Mechie on breaking co-dependency and fighting for justice

Marie "Mechie" Scott
Marie “Mechie” Scott

Letter from Marie “Mechie” Scott in September 2014

Would you speak a bit more about what motivated or drove you to craft the language and ideas for what eventually became Senate Resolution 71?

When I gave birth to my daughter, and her aunt nicknamed her Hope (in hopes that she did not turn out like her parents who were in prison and on drugs), I agreed to it. Unlike the legacy left by my father, I did not want my child to ride the vicious cycle in inter-generational incarceration.

What started out as an incentive to save my daughter’ s future ended up being a life-long endeavor. Try raising a child from behind bars. It is no easy undertaking. In fact, it would test my endurance to become who I am today.

If I did not want my child to grow up and marry a drug dealer, then I had to change the way I perceived the lifestyle of hustling. If I wanted my daughter to grow up with respect for me, even in prison away from her, I had to re- think my opinion of what defines “respect ‘ coming from “the hood.” If I didn’t want my baby to grow up and become one of the screws that holds the Prison Industry Complex together, then I definitely had to be a part of dismantling P.I.C. from within, even with a life-sentence!

I knew there were other women in Muncy who shared my sentiment, so we formed a support group called C.O.I.P. [Children of Incarcerated Parents]. We would meet and share not only our frustrations, but our hopes and aspiritions of making a better life for our children.

The thought occurred to me that if we had enough women for a support group here in Muncy, then imagine how many children actually had parents in prison! I began doing research on the topic of children of incarcerated parents. Then I did the unimaginable; I drafted my own bill, calling on several state agencies to study the problems and needs of children whose parents are in prison. Senators Porterfield , Afflerbach, Belan, Williams, and O’Pake adopted my bill exactly as I wrote it and later it became Senate Resolution 71. That information is in the book titled “Doing Life” by Howard Zehr, a very good friend of mine who’ s considered the “Grandfather of Restorative Justice”.

Once that was accomplished, I began searching for programs that would assist mothers in prison with their children. I came across a Philadelphia based program called Kids-N-Kin. I wrote to the about the possibility of getting them to conduct group therapy sessions with mothers in prison and their children together. After corresponding with former Commissioner of Corrections, Martin Horne, we had our very first therapy session with out children right here in prison.

By then, I began to believe that I was really a part of the solution to preventing crime and violence in our youth, as well as bring down the rate of inter-generational-incarceration. I contacted The Center for Children of Incarcerated Parents out in California (which for the life of me I can’t seem to locate today) the only center of its kind in the United States. After much correspondence and guidance from Denise Johnston, the director at the time, she invited me out to California-if I’m ever released­ to visit their center and see how it is run in order to bring the program back here to Pennsylvania. This has been my life-long dream. Nevertheless, I know that sometimes dreams can be deferred.

So until that day ever happens, I continue on with being the editor of my newsletter called, COPING [Children of Parent Inmates Needing Guidance]. This newsletter is printed and distributed throughout the state of Pennsylvania, thanks to the sponsorship of an outside program called Project IMPACT, out in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

In an online excerpt from your essay that appears in the book What Will Happen to Me?, you write: “I see three generations of mothers, all in prison at once. For those who lack clear evidence of inter-generational incarceration – here we all are!” What other evidence concerning the impacts of multi-generational incarceration of women do you wish the general public was more aware of? How are those impacts seen and felt from where you’re situated?

The first part of this question is hard to answer, but I’ll give it a try. If ever I would want to write a bill asking for a study to be done on the effects of multi-generational incarceration, I guess these would be some of the evidence I’d have to support the study: A). More and more entire families are getting caught up in the net of mass incarceration.

Because of there being no one left at home to care for their children, more and more of them are either being put into foster care, or are being left to fend for themselves.

Because women are more communal than men, when all of them are locked up in one prison with the mother, if she’s sick, the others tend to rather max out on their sentences rather than go home when there’ s nothing to go home to – because they’re all in prison.

The impact seen from in here is that coming to prison is no big thing for families. Their all being locked up is not a deterrent to prison. Besides the mass incarceration, the other sad part of it is that for some families, they’re closer in bonding with one another in prison than on the street.

What does the legacy of Dred Scott mean to you? Do you see your own situation as related or connected to his?

My great-great-great grandfather, Dred Scott. The thought of being related to the most prominent slaves in the United States leaves me with a hell of a responsibility. Scott’ s are fighters in courts obviously. He brought several suits to the courts. State and Federal. I’ve done the same. I’ve won four and lost one. There are some similarities that lie between us, but for totally different reasons. My great-great great grandfather became “FAMOUS” I on the other hand became infamous. We both – fighting for our freedom! He should have never been imprisoned as a slave, and I should have been imprisoned for second degree murder, which back then carried a maximum of 10 years.

I was tricked into taking what I thought was sedatives, when in fact, they were mind-altering drugs. I didn’t even know the boy well who drugged me. He had saved my life in a hold-up that occurred at the restaurant I was managing ten days prior to this case. Being the co-dependent that I was, I couldn’t say “no” when he asked me 10 days later to watch out for him so he could go rob a gas station attendant with a knife. The same day of my crime, I tried to kill myself because of being a very suicidal teenager. I wanted to take the stand and tell the truth of what I could remember due to me blacking out through some of what happened. My lawyer refused to let me. I wanted to plead guilty because of intoxication, which would have turned my first degree murder into a lesser degree if I could prove I was so intoxicated that I had lost my sensibilities. The proof of that was obvious when my family testified that I went in the toilet bowl and swallowed a whole bunch of pills they were trying to take from me and discard! Fundamental rights, denied me by my own attorney.

Much of what is available out there about people serving life sentences focuses on men and their experiences. What is specific to the experience of being a woman serving a life sentence?

There were a lot of disparities between the sexes when I arrived in Muncy back in 1973. First off, the men who were here serving life-sentences had all but been promised that their sentences would be commuted if they behaved themselves and came up here on a work camp program. There was no such offering to women. Secondly, there was absolutely no vocational training for women.  We only had traditional training. We ended up filing a lawsuit, Beehler v. Jeffes, back in the 80’s because of all the discrimination. We didn’t have a C.I. here. Let me clarify that, C.I. means Correctional Industries, no confidential informants LOL! !! We have had plenty of those!

Out of that lawsuit, we got Post Secondary Education, experience in Maintenance work, such as welding, automotive, etc. However, we were still not able to get licensed in any of the maintenance areas. In order for us to get licensed, the maintenance men had to have teachers’ licenses. There was a test they had to take. None of them passed the test and others refused to take the test, so we were still at a hell of a disadvantage when it came to getting a good job in those fields. Several decades ago, the Bureau started using a “custody level.” They based it off of the men which meant that being used in the manner it was used, it made more women level 4 custody (the worst level) than men because of the way they manipulated the base line.

The main thing that was specific to women serving life­ sentences back then, was the fact that all of us (approximately 5-6 lifers) had breaches back then because there was no fence. It’s kind of HARD for a teenager or young lady to wrap her brain around the idea that she should remain in this prison until she dies, when she’s witnessing each weekend, men who were sneaking on campus and spending the entire weekend with their women who were serving a sentence, or when there are white girls sneaking off the campus every Saturday and make a quick run to the liquor store and run back into prison! It’s really hard when everyone is practicing homosexuality, staff and inmates with each other, sharing drugs, selling drugs for each other (I used to sell drugs for the deputy superintendent and the librarian).

So 20, 30, or 40 years down the line when we’re trying to get a public hearing, just a public hearing! Not commuted! We are watching the men get theirs, and we’re being told that because of our escapes, we’re probable going to have a real hard time getting a hearing. I think those are some legitimate disparities, don’t you?

Layne and I were both very struck and moved by your description of your desire to have dinner with Mr. Kerrigan. In it, you note that “I’ve saved a tremendous amount of women from repeating my mistake in life and it’s all because of Mr. Kerrigan.” Can you tell us more or give us some examples of what that process has looked like or how you’ve been able to provide guidance for others?

There’ s no denying it. Had it not been for the sacrifice of Mr. Kerrigan’s life, I would have been dead so many decades ago, until it isn’t funny. I would have OD’ed a long time ago, even though I had stopped using heroin after getting shot, stabbed, and repeatedly raped and beaten. I only became cross-addicted. Even when I walked off of Muncy the 2nd time, and got a job working at the World Trade Center, I still was doing things I shouldn’t have been doing. Things that would lead me back to prison. Had I not come to prison, I wouldn’t have had the chance to actually learn things and have people care enough about me to teach me things of importance. Like, I didn’t have to fix everyone’s problems. I didn’t have to be liked by everyone in the world. And most of all, it wasn’t my fault that every boy and man in my childhood had sexually assaulted me from my brother on up. That none of that made me a worthless whore. Had it not been for Mr. Kerrigan, I would have NEVER learned why I could never say “no”. I would have NEVER learned that co-dependency can make you do what I did, in fact, over 95% of the women up here suffer from co-dependency and it’s why they are here in prison. I learned how intelligent I really was.

When I began to run co-dependency classes and sexual abuse classes, I opened the door for soooooooooo many women to free themselves and believe that they could do soooooooooo much more for themselves than bring themselves to prison. I can’t even tell you how many letters I’ve received over the last three decades from women who have said they owe their lives to me.

How have you seen the commutation process change since you’ve been incarcerated? Why do you think the past several governors have been either dissuaded from or politically fearful to let women out of prison?

When I came here, there ·was one woman who had made commutation in about 7 years. Sue Felman or Fellman. Grace Azzarella and Wanda Moore much later were released under a compassionate release program from their life-sentences due to both having cancer that went into remission once they were released and they lived out long normal lives even though the policy was to bring them back if their condition changed. Patricia Carbone, Betty Legg, Judith Showers, and another very young lady whose name I can’t remember, all had their life-sentences turned over in court to a lesser degree of murder. Thomisina Toney had her life sentence commuted in 1989 and was released on life parole in 1990 and who died several years later outside of prison.

Between 1971-1978 during the Shapp administration, 251 lifers were commuted. 7 were females. At that time there were less than 5 life sentenced women in Pennsylvania.

Between 1979-1986 during the Thornborgh administration, 7 lifers were granted commutation.

Between 1987-1994 during the Casey administration, 27 lifers were commuted. 2 were females.

Between 1996-2001 during the Ridge administration, 0 lifers were commuted.

Between 2001-2002 during the Schweiker administration, 1 person was commuted.

Between 2003-2010 during the Rendell administration, 5 lifers made commute.

Between 2011-Present, 0 lifers have been commuted. Lois Farquharson, an 88 year old woman received a hearing but no recommendation was even made for her life-sentence to be commuted.

Merit Review 2014: 1 woman (Lois Farquharson – denied commutation) Men: ?

Total Men: Granted hearing 108. Denied appeals: 570. Total appeals: 678.

Women granted hearings: 8 (Phyllis Krout granted twice). Denied appeals: 87. Total appeals: 95.

Totala Applications Submitted: 771. Total granted hearings: 117.

Total Denied: 658

Seventeen years ago, when former governor Ridge held a special sessions making changes in the Board of Pardons, they committed what is called an Ex Post facto violation. They did this by creating a law that makes it onerous for offenders to obtain their release. It took over a decade for us to get a judge who sided with us. The government of course, appealed and it was sided in their favor. When we appealed, the Supreme Court refused to hear our appeal, and so we were stuck with having to get a unanimous vote in order to be recommended to the governor.

During that time, it only took 4 years to go through a total of 3 applications. Meaning that if the first two applications were denied, you’d wait two years before applying again, making it a total of four years. All through the board of pardons ABCs of how to apply and what they look for, it’s a known fact that the board wants to get a chance to know you first before they will consider recommending you to the governor. This means that in the course of several applications they will have a good idea of just who you are today as a person, and that being so, your freedom can seriously be considered.

Now keep in mind that the governor and Lt. governor only sits for ….what? 8 years? And the other members no more than that?

Well that would be all right, if it took four years, but that is not that case anymore! Ever since those changes were made for a victim advocate, 2/3 confirmation of any appointments, and a unanimous vote for life-sentenced applicants to be recommended, it now takes, are you ready for this???? ELEVEN years to go through THREE applications!!! So as soon as you think the board has a chance to get to know you, here comes a brand new board who’s saying the same thing the last board said! “We need to get to know the applicant first!

No one voted on any resolution to make this kind of significant change in the commutation process! The Board of Pardons slid that change into the process without asking a single citizen about it! And they purposely kept it from the public for a vote because they knew that if it had to be voted on, it would most definitely be an Ex Post Facto violation that we’d definitely win this time around! When you received a letter from the board’ s secretary a couple of years after the changes were made, it used to say that you had a THREE year wait before movement on your application. Now they say FOUR years! Now you understand why it takes 11 yrs. to go through 3 applications.

We have always lived in a patriarchal hierarchy where mens’ “opinions” count. They made laws based off of their opinions concerning “women”. A perfect example of this is how they feel about “unfit moms/women”. “Law enforcement authorities bestow sanctimonious importance upon the social role of “mother.” Good mothers do not let their children die unnaturally. Furthermore, good mothers marry before giving birth. Those who give birth outside normally prescribe roles are a stain upon society.

Prosecutors, as representatives of a higher source, seek to enforce cleanliness of the social order. Social misfits must be isolated to avoid contamination of the healthy organism.” Quoted from WCJN.ORG, which by the way is a very good website in support of women who are sentenced illegally.

Put another way, ”An act passed in Pennsylvania in 1913, the Muncy Act required that any woman convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment of a year or more had to be sentenced for an open-ended , or indefinite, period of time. Moreover, if a woman was convicted of a crime punishable by more than three years’ imprisonment, the Muncy Act mandated that the woman must receive the maximum sentence possible. A supporter of Pennsylvania’s Muncy Act, explained the [STATE’ S] reasoning in a 1913 issue of the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, wrote that “women delinquents …belong to the class of women who lead sexually immoral lives. [Passage of the act] would …rid the streets …of soliciting, loitering, and public vice …There is nothing the common prostitute fears so greatly as …the possibility of prolonged confinement. ‘” I can see your faces now! LOL!!! They’re crazzzzzzy right?

Would either of you believe that I was sentenced under this act?!!! I have it as plain as day in my sentencing transcripts. So theoretically, the parole board had jurisdiction over my life sentence to parole me a long time ago. Actually, my judge came up to Muncy to visit me shortly after he sentenced me, and told me he was sorry that he had to give me such a harsh sentence but that I had took a jury trial. He said that if I “behaved myself”, that he’d sign my parole papers. I asked him how long would that take and he said that I’d have to serve at least the maximum amount of 3rd degree (considering that’s what he offered to charge my jury with but my attorney said ”NO, LEAVE IT AT FIRST DEGREE” –  without me even knowing this until my judge visited with me!

Back then, 3rd degree was 10 years, but I was young and didn’t want to be here. I didn’t want to go camping every Friday up in the woods behind the prison. I didn’t want to go roller skating out in Williamsport at the YMCA every Saturday. I didn’t want to go to WACC [Williamsport Area Community College] like  other female lifers were permitted to go unescorted! And I didn’t want to go home with a matron (Corrections Officer the term is today) and clean her house, or rake her lawn or shovel her snow, just for a day out and she take me to a movie, shopping and dinner. All this we could do and more “unescorted”!!! But all I wanted to do was go home to be with my son …the reason why I got in this trouble in the first place! By the way, how do you think the public would feel today if they knew they were paying over $65,000.00 to keep women serving life-sentence in their sixties now, who used to do all of what I just mentioned decades ago, and never hurt anyone of the officers taking them home, or students in the college they attended? That the most they did as teenagers back then was walk off the grounds, and either turn themselves in or got caught?

Back when I walked off the grounds, I had a ride pick me up and take me to Philadelphia. Went back home to NYC. I even got a job in the World Trade Center on 3rd shift at Andover Inc. I was computing the “notes of testimony from Watergate”!!! Crazy right???!!! I swear I could write a book.

What led you to study sociology? What do you think or know now (whether from sociology or simply from your extended life experiences) about what leads people to do the things that they do that you didn’t know in your youth?

I studied sociology because that’s what was being offered by Penn State University for an Associates degree in Letters, Arts, & Science. It’s one of the major changes our lawsuit brought. I made the decision to take the courses because I wanted so desperately to find out or understand what caused me to change my life to where I no longer had my own life to live. I wanted to know what made me not be able to say no, what made me so suicidal as a child, what made me use drugs and do the things I did before coming to Philadelphia. I wanted to know what made people do what ever it was they were doing to lose their freedom.

When I look into the eyes of some of these women, young and old alike, and see the loneliness in their eyes, when I see their pride and respect through those eyes completely gone, I know that drugs brought them here. When I see anger, hate, and rage in their eyes, I know that being constantly abused brought them here. When I hear how they talk, you can tell how a person talks, that they can’t read of write. When I see that, I know that a lack of education brought them here. When I see how they live in their cells, how they are with their hygiene, I know that they either didn’t have caring parents /caretaker to teach these things to them for being out on the street doing drugs themselves, or they were homeless and both these factors brought them here. In other words, those are just some of the things that bring women to jail today. Before it was prostitution and even that didn’t bring them here. Sure they were arrested for prostitution, but being on their own and not having any education and someone giving them a chance to make it on their own, is what actually brought them here.

I believe and always have since I’ve educated myself, that poverty, a lack of education, being homeless, addiction, hunger, a lack of compassion, etc. are things that need to be in all schools’ curricula in order to teach them about it, so they’ll know the consequences of those choices. If they don’t know the after affects of drugs, how it can take your life away from you completely, then why wouldn’t they choose to try it? Nobody in their right mind plays Russian Roulette, because they know what the odds are. What will happen if they choose the wrong bullet hole. Oh! but how many, many, many times have I heard the heads say even when I was young, “Boy I’m telling you! If I’d of known what these drugs was gonna do to me, my body, my life · shit! I woulda never started this shit!” I’ve heard it a little bit too much for it not to have some truth to it. So I say, don’t tell children, “Just say no to drugs!” Tell them “WHY”. Isn’t that the first thing a child asks when getting a “no”?

How would you respond to those individuals who argue that highlighting the voices of those who have been convicted of crimes harms victims?

I’d respond to those individuals by saying that highlighting the voices of those who have been convicted of crimes are showing that these individuals have been remorseful for well over 10, 20, 30, and 40 plus years and have been trying to be penitent over what they did by being responsible, and how they are begging for a chance to be held “accountable”, which cannot be done behind bars. We need to be accountable to the families we took from, and the community we took from, and we do that be coming out and literally being accountable to the victims if possible and certainly to their surviving victims, and the community at large.

How has your own incarceration impacted your family and community? Or, if this feels too personal to go into, how have high incarceration rates (more generally) impacted your community?

My son was four when I came to prison. All the way up to when I walked off because of not knowing where he was when my stepmom was killed by a hit and run and my son being with her when it happened. He was 8 when I walked off. I couldn’t keep him with me, but after I found out who took him, I thought he was in good hands since I was on the lamb. I had finally gotten the chance to be with him one night when the cops stopped hanging around his house. That night was the best night of our lives together since this awful tragedy happened.

It was kind of dark outside, but when I walked up Hunting Park Avenue and reached this blue house I was told he’d be in, I was across the street. He was in the driveway fixing his bike, and I called out to him, “Towayne! ” Everyone one else called him Twayne, but he know I called him by his real name. Well, he looked up all around the area and said in a real weak voice (like the sound of a child wishing so badly it was what they wanted it to be) and he said, “Mom!” and our faces latched on to each other’s  and I said , “Yeah Baby, it’s me” with the tears of life falling out of my face, and he dropped his bike and we ran across that big avenue and straight into each others arms ….! I can’t give you words for what that felt like.

When he became a teenager, got into selling drugs and came to prison, it was my worst nightmare. Mothers in prison have this fear of their sons going to prison because we know what can happen. Thank GOD the muslims I had asked to protect him in Graterford, told me that he was fine and didn’t need protection because he could hold his own!

We began corresponding and the impact of what my crime had on him was horrible. He once told me that he and a friend of his got in trouble in a store when he was much younger and his friend was scared to death of the man, but he wasn’t and told the man as much because he was hoping the man would send him to jail so he could be with me ….. My heart broke.

He also let me know that my step mother told him that I was in prison for trying to kill him. That really stunned me, but it didn’t surprise me after the horror stories he told me about the way she’d torture him during the middle of the night. She was always violent, but I didn’t know that she was schizophrenic.

I worked with him through the mail to try and get his head straight to the point of giving life on the street a chance legally. He thought he couldn’t make it and provide for his son and girlfriend no other way. His love for me had no bounds when he became old enough to just communicate with me on an adult level. When he left prison, he went to school for his CDL license and topped his class, but he had one bit too many previous accidents so getting a job was harder. But I told him he d have ups and downs trying it the right way, but to keep pushing and asking for GOD’s help and he’d make it. He believed in me and anything I’d tell him.

He ended up getting a factory job and went to night school for home repair and improvement, and topped his class again. I’m telling you, when he opened up his very own business, got in the yellow pages, and got other graduates to work for him, I was the proudest mother in the universe! He finally got married, and had a beautiful daughter, so he was the proud father of a girl and boy who grew up to look just like him!

The day they called me to the chapel and I refused to go, I lost my mind when they came over to my unit to tell me that my son was killed by the airplane shuttle from the Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia on the highway. He was on his motorcycle going into town (he lived in Sharon Hill) to see about another contract. He named his business Cornerstone Contracting.

When I lost my son, and finally found my mind, I knew that I had reached the pinnacle of why I had to remain in prison for as long as I did, and what I was put here to understand, to know, to learn, to feel, and to see. I’ll come away from the experience of incarceration with an understanding of Mr. Kerrigan’ s family’s pain with the loss of a man who was a father, a husband, and a son. My empathy knows no bounds and I am one of the most penitent offenders you’ll ever meet Emily.

What song would you want to be the soundtrack to your story?

The song I would want to be the soundtrack of my story would be the one played for me in memory of my son at his repass: Zion, by Lauren Hill.

If your voice could be heard anywhere, where would you want it to be heard? (Note: Use your imagination – be creative – but please keep this within 200 miles of Philadelphia if possible!).

Since I’m not from this state, I’m told that the “Love Park” would be the best area for my voice to be heard. I thought about having it done like they do those cigarette commercials while sharing with the public how bad it is and the companies don’t want you to know? And that’ s just for the statistical part of it, and then the part of me personally be as intimate as one could get. Very emotional because that is what I believe is going to make a person continue to listen after they hear how much money they’ve been spending to keep women in prison serving life-sentences who the officers at their prison take them to their homes to do domestic work for them, and take them out to dinner and how they had attended colleges unescorted in the community , and these are the women who are so brutally violent, that you spend $65,000.00 annually to keep behind bars???