The Abolitionist Law Center (ALC), Amistad Law Project (ALP), and the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a lawsuit on behalf of individuals serving mandatory sentences of Death By Incarceration (DBI), also known as life without the possibility of parole in the criminal legal system, for "felony murder," or crimes in which they did not take or did not intend to take a life.
The case, Scott v. Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, aims to establish a right to parole eligibility for our plaintiffs and the more than 1100 people serving life sentences in Pennsylvania for felony murder. You can learn more about the organizing work on this issue by visiting the Coalition to Abolish Death By Incarceration (CADBI).
These are the stories of our clients who have collectively served more than 100 years in prison.
Marsha Scaggs is in her late 50s and is currently imprisoned at the State Correctional Institution at Cambridge Springs in Pennsylvania. Marsha is serving a Death By Incarceration sentence (more commonly known as Life Without Parole) after being convicted of felony murder. Marsha was prosecuted after an altercation with the victim in her case resulted in her co-defendant killing the victim; she was not responsible for the killing nor did she have any intention for that to happen. She was 23 years old at the time. Marsha has been incarcerated since 1987 and has spent over 30 years—more than half of her life—in prison. She is a plaintiff in Scott v. Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, a lawsuit that argues that Pennsylvania's mandatory life sentences without the eligibility for parole for felony murder are unconstitutional.
When asked what she wants the outside world to know about people serving life sentences, she said, "We are human beings who have made mistakes but we are not defined by those mistakes. There are lifers that have taken the necessary steps to redeem ourselves and if given the opportunity, we will rise to the occasion and be role models."
Marsha wants to be released from prison. She wants the chance to use the certification and degree that she worked so hard to get while incarcerated. During her incarceration, she has lost loved ones on the outside. She wants to be free to be able to spend time with friends and family outside of the prison walls. Marsha says she also wants the chance to do things that many people on the outside take for granted. She wants to get a job, pay bills, and do her taxes.
Marsha says that aging in prison is, "no picnic...you do not get the proper medical attention that is needed, and the more you age, you can see and feel your body deteriorate. It's like a loss of life emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually."
Marie Scott is in her late 60s and is currently confined at State Correctional Institution at Muncy in Pennsylvania. Marie is serving a Death By Incarceration sentence (more commonly known as Life Without Parole) after being convicted of felony murder. Marie has been incarcerated for 47 years—more than two-thirds of her life—for a crime that occurred when she was just 19. She was prosecuted for her role in a robbery of a gas station during which her co-defendant killed the station attendant. She was not responsible for the killing nor did she have any intention for that to happen. Marie is the lead plaintiff in Scott v. Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, a lawsuit that argues that Pennsylvania's mandatory life sentences without the eligibility for parole for felony murder are unconstitutional.
Marie wants people on the outside to know how different serving a life sentence is now compared when she was first incarcerated. "When I came to Muncy to serve out my life sentence, there were only six of us serving life sentences. Today, almost half a century later, two of the six have died. The four of us remaining are close to if not already in our 70s, and all we seem to be doing is waiting around to finish our punishment of life without parole by dying, despite the fact that we do not pose any threat."
Marie does not just want to ensure her own release from prison, but the release of many women who are currently serving life sentences. When asked why she wants to be released she said, "We are human beings who made terrible choices when we were very young. Some of our brains weren't fully developed either. For those of us who have served almost 50 years, this doesn't have to be the story of lifers in Pennsylvania." If released from prison, Marie would like to teach a program that she has developed on codependency. The program is geared towards women. Marie has a daughter and grandchildren that she has never been able to see outside of the walls of prison.
Marie says that it is a very scary thing to age in prison. "You see those old and sick not receiving the proper medical treatment throughout decades of imprisonment. And then they die, leaving you in fear of the same suffering. Having outside support can sometimes mean the difference between life and death."
Marie has spent more than two-thirds of her life incarcerated. She has grown old, and watched others die in prison. Her continued detention is cruel and senseless; she should be released, but she is not eligible for parole because of her felony murder conviction.
Normita Jackson is in her 40s and is currently incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Cambridge Springs in Pennsylvania. Normita is serving a Death By Incarceration sentence (more commonly known as Life Without Parole) after being convicted of felony murder. Normita was prosecuted for participating in a robbery in which her co-defendant committed a homicide, killing the victim. She was not responsible for the killing nor had she had any intention for that to happen. She was 19 years old at the time, and has been incarcerated since 1997. She is a plaintiff in Scott v. Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, a lawsuit that argues that Pennsylvania's mandatory life sentences without the eligibility for parole for felony murder are unconstitutional.
Normita wants people on the outside to know, "That just because we were sentenced to life without parole does not mean that we are bad people. Like myself, there are people incarcerated who were not the actual shooter or we were protecting our boyfriend. We are people seeking a second chance at a normal life."
She wants to be released from prison because she wants to redeem herself to society. "I am a grown woman now. I was a kid in 1997, and I would not live such a life ever again. I want to speak with the youth of today who are walking down the same road I did. I could not save myself then, but I would like to save the kids of today."
Normita says it is hard to age in prison. The hardest part is missing all of the good years in your life. "You miss your children growing up, you lose family and friends, and you may not get proper medical care."
Normita has spent more than half of her life incarcerated. She has been rehabilitated and has worked towards becoming a better person in every way possible. She has also assisted many people who will be eligible for parole to prepare for their eventual release. Despite all of this, Normita is not parole eligible because of her felony murder conviction.
Tyreem Rivers is in his 40s and is currently imprisoned at the State Correctional Institution at Dallas in Pennsylvania. Tyreem is serving a Death By Incarceration sentence (more commonly known as Life Without Parole) after being convicted of felony murder When he was 18 years old, Tyreem committed a robbery by grabbing the purse of an elderly woman who fell as a result. She was then hospitalized and died two weeks later from pneumonia she contracted while in the hospital. Tyreem has been incarcerated since 1996. He is a plaintiff in Scott v. Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, a lawsuit that argues that Pennsylvania's mandatory life sentences without the eligibility for parole for felony murder are unconstitutional.
Tyreem wants people on the outside to know that, "Many of us bear a great sense of remorse for the roles we've played in having such a negative impact on the lives of the people we've wrongfully victimized, their families, and the communities in which the crimes occurred. I can honestly say we no longer think or act as we once did before having been sentenced to life without parole."
The main reason that Tyreem wants to be released from prison is because he wants a second chance to be a free and productive member of society. When the case was first filed, he said: "I've taken many rehabilitative steps towards bettering myself within the 24 years of my incarceration. I believe that my reentry will not only serve as a productive opportunity for myself, but will also serve as a productive opportunity for the troubled youth."
Tyreem says that aging in prison has been a very harsh experience. When he was first arrested, his oldest sister was six years old; now she is 30 years old with two children. "Although I know with each new day passing that I'm aging and my health is seemingly decreasing, it's usually when I hear about my friends' kids now turning 18, and hearing about all the deaths of the elders in my family, when I'm reminded that I'm getting old."
Tyreem has now been incarcerated for 25 years. Tyreem feels that he has changed, developed, and evolved. He intends to be a contributing member of society and a role model for troubled youth. Despite all of this, Tyreem is not eligible for parole because of his felony murder conviction.