy Buckley, 150005, KNRCF, 374 Stennis Ind. Park Rd., DeKalb, MS 39328. This letter was typed by Adrian McKinney.

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