Sisters Jamie and Gladys Scott left prison on Friday for the first time in 16 years, yelling, "We're free!" and "God bless y'all!" as they pulled away in a silver SUV. That freedom, though, comes with an unusual condition: Gladys has one year to donate a kidney to her ailing sister.
Now, with their life sentences for armed robbery suspended, their future is uncertain. Their children have grown up. Their family moved to Florida. They are using technology like cell phones for the first time. And questions abound: Who will pay for their medical care? Would Gladys' conditional release hold up in court? And perhaps the biggest mystery ahead: Are they a compatible match for the kidney transplant?
An afternoon news conference for the sisters in Jackson was attended by dozens of supporters. Many cheered. Some sang. A few cried.
The sisters -- Jamie wearing pink, Gladys wearing purple -- sat smiling at a table, their hands clasped before them as their attorney, Chokwe Lumumba, thanked a list of advocacy groups who worked for their release.
"We just totally blessed. We totally blessed," Gladys Scott said. "It's been a long, hard road, but we made it."
Gladys said she learned about her release on television.
"I just started screaming and hollering. I'm still screaming and hollering," she said.
Jamie said she looked forward to moving on with her life and doubted at times she'd ever be free, but she leaned on her faith.
"My sister been saying all day, 'You don't look well,' " she said. "I haven't woke up. It's like a dream."
Jamie said the reality of the situation will probably sink in when she sees her grown children, who were young kids when they went to prison. She said she would have a dialysis treatment Saturday morning in Florida.
The sisters are moving to Pensacola in the Florida Panhandle to live with their mother. They hope to qualify for government-funded Medicaid insurance to pay for the transplant and for 38-year-old Jamie Scott's dialysis, which officials said had cost Mississippi about $200,000 a year. A few doctors have expressed interest in performing the transplant, but there are no firm plans yet.
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour agreed to release Jamie Scott because of her medical condition, but 36-year-old Gladys Scott must donate the kidney within one year as a condition of her release. The women weren't eligible for parole until 2014. The supporters who fought for the sisters' release insisted that Jamie Scott may not live that long without a new kidney.
Barbour has not directly answered questions about whether he would send Gladys Scott back to prison if she changes her mind or if she is not a suitable donor for her sister.
"All of the 'What if' questions are, at this point, purely hypothetical. We'll deal with those situations if they actually happen," Barbour said last week.
However, the sisters' attorney, Chokwe Lumumba, and Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, have said the governor's office assured them the transplant condition of release would not be enforced. And the American Society of Transplantation has called on Barbour to base his decision to release Gladys Scott on legal merits -- not her willingness to donate an organ.
"The decision to donate an organ should be a truly selfless act, free from coercion and not conditioned on financial or any other material gain," American Society of Transplantation president Dr. Maryl R. Johnson said Friday in a statement.
Barbour, a two-term Republican, leaves office next January.
The sisters' supporters say Gladys Scott wants nothing more than to save her sister's life.
"I wanted to give my sister a chance to walk out that prison door," Gladys Scott said of the decision to offer her kidney. "I'm praying to God that I'm a match."
But several experts said the transplant condition could be interpreted as trading an organ for freedom, which could violate federal laws against selling organs.
The Scotts were convicted in 1994 of an armed robbery in central Mississippi on Christmas Eve the year before, according to court records. The robbery didn't net much; amounts cited have ranged from $11 to $200.