By NICK CHILES
The American criminal justice system is a strange creature. While it’s possible in some states to spend decades in jail for possessing a bag of crack cocaine, the woman who snatched a baby from a New York hospital and raised the girl as her own for 23 years will get off with a prison sentence of just 10 to 12 years.
When we got wind of the plea deal for kidnapper Ann Pettway over here at MyBrownBaby, we felt like we had been kicked in the gut. It is impossible to imagine the pain that the parents of the baby girl suffered all those years, knowing their little girl could be out there somewhere—or she could be dead. The parents, Joy White and Carl Tyson, split up soon after the kidnapping, unable to sustain a relationship amidst all the grief. They were effectively trapped in their own psychological prison for 23 years. Joy White said she kept her baby’s picture on her dresser and talked to her every night before she fell asleep, telling her that they would one day be together again. Two decades and three years of emotional torture.
And now, after pleading guilty, Ann Pettway faces a sentence of ten to twelve years when she goes before the judge for sentencing on May 14. This just doesn’t sit right.
After all, with our mandatory sentencing laws in this country, you can get a mandatory life sentence for your third drug possession offense. There’s a woman in Kansas serving a life sentence for possessing one-sixteenth of an ounce of cocaine—an amount equivalent to less than two packages of Sweet’N Lo. In Texas, the unarmed getaway driver in a bank robbery got over 11 years in prison. In California, a kidnapper got 30 years in prison for a case where the victim was rescued by authorities within days.
Just as in real estate, location location location is what matters most in the U.S. when you commit a crime. You’re much better off being in New York than in Texas. But no matter where you did the crime, snatching babies should be one of those offenses with a looong mandatory sentence, keeping you trapped in a cell somewhere long enough to see all your hair turn gray and your face become a road map of wrinkles.
Ann Pettway pretended to be a nurse at Harlem Hospital and whisked away Joy White’s 19-day old baby girl, who was there because she was suffering from a fever. The case sparked a nationwide manhunt and caused an uproar over the security breach at Harlem Hospital.
It was the baby girl, Carlina White, who solved her own kidnapping case 23 years later. She had suspicions about her “mother” and checked the website for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, where she saw her own baby picture. A month later, she was reunited with her real parents.
And now those parents are in shock that Pettway will only be going away for as little as 10 years. They got 23 years in hell; she gets a decade in a prison cell. Something is wrong with this picture.
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2. The Down and Dirty Truth about Raising a Newborn Baby
3. A Mother’s Love: A Love Letter to the Woman Who Gave Me Away
4. African American Babies Need Moms Who Know Their History
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.