JACKSON, Miss. — A foundation formed by a man who describes himself a “disbarred and disgraced trial lawyer” is helping cover education expenses for 100 Mississippi adults who dropped out of high school before earning a diploma.
Richard “Dickie” Scruggs of Oxford said Monday that the nonprofit group, 2nd Chance MS, is paying $250 tuition and $20 a week for gasoline or other expenses for 50 students at Northeast Mississippi Community College and 50 at Itawamba Community College.
If they complete a 25-week course, each will earn a high school equivalency diploma and become certified in six job skills. Each student who successfully completes the course and lands a job paying more than minimum wage will also receive $250 from the foundation, Scruggs said.
He said the average age of the students is 28 and many of them are single parents who struggle to stay in school.
“All these students are one flat tire from dropping out again. They are living hand-to-mouth,” Scruggs said.
Scruggs, 70, lived in the Gulf Coast city of Pascagoula before moving to Oxford in 2003. He became a multimillionaire with asbestos and tobacco litigation but pleaded guilty in 2008 in a Mississippi judicial bribery scheme. During six years in federal prison, he taught fellow inmates who were earning their high school equivalency diploma.
He spoke Monday during a forum sponsored by Mississippi State University’s Stennis Institute of Government and the Capitol press corps.
“You might ask how I came to this issue — how did a disbarred and disgraced trial lawyer who spent six years not long ago in federal prison, come to an issue like adult basic education?” Scruggs said.
He said he was in a federal prison in Kentucky that housed a mix of inmates including pedophiles, drug convicts and others, many of whom read at or below a sixth-grade level.
“The worst part of prison for me was a loss of a sense of purpose,” Scruggs said. “It was something I had not anticipated. I knew I would be depressed and ashamed and all those emotions. But I didn’t realize how much a sense of purpose mattered to me.”
He said he found purpose by teaching in prison. After his release in 2014, he turned his attention to Mississippi’s high-school dropout rate. He said about 400,000 adults in the state, 22 or older, don’t have a high school diploma, and about 14,000 students drop out of school each year.
Scruggs’ son, Zach Scruggs, was convicted of failure to report a felony in the same judicial bribery scheme, was disbarred and served a year in federal prison in Arkansas before being released in 2009. Zach Scruggs also taught high school equivalency classes in prison and is working for 2nd Chance MS.
Among the high-profile people serving on the foundation’s board are actor Morgan Freeman, who has a home near Charleston, Mississippi; former University of Mississippi and New Orleans Saints quarterback Archie Manning; and former Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore, who hired Richard Scruggs to represent the state in suing tobacco companies to recover the costs of treating sick smokers. Richard Scruggs was among the top campaign donors to Moore, a Democrat who was attorney general from 1988 to 2004.
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