Mary DeWitt Painting
Video and voice of
Sharon Wiggins' Crime:
Sharon "Peachie" Wiggins died on March 24, 2013, of a heart attack at the age of 62. Wiggins spent 42 years in prison at the State Correctional Institution at Muncy. She was sentenced to life without parole for first-degree murder for a crime she committed when she was 17.
She spent the first two and a half years in prison on death row as a child of 17.
She and two young men robbed the Dauphin Deposit Trust Co. in Harrisburg on Dec. 2, 1968. Armed with guns, they stole more than $70,000.
During the robbery, a 64-year-old patron named George Morelock, who was deaf, entered the bank and grabbed Wiggins. They struggled, and she fired the gun twice. Her co defendant fired more shots, killing him.
Wiggins pleaded guilty, and initially was sentenced by a three-judge panel to the death penalty. She was on death row from 1969 until 1972, when the Supreme Court, in the case Furman v. Georgia, struck down the death sentence throughout the United States, releasing her from death row.
Sharon Wiggins applied for commutation and was turned down 13 times. Once her application made it to the governor's desk.
In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision on Miller v. Alabama. Mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles are now unconstitutional. At that time, Sharon Wiggins was hopeful that she would soon be released.
Unfortunately, the issue of whether Miller v. Alabama should apply retroactively became an obstacle to Wiggins' freedom.
Sharon Wiggins was determined to enact her own brilliant style of rehabilitation. She participated in numerous program opportunities, earning certificates in diverse skills, including upholstery, food catering, auto mechanics, paralegal studies, computer programming, cosmetology, construction and architecture.
She was one of the first women to graduate with an associate's degree from Penn State University. She initiated her own style of guidance counselor since institutions were discouraged by how few women were enrolling. Employed by Penn State, paying her street wages for her expertise, Wiggins worked inside the prison as a guidance counselor.
"She really helped us administer the program," said Mr. Beisel, who had served as the director of the Penn State Williamsport Center. "It was pretty much unprecedented in Pennsylvania and across the country."
He watched as she served as a mentor and volunteer.
"They all respected Sharon Wiggins. They trusted her," he said. "She helped to improve the lives of women within the institution."
Emily Keller, a staff attorney with the Juvenile Law Center, who worked with Wiggins, said her wisdom and kindness helped many women in the prison system achieve a better life.
"She had a really great sense of her position as an advocate for juvenile lifers," she said. "She is really a testament to a child's capacity to change."
I met Sharon Wiggins in 1988, when I was painting portraits of life-sentenced women at SCI Muncy. This developed into hours of talking and recording, into the mid 1990's. Her intimate and prescient thoughts capture an archetypal experience of the New Jim Crow in the United States. She was raised by her maternal grandmother, whose death left Wiggins orphaned as a young teenager alone on the streets of a Pittsburgh ghetto. A memory that haunted Wiggins was of her grandmother's as a little girl describing the KKK snatching her 16 year old brother off their Birmingham Alabama porch, never to be seen again.
Sharon Wiggins, 1951-2013
background on recording this 3:44 video:
Sharon Wiggins was 43 at the time of this 1992 recording. She recalls her grandmother’s memory of the Ku Klux Klan. Her grandmother, who raised her, died when Wiggins was 14. Wiggins was homeless in a Pittsburgh ghetto before she committed her crime at the age of 16. The terror that both Wiggins and her grandmother’s teen-aged brother experienced at similar ages- he at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920’s and Wiggins as a child on the streets alone and on death row in the 1960’s, reveal the continuity of the institution of slavery in the United States- from the Jim Crow south to the New Jim Crow of mass incarceration.
Sharon Wiggins, oil on mylar, 20"x20", 1996,