Jan. 7, 2010 — -- Gladys and Jamie Scott, the sisters whose life prison sentences were suspended in exchange for a donated kidney, said that they are 'grateful' and 'blessed' after being released from prison today.
"It's been a long, hard road, but we made it. There were times when we wanted to give up, but I told my sister...I said, we going to make it, we're coming up out of here, we're not going die," Gladys Scott said at a press conference in Mississippi.
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour suspended the women's sentences Dec. 29 on the condition that Gladys Scott, 36, donate a kidney to Jamie, 38, within one year of their release. It is not clear what will happen to the deal if they are not compatible.
Jamie Scott has kidney disease and requires daily dialysis. She's not been feeling well today.
"I'm real weak, but like I say, it's like I dream, I can't wake up right now," Jamie Scott said. "I never thought this day would come that I would be on the outside of the walls when I've been bound on the inside of the walls. Now, I'm out where I can get more decent medical treatment."
The sisters left the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility for the first time in 16 years, yelling, "We're free" and, "God bless y'all." They were serving double life sentences for a 1994 armed robbery, which they claim they didn't commit.
The release from prison is also a reunion for the women. They'd recently been held in different parts of the prison, which is located in Pearl, Miss.
Now, the women will head to Pensacola, Fla., where they will be reunited with their mother, Evelyn Rasco, their five grown children and young grandchildren.
The conditions of the parole stipulate that the women must reach Pensacola within 24 hours. Jamie Scott has a 7:15 a.m. dialysis appointment there.
Rasco told the Pensacola News Journal, "I just want to make sure everything's together for when my children get home."
The women said that their mother is already looking for a doctor so that the women can be tested as soon as possible to see if Gladys Scott can really donate a kidney to her sister. Gladys Scott said that she always wanted to donate a kidney to her sister regardless of whether it meant that she would be released from prison.
"I'm praying to God that I'm a match because I don't want her to have nobody else's kidney," Gladys Scott said. "I wanted to give my sister a chance to walk out that prison door and I want to give her a chance now because ... I want her health. And I want her to raise my grandkids with me."
Advocates of Scott Sisters Call Release Bittersweet
The sisters said seeing their children will make their prison release even more real.
"When I left my children, they were seven, three and 11 months old. They're 23, 20 and 18 now. So when I see them as living their lives as adults, I think that's when...reality is going to sink in for me," Gladys Scott said.
"Our grandchildren really don't know us...it's going to be weird to hear kids running through the house," Jamie Scott said.
For the advocates who rallied around the women and fought for their release, today's victory is bittersweet. The women were not exonerated of the crime for which they were convicted, but were resentenced to life on parole.
"I'm very disappointed that they've been resentenced to life on a parole," said Nancy Lockhart, an advocate and legal analyst for the Scott sisters. "Parole is a very dangerous way to live."
The women both want to take college classes, but getting student loans will be difficult for them as convicted felons, Lockhart said.
NAACP President Ben Jealous said that the civil rights organization would continue to fight for a pardon.
"I said last week we were focused on getting them the freedom that they want, the healthcare that they need and the pardon that they deserve, and we have checked one box off that list and we're still working on that list," Jealous said at the press conference.
Backers have long claimed that the women, who are African-American, were not guilty and that their life prison sentences were tinged with racism.
Scott Case Marred By Issues of Race
The 1994 Mississippi case stirred memories of the an older, racist South, as the two young women -- then 19 and 21 -- were accused of masterminding the robbery of two men on a roadside in Forest, Miss.
No one was injured, and the gun allegedly used in the robbery was never found.
The sisters were convicted of two counts of armed robbery and sentenced to two life sentences.
The sisters said their car had broken down, and three male acquaintances who had given them a ride had actually committed the crime at gunpoint.
The Scott sisters, who had no previous records, later claimed that the African-American boys -- two brothers and a cousin -- had been coerced into testifying against them.
"The incident itself was not racial in any way, but the way it was handled had a racial prism to it," said Lumumba. "Two white girls would have no way gotten two life sentences."
The Scott sisters' case was "a grave miscarriage of justice," said Nsombi Lambright, executive director of the Mississippi ACLU, which had been pushing for the sisters' release.
"I am so glad they are getting out now," said Lambright. "They can finally enjoy time with their family."
The Scott sisters have five children between them, youngsters who grew up without their mothers and now have children of their own.
"How do you take two teenage girls and some teenage boys and rob a person for $11 and get life in prison?" said their 46-year-old brother Willy Scott, who was home on leave recently after serving as an Army staff sergeant in Afghanistan. "Every day people commit terrible crimes, and they don't get life in prison. They were kids. They weren't adults. They were children. How do you justify that?"
Gov. Barbour Pressed for Release of Gladys and Jamie Scott
The sisters, who had exhausted all their appeals, would have been eligible for parole in 2014.
Nearly 200 people rallied in the week leading up to Barbour's decision to suspend the women's sentences, asking the governor to release the sisters. They have been backed for more than a decade by advocacy groups like the Innocence Project, the ACLU and the NAACP.
The Scott sisters' brother chastised the justice system that kept them from their family for 16 years.
"It's the Old South," Willy Scott said. "Don't be fooled, it hasn't changed very much. The only difference now is they mask it better."
Barbour's press secretary, Dan Turner, told ABCNews.com that the amount reportedly taken in the 1994 robbery, $11, was "an urban myth," and at least several hundred dollars was netted in the crime.
"The other thing to remember was the sentence was not handed out by a judge, but by a biracial jury of their peers," he said.
For years, civil rights activists called for their release, saying the sentences were excessive. Those demands gained traction when Barbour asked the Mississippi Parole Board to take another look at the case.
The governor's press secretary Turner said Barbour had pursued their release because Jamie Scott needed a transplant.
"There was a medical necessity, as a preferential consideration," he said. "It's also expensive for the taxpayers to keep a seriously ill person incarcerated. If [Jamie] can have this procedure, it very likely will be done through Medicaid…There are a lot of facets to it and there are arguments on each side of the ledger."
The Associated Press Contributed to this report.