by CPP’s Melonie McCoy
At age 46, Chris Scott is a man who is passionate about learning. Along with his love of reading complex novels and scientific narratives, Chris has multiple degrees and is a sought-after tutor in English and writing. That is, when he’s not busy coaching a softball team or motivating others at hip-hop dance class. Chris is also serving what people in prison communities refer to as an “LWOP” sentence… life without parole, at Ironwood State Prison in California.
For the twenty plus years Chris has resided in prison. Throughout his sentence he and his mom, Sue, a volunteer at Compassion Prison Project, have maintained a close relationship. Though separated by hundreds of miles, they speak several times a week on the phone, updating each other on their daily lives and family news. Sometimes, together, they even critique books they’ve read. Sue was understandably relieved this past summer when Chris, along with several fellow prison residents, was able to leave isolation after weeks of confinement due to a positive Coronavirus test.
Recently, Chris called Sue to ask for help in resolving an air conditioner problem. He told her about men in their undershirts, leaning out of windows, trying to prevent heat exhaustion while working in 110-degree heat. These men, he explained, were the correctional officers working in the tower building across the field from his cell block.
This concern, fueled by compassion for the correctional officers who kept a daily watch over Chris and his companions, didn’t come as a shock to his mom. She knows that her son is a good and thoughtful person. The gruff-voiced man who returned her call from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, however, was shocked into silence as Sue relayed her son’s request to fix the officers’ air conditioning. After a few moments, the man burst into laughter which seemed to erupt from sincere shock and genuine joy at the inquiry. “This is a first” he exclaimed. Then after a pause, continued “I can’t believe your son asked you to do this.”
A few days later, Chris looked across the prison yard toward the tower, happy to note that the correctional officers could no longer be seen leaning out of their windows. Feeling satisfied that the problem was resolved, Chris and Sue went back to their daily routine, happy to have made a difference. Ever hopeful that one day, they’ll be discussing books and life and family while relaxing together again at home.