PENSACOLA, Florida — A proposed kidney transplant that won two sisters their freedom from prison can’t take place until one quits smoking and they lose a combined 160 pounds (70 kilograms).
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Jamie and Gladys Scott had served nearly 16 years of their life sentences for an armed robbery when they were released from a sprawling prison in central Mississippi on Jan. 7. Gov. Haley Barbour granted Jamie Scott an early release because she suffers from kidney failure, but he agreed to let Gladys Scott go on the condition she follow through on an offer to donate a kidney to her sister.
Jamie Scott told The Associated Press on Wednesday that she needs to lose more than 100 pounds (45 kilograms) and that her sister has to shed 60 pounds (25 kilograms) before their doctors will even test them for compatibility. Doctors are also requiring Gladys Scott, a heavy smoker, to quit.
“I have to stay on her about it, I am helping her to stop smoking,” said Jamie, who moved with her sister to Pensacola to be with their mother and children.
A personal trainer works twice a week with the sisters. They’ve also been taking aerobics classes.
Jamie Scott, 38, said she hopes to have a surgery that will help her lose weight so she can get the transplant sooner, but her doctors don’t know if she’s healthy enough. Florida parole records list her at 5 feet (1.52 meters) tall and 254 pounds (115 kilograms).
Gladys Scott, 36, is listed at 4 feet 9 inches (1.45 meters) tall and 184 pounds (84 kilograms).
Barbour hasn’t responded directly to numerous questions from The Associated Press about whether he’ll send the sisters back to prison if the transplant doesn’t happen. He’s called questions about such a scenario “purely hypothetical.”
When asked Wednesday about the sisters having to lose weight for the surgery, Barbour spokesman Dan Turner said: “That’s a medical call, not something imposed as a condition of their release.”
When he made the decision to let the sisters out, Barbour noted that Jamie Scott’s dialysis was costing Mississippi about $200,000 a year. In granting Gladys Scott an early release, he attached the condition that she donate a kidney to her sister within one year.
Barbour’s requirement alarmed some organ transplant specialists, who said it could violate ethical and legal rules. But Gladys Scott said it was her idea to donate the kidney, and she volunteered to do it in her petition for early release because she wants to save her sister’s life.
The sisters’ attorney, Chokwe Lumumba, said this week that he’s hoping the sisters will be granted a full pardon. He’s planning a demonstration April 1 to have supporters march through downtown Jackson to the state capital. An early release is not the same as a pardon or commutation. The sisters remain on parole.
Civil rights advocates had called for the sisters’ freedom for years, saying their sentences were too harsh for the crime. They were convicted of participating in the robbery of two men on Christmas Eve 1993. Prosecutors said the women led two men into an ambush. The robbery didn’t net much; amounts cited have ranged from $11 to $200.
The sisters claim they are innocent. Their supporters have also claimed that they received such long sentences because they are black. They were sentenced by a jury made up of five black jurors and seven white jurors. In Mississippi jurors have the option of sentencing defendants to life in prison, and the jury decided to do so in this case, court records said.
Jamie Scott said she and her sister have always struggled with their weight and got little exercise in prison. The doldrums of prison life led to their overeating, she said.
But she said they now have motivation to live from their children and grandchildren.
If Jamie Scott doesn’t lose weight now, doctors have told her that she is putting her heart at risk.
Doctors haven’t determined how they will pay for the transplant or the weight loss surgery. Jamie Scott said she is focused on losing the weight first and getting herself healthy for the procedures.
“I have my good days and I have my bad days,” she said “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.”