The holiday season is all about spending time with loved ones. But for the past three decades, my family has celebrated Christmas without my mother, Patty Prewitt. The one person who can change this is Missouri Gov. Mike Parson. Let me explain.
I grew up in the small town of Holden, Mo., as the oldest of five children. Our childhood was filled with baseball games, band rehearsals and helping out at our parents’ lumberyard. We didn’t have a lot, but my parents made sure that we were always well provided for.
Everything changed on Feb. 18, 1984. My father was shot to death as he slept in the middle of the night by an intruder. My mother was pulled from their bed and assaulted before the intruder fled our home.
My four siblings and I were devastated to lose our father. Little did we know that we would soon lose our mother. After a hurried and careless investigation, she was arrested and charged with our dad’s murder. She was convicted following a deeply flawed trial marred by misleading forensic testimony and blatantly sexist attacks on her character.
Maintaining her innocence and trusting in the legal process, Mom rejected a plea bargain that would have had her back with us in seven years. This trust was tragically misplaced. She was sentenced to life in prison for 50 years without the possibility of parole. It has been more than 32 years since I have seen my mother outside the gates of a prison.
In many ways, those of us related to Patty have served this devastating sentence along with her. I was 16 when Mom was taken from me and my four younger siblings, who ranged in age from 8 to 14. This double tragedy orphaned all of us. We are now ages 41 to 49, all older than our mother was when she was taken to prison.
We have missed her immeasurably. We missed her being with us as we graduated, fell in love, got married, had children, got divorced, buried family members, received a cancer diagnosis, bought a house, got remarried, became a grandparent, celebrated and suffered anything and everything.
While incarcerated, Patty lost her son Matthew at the tender age of 18, both of her parents, her sister and many other loved ones. She still has a loving brother, who is battling cancer. She — like all of us — has endured crushing losses that have been all the harder to bear because of the pain and grief caused by our long separation, as well as the constant reminder of the injustice under which she suffers.
Over the past 32 years, Mom has been a model prisoner who has mentored many women behind bars. She has taken advantage of every educational and training opportunity available to her. Despite the brutalities of prison, she, almost miraculously, remains ever hopeful. But at age 69 and with at least 18 years left on her sentence, her future looks bleak unless Parson shows her mercy by granting her clemency.
My husband and I have a bedroom waiting for her. Our family will provide her all the support she needs to be a productive member of our community rather than a burden on Missouri taxpayers as a prisoner.
Gov. Parson, please do the just and merciful thing and release my mother. At this time of year that is so important to family, my siblings and I feel Mom’s absence all the more.
I pray that you will allow Patty Prewitt to come home to us this Christmas. It would be most blessed and cherished gift we could ever receive.
Jane Prewitt Watkins lives in Greenwood, Missouri.