Several years ago I wrote an opinion column about Marie Scott, a 19-year-old woman sentenced to life without parole in 1973 by the criminal justice system in Philadelphia.
Today, her co-defendant remains in prison waiting for his parole date. Leroy Saxton was 16 years old when he shot their victim to death.
Marie has filed for commutation. These days Pennsylvania’s female lifers kind of have hope that our governor will use his power to release women lifers to a lifetime on parole. But this hasn’t panned out the way many of us expected.
Last fall the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons unanimously agreed to commute the life sentence of Tina Brosius but Gov. Tom Wolf has not approved it. Recently a couple of law firms on both sides of the state have become interested in Marie’s case and are working their legal minds to find a way to present her case to Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner to give her another avenue to restore hope.
For decades Marie concentrated on pro se (without an attorney) appeals. She was consumed with legal research in the law libraries at state correctional institutions Muncy and Cambridge Springs. But now, with her commutation application officially filed, new legal interest by professionals in fighting for her freedom and the presence of a new DA, she is in a different mental place.
I have feared the ramifications of the Department of Corrections recording a phone call with a prisoner. But I see this being done more and more without any punitive response by the DOC, so I decided to record a speech by Marie that I shared at a restorative justice-themed retreat by the Catholic Peace Fellowship in Philadelphia on April 21. I would to like to share a few of her thoughts from this speech:
“... I beg to see my victim’s surviving family and friend who was there that evening. I have wanted to face my victims, not to have them forgive me or reconcile with me, but to offer them some type of closure … I am determined to be held accountable for what I have done to the family of my victim. I was given a picture of him. I keep that picture visibly present because I want to think about what I have done on a daily basis. I want his family to believe how truly sorry I am. The criminal justice system is in place to assure that punishment is dispensed but also reform. Justice cannot just be about the punishment part of a life sentence. The sentence also has a responsibility and accountability to the victim, their surviving family members as well as the community.”
Marie’s commitment to restorative justice is not newly formed. She has been acquainted with Howard Zehr for decades. It is from Marie that I have learned about restorative justice as well. I have been personally involved in Marie’s quest for victim-offender reconciliation due to my previous column. I have responded to her victim’s adult daughters after they contacted me via emails and Facebook but to this date there has been no effort on their part to reach out to Marie.
Trauma is a crippling psychological force for victims and offenders. But to carry on with false information and deep resentment will allow trauma to proceed into the next generation. And sadly, I believe this is what is occurring from the tragedy that happened in 1973.
Marie Scott has suffered enough. It is time for everyone’s wounds to heal and give Marie the opportunity to tell her side of the story face to face with the assistance of professional restorative justice practitioners. It has been a miscarriage of justice to confine Marie in prison until she dies. Mercy for Marie is not only godly but just.
The advocacy that I carry out specifically for women serving life without parole in Pennsylvania cannot occur without the help of other individuals and organizations: Darlene Williams and I created The Women Lifers Resume Project of PA. The Pennsylvania Prison Society allows me to visit prisoners in the capacity of an official visitor. William Goldsby of Fight For Lifers/Reconstruction Inc has been a powerful mentor in helping me navigate the systemic oppression in our prisons and Aging People in Prison-Human Rights Campaign collectively takes my advocacy outside the commonwealth. The women lifers are my true motivators.
Ellen Melchiondo is the co-founder of The Women Lifers Resume Project of PA, an official visitor with the Pennsylvania Prison Society, contact person for Pennsylvania Women's Aging People in Prison-Human Rights Coalition, affiliate with the Graterford Gray Panthers and has recently completed the position of program coordinator with Fight For Lifers/Reconstruction Inc at SCI Muncy. She also assists women serving life without parole in developing their commutation applications.