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Quest to bring prisoner home

'Sixties Scoop' victim serving 149-year sentence in U.S.

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At the age of four he was scooped from his Métis home in Camperville, Man., and adopted by a couple in New Orleans. Now 37, he's serving a 149-year sentence in a notorious Louisiana prison for attempted murder and armed robbery.

An online petition is trying to bring Scott Meyers -- born Wilfred Sutherland -- back to Manitoba.

"I was simply horrified at the news of the Canadian scoop," Marian Pickett, who heard about Meyers' case through a friend of a friend and launched the online petition, said recently.

"It blew me away to know what he'd gone through to get where he was," said Pickett, from Baton Rouge, La.

Meyers was a preschooler when he and his six siblings were taken from their Métis parents by child welfare authorities in the "Sixties Scoop". He was adopted by a wealthy New Orleans couple where he grew up an only child.

The trauma and loneliness of being torn from a large family and the jolt of culture shock left its mark on him as he grew up.

At 20, he smoked dope and drank, and was convicted of armed robbery and attempted murder. He and two other men went to the home of a young man they knew who owed them $100. The victim was beaten and shot and left a quadriplegic.

One of the accused, who didn't go to jail, singled out Meyers. He appealed the conviction and the harsh sentence -- 149 years of hard labour -- and lost.

Meyers is being held at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, also known as Angola Prison. It's nicknamed the "Alcatraz of the South" and is the largest maximum-security prison in the United States with 5,000 inmates and 1,800 employees.

He's not eligible for release on good behaviour until Sept. 26, 2093, a prison spokeswoman said.

His first parole board hearing -- if he is granted one -- is Dec. 11, 2018, she said. Meyers is not allowed to give phone or email interviews.

Meyers has already been in jail 17 years and would likely be released for time served if he's transferred to Canada, said Pickett. He first applied for a transfer to Canada in 2008. The U.S. has ignored several of the Correctional Service of Canada's requests for documents to make it happen.

Today, Meyers is called "Chief" inside the prison walls, and the well-educated inmate is a model prisoner, said Pickett.

"He's a jailhouse lawyer," said the online activist who stays in touch with Meyers and sees him in person at the prison's annual rodeo. He's also studying Hebrew, is an artist and plays guitar and piano.

So far, hundreds have already signed the petition urging the U.S. to have him moved to Canada.

Meyers' adoptive parents who moved to Arizona are supportive, said Pickett. They didn't know their son had been "stolen" from his Métis parents until 2008, she said.

"He wants to come home," said his birth mother, Estherine Sutherland, in Camperville. She spoke to her son a couple of months ago.

The last time she saw him, she said, was when he and his siblings were taken away in 1977.

"It was a surprise," she said, her voice breaking 34 years after losing her kids.

Her son in prison appears briefly in the 2009 Canadian documentary Music From the Big House with Juno Award-winning blues singer Rita Chiarelli.

"His mother signed papers not really understanding what she was doing," said Chiarelli in Toronto. She thought she was signing something that would help her kids, Meyers told Chiarelli.

"The last image of his mother he has is once she realized what was really happening. She was sobbing."

Today, his mom said she knows where "Wilfred" and two of his sisters are living but has little information about the other children. "All I know is they ended up in Louisiana."

To see the online petition click here.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 23, 2011 A4


Updated on Wednesday, November 23, 2011 at 11:28 AM CST: adds link to online petition, adds fact box

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