Codependency, Freedom, and Women in Prison

Image description: a person on Mars, in an orange jumpsuit, is surrounded by barbed wire, reaching towards Earth. Between the Mars and Earth is a cluster of objects including a banner that reads “Welcome home Mechie!”, a microwave, a frying pan with eggs and bacon in it, and a beach.

Text to go with art: “Imagine the planets. Here’s Earth and here’s Mars. I’m on Mars in my prison garb, waiting to be transferred back to Earth after 44+ years served on Mars. I’m awaiting transportation back to a planet, a life that is so new to me, it’s like I’m a Martian from Mars coming to Earth for the first time.”

Excerpts from interviews with Mechie Scott, conducted by Emily Abendroth and Layne Mullett for the LifeLines Project. Art by Robin Markle.

My name is Marie Scott. My friends call me Mechie. I nicknamed myself after my best friend, Peachie, whose real name is Sharon Wiggins. She is deceased now, but as a teenager I always wanted to grow up to be like her. Because of Peachie, today I am proud to be who I am. I have two children, a son and a daughter. In 2008, I lost my son to a motorcycle accident. I thought I could lose my mind because we always thought that I would be released one day to share time with both of my children. My daughter’s name is Gretta.

I was born in Harlem, New York. Growing up I was constantly molested and raped until I was fifteen. Behind it I became severely codependent.* The kind who could not say “no.” I felt if a man took me to a movie, that he was in love with me, so if he took me to dinner afterwards, he wanted to marry me. Love had been distorted in my childhood.

Codependence is a disease that brought most women to prison. Because codependency is a disease, I had to treat it as such. It is what caused me not to be able to say “no” to a guy who saved my life during a robbery that took place at the store I was employed by. I felt I owed my life to this guy after saving mine. How could I say no to a request to be a lookout in a robbery? Albeit, I had never robbed or stolen from anyone, my codependency just would not let me turn down the chance to help him back. Although I did not pull the trigger, I am just as guilty as my co-defendant.

What are some of the strategies, tactics or practices that you and people you know use to support one another and to challenge the conditions/realities that you experience?

Forty years ago, we’d stage sit-ins and hunger strikes. We had the one element that made such practices possible; UNITY. When the system found a way to destroy that by giving me 180 days for a misconduct and giving my comrade 30 days for the same misconduct, we were tactfully pitted against one another, and despite our announcements of how the system was using the divide and conquer method, no one believed us. Today, a female will tell on you simply because she’s suffering from the disease of codependency and just needing to be patted on the head. In the 80’s, we resorted to class action suits. I was a part of the Beehler vs. Jeffees civil action which brought non-traditional education here for women so that they could get better paying jobs upon release…. Now, the only thing we have is a lifers group that can only fit 12 people.

What do genuine justice and healing look like in your ideal vision of each?

I believe the principles of Restorative Justice are needed in order for all affected parties to benefit from an offender committing a crime. Finding the root and destroying it by all parties involved: the offender, the victim, and the community. The offender understanding and being able to empathize with the impact of crime and really buying into that. Mediation between the offender and the victim or surviving victim, if both want it. And most of all, reaching out, and helping the survivor go through a process of healing if they choose to.

What’s one thing that you think people would be surprised to know about you?

That I’m the first female to have written a bill that was sponsored by five senators in its original version. It called on several state agencies to conduct a study of the problems and needs of children whose parent(s) are incarcerated. It later became Senate Resolution 71. Out of that experience, I’ve published several articles on the subject. I’m the editor of C.O.P.I.N.G. newsletter (Children of Parent Inmates Needing Guidance). And I’m in a book, co-authored by a very close friend of mine, Howard Zehr, on the subject of children of incarcerated parents.

What led you to study sociology?

I studied sociology because that’s what was being offered by Penn State University for an Associates degree in Letters, Arts, and 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 whatever it was they were doing to lose their freedom.

*Merriam-Webster defines codependency as a dependence on the needs of or control by another.

LifeLines is a media and cultural project based on a series of interviews conducted in collaboration with eight people serving Death By Incarceration (DBI) sentences — more commonly known as Life Without Parole — in Pennsylvania. How Are We Free is a visual art exhibit that explores the nature of freedom and confinement through creative collaboration between people who have been sentenced to die in prison and visual artists outside prison. The exhibit will be traveling across Pennsylvania to community spaces, churches, art galleries, universities, and more. Contact LifeLines at lifelinesphilly@gmail.com.

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