Gloria Williams has been in jail for longer than I’ve been alive. I have no doubt you’ve heard of her case, because her family and advocates have been calling for her release for some time now. Williams is referred to affectionately as “Mama Glo”.
Her story is a sad one. According to The Appeal, “in 1971, Williams was arrested in Opelousas, Louisiana, when she, a 16-year-old girl, and an adult man tried to rob a grocery store using Williams’s son’s toy gun. During a struggle with the store’s owner, Budge Cutrera, Williams’s teenage co-defendant found a gun Cutrera kept behind the counter and fatally shot the store owner. Nine months later, all three were sentenced to life without parole. Williams has served nearly 50 years in prison.”
During her time in jail she spent 10 years in solitary confinement. A punishment as inhumane as any, for a woman who never fired a weapon.
Governor you come from a rural, deep south, white law enforcement family. Your father and grandfather were both Sheriff’s, men who “upheld the law.” Your journey would be one of military service and the law. So I don’t immediately expect you to easily sympathize with the case of Mama Glo. Your journey was not hers. Yet I would like you to make her story personal. You have both a mother who is elderly and a daughter in her 20’s. While I have not always agreed with your policies, I have respected how you show sincere love for your family.
Governor, like you I have a mother who is a senior citizen. My mother’s name is Ivon and she’s 73 and her mother’s name was Gloria. That helps me personalize this situation. My family called her “Mama Glo.”
I ask you John Bel Edwards the man, not just the governor to ask yourself what if Gloria’s name was Dora Jean? What if when she was 14 years old she had married for the first time. What if after she and her husband separated, he took custody of their two eldest children and placed them in the care of his father and stepmother. What if your mother Dora Jean had not been able to become a nurse and marry a future sheriff? What if she only had a fifth grade education and little money, and tried to fight for custody of you? You’re an attorney also, so what would you think if an attorney told Dora Jean to marry a man in order to present a more stable family when she tried to get custody of her children. And what if that man injected her with heroin and physically abused her? All this before a crime was ever committed, do you think your story would be the same if that had been Dora Jean’s story?
You see, when you change the name, and you make the story personal I believe it gives one the ability to see Gloria Williams not as a woman who participated in a crime. It allows you to see how a young woman in her 20’s could end up in a market with a toy gun, and how a 16 year old could fire a weapon. The truth is, Gloria Williams never fired a weapon, but she’s spent 50 years of her life in jail.
Gloria Williams has been abused by men, fell into a system, locked in solitary confinement and if that wasn’t enough — while in jail contracted and survived the Corona virus. Governor how much suffering does this woman have to endure for her debt to society to be paid? How much more money do tax payers need to spend incarcerating a woman who never fired a weapon? There isn’t any justice left in her being jailed. Only suffering remains if Gloria Williams continues to be incarcerated.
Williams is the only person still imprisoned for Cutrera’s death nearly 50 years ago. The woman who shot Cutrera died 15 years ago in prison. The third participant in the crime, Philip Anthony Harris, was granted a commutation in 1987. I was 2 when Harris was released Governor.
I waited to write this letter because I recognize the challenges of dealing with a pandemic are vast and have tried not to be overly critical of any leaders during this time. I also believed that the advocacy of her family and other advocates who have worked with your office would have been heard by now. I must say it is disappointing to say the least, to know that for nearly a year now her clemency papers have remained on your desk. Which means, had you granted clemency last year maybe she would’ve been spared the suffering of COVID-19. Yet this is where we are.
Governor Edwards with the swipe of your pen “Mama Glo” can be released and reunited with her family. I join my voice with all the others who have asked you to let “Mama Glo” go. I ask that you consider your mother Dora Jean, and ask if she had been dealt the cards this woman was dealt — would you believe she deserved to die in jail? I think we both know the answer is no. There is no justice in her remaining incarcerated, but justice can be in the ink of your pen. Use the tools the voters of this state gave you to make our state more just. Governor #LetMamaGloGo.
Do Good Seek Justice