Melissa Harris-Perry: In Uvalde, Texas, funerals for the 21 victims of the May 24 shooting at Robb Elementary School have been underway since last week. 10-year-old Amerie Jo Garza was the first to be laid to rest last Tuesday. There were so many victims in such a small town that services are expected to continue through the middle of the month. Trey Ganem from Edna, Texas donated caskets for 18 children and 1 of the adult victims after speaking with their families. Each was custom-designed, adorned with butterflies or dinosaurs or imagery from Encanto or Superman.
Eliahna Torres' casket represented some of the things a fourth-grader loved best; llamas, TikTok, and yellow slime, which she learned how to make on TikTok, but there was a very important person missing from Eliahna's funeral, which was held Thursday, her father, Eli Torres. He's currently serving a 25-year sentence in Kentucky at the McCreary United States Penitentiary due to a drug trafficking and conspiracy conviction. He was denied compassionate release to attend his daughter's services and is overwhelmed by both grief and guilt.
"The choices I made, it cost me." Torres told the Houston Chronicle, "I could have prevented this from happening somehow some way as a father. I could have stopped it somehow, protected her." Joining me now is Kentucky State Representative, Attica Scott, who represents Kentucky's House District 41. She wrote a letter to President Biden asking him to intervene on behalf of Eli Torres and allow him to attend his daughter's memorial. Representative Scott, welcome to the show.
Attica Scott: Thank you so much, Melissa.
Melissa Harris-Perry: You wrote to the President and to your governor about this case. Why did you feel compelled to intervene?
Attica Scott: Melissa, like everyone else across the country, I saw what happened in Uvalde. There was a reporter, Lidia Terrazas, who was really doing some advocacy to try to get Ellie's dad to be able to attend her memorial service. When I saw that, as someone in Kentucky where her dad is incarcerated in federal prison in McCreary County, I thought the least that I could do as a state representative, as a legislator, as a mom of two kids myself, was to at least write a letter to the President, copy my governor, since her dad is incarcerated here in Kentucky, and try to do some advocacy that way to get the family united.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Now, Ellie was buried, her father was unable to attend. Is there anything to be done now?
Attica Scott: Now, the most that can be done is for advocacy for her dad to be able to at least go to her grave site. While that's unlikely to happen, I know that there is some advocacy that's happening around that push.
Melissa Harris-Perry: There are those who will say Mr. Torres committed a crime. He's incarcerated. This is the nature of incarceration. Talk to us about what a compassionate short-term release is and why they even exist.
Attica Scott: Some people, Melissa, think it means that Ellie's dad would be released permanently. That's not what we're talking about here. What we were talking about is a compassionate release to allow him to attend his daughter's memorial service, a 10-year-old child at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde who was murdered in the school shooting. I think it's important for your listeners to know that this is a temporary release, that her dad will be coming right back to McCreary County, Kentucky to federal prison. We're not having a conversation about prison abolition. If we were, that would be a totally different conversation.
This is about caring enough about families who've been impacted by this horrific massacre to be able to be united during their time of mourning, and sadly, the Bureau of Prisons at the federal level chose to deny the request for a compassionate release. I hadn't heard anything back from President Biden.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I hear you, we're not talking about prison abolition here, we're talking about a rather extraordinary and deeply painful moment. I know, for those of us who did not know this community, did not even know these children, there have nonetheless been sleepless nights, there's been sadness and grief and loss because this has been so overwhelming. Yet, does this refusal to provide a short-term compassionate opportunity for this father to say goodbye to this child tell us something about our carceral system?
Attica Scott: I would hope that what has happened in Uvalde tells us something about the way that we operate in this country, access to guns. I would hope that there have been some people's eyes have been opened about the carceral system and how we have to figure out what justice looks like in our society, the prison industrial complex has not been it for a lot of us. We need to look at ourselves and dig deeply into our humanity as people and ask ourselves, do we not have enough compassion and care for families impacted by something so horrific that we would not allow a father to unite with his family and say goodbye to his 10-year-old child?
There's something wrong with us as a society if we're not going to allow that brief, very brief opportunity to happen for those goodbyes because of something so horrific. We also need to take this opportunity to look at the carceral system and ask ourselves, what are we going to do around real community safety, taking care of one another, and addressing the prison industrial complex, that is not just, that is not equitable, and that is not fair?
Melissa Harris-Perry: Last September, we buried my godmother after a long battle with Alzheimer's and dementia. I will be very clear, my big brother, for whom my godmother was his biological mother, my big brother has spent a lot of his adult life in and out of jail and prison. I had no expectation of seeing him there on the day of her funeral, but my sisters and I were there at the graveside, and we looked up, and then our big brother was there. He was there to bury his mother, which is something we expect to do in our lifetimes. Even if it's sad, we expect to bury our parents.
It meant something to all of us, even with the ruptures in our relationships as siblings that has occurred as a result of the imprisonments. We don't expect to ever bury our children. I honestly can't fathom not being able to be there in that moment. Should we be thinking of this as a broader policy issue, providing for these kinds of human experiences, even in the context of prison and punishment?
Attica Scott: We absolutely should, Melissa. I'm so sorry for you and your family's loss. It's a story that you and I share, my brother and my father both have spent time in prison, they have both been incarcerated. I cannot imagine what it would have been like for my brother if we were in a similar situation as your family, or my father, whose mother died this past December, if we were in a similar situation as your family. We must absolutely address policies that continue to keep families separated and torn apart, even when they are grieving, even when they are nationally grieving.
I really want people to hone in on this, Melissa, that your family was grieving and it was deeply personal, and the families in Uvalde are grieving and it was highly public, highly public nationally, and globally. It just seems to me as if we as a society may have lost a way that we were moving towards. Out of some sense of naivety, I suppose, I thought that we were beginning to move in a more compassionate and caring direction, and I'm often reminded Melissa, sadly, that we are not.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Kentucky State Representative, Attica Scott, thank you for joining us today on The Takeaway.
Attica Scott: Thank you, Melissa.
Melissa Harris-Perry: We reached out to McCreary US Penitentiary for comment on the denial of a compassionate release for Eli Torres. We did not hear back from them.
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