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'General Hospital' Was 'The Dope' In Prison — And Kept Him Out Of Trouble

Nov 16, 2017
Originally published on November 16, 2017 11:37 am

Chris Scott spent 13 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit.

Before his time in jail, he led a quiet, domestic life with his two sons and his girlfriend.

Then his life became a nightmare. Scott constantly worried for his safety. He learned to cope in prison, but he knew he had to stay out of trouble, because if his innocence was proved, he wanted to be able to walk free.

As part of Morning Edition's exploration of fandoms, Scott, 47, describes, in his own words, how his passion for daytime dramas helped him walk the straight line.

This has been lightly edited for clarity.

Four things kept me out of trouble: working in the kitchen, going to the gym, reading three books per week and — the most important thing — was the soap opera.

The first time I watched the soap opera in prison, I walked to the day room, and they was watching soap opera. And they was like, "Hey dude, this is the soap opera side of the day room, where people watch soap opera" — and I was like, "oh, this is the side that I need to be on."

I got a crew of men that, in the world of society, was killers. One of them named Baby Shaq, 'cause he was a big guy like Shaquille O'Neal. We had a guy named T-Bone, and we had Slim 50. These were some of the hardest-core fighting guys — but when that soap opera came on, you can hear a pin drop on cotton. It's like all eyes — don't nobody want to blink, because if you feel like if you blink, you gonna miss something.

We gave General Hospital a new name. We didn't call it General Hospital no more. We called it "The Dope" — because it was addictive. We walked down the hallway, they shouting, "Hey — did you see 'The Dope' yesterday?"...

Watching these love stories in a day room full of guys, you know they made the snide remarks of, "it's pretty much for women and females" or whatever the case may be. But we didn't care about that — because they knew the guy that was watching the soap opera probably can kick half of the cellblock he lived on's butt.

There was this one character on General Hospital named Sonny Corinthos, and he ran the whole town, and he had a bunch of businesses everywhere, but his main business was coffee importing.

So I was telling myself, "Well, you know, this kind of an inspiration to me, so I need to watch this guy and get some knowledge." And he used to hide whatever he was trying to ship in a barrel under the coffee beans, and it'd get shipped out of the country. So I looked at that, I said, "man, you know, that may be a good way to move things in prison."

And my job was working in the kitchen. So what I did, I created this hamburger business, but you gotta get everything past the guards to get it where you have to go.

So I used to take an ice bucket, and line cardboard at the bottom of the ice barrel. And I used to sit 60 hamburgers and 60 orders of fries on that cardboard. And then I'd put another cardboard on top of it, so when the officers raised the lid up, they couldn't see it because it was underneath the ice.

So once I got to the cellblock, I dumped the ice out and sell 'em — and dude, I was like the black Wendy's or the black Ronald McDonald in prison. And that was kind like that entrepreneurship that I learned from watching soap operas.

The soap operas really, it resonated a lot about missing home, missing the arguing you heard your mom and dad have every now and then. You miss the sisters fighting over the bathroom. You miss the brothers going outside shooting basketball in the backyard. So yeah, it resonated hard and heavy.

Like, just say, holiday seasons. You see the soap opera people, they got the big Christmas trees. They dress nice in red and white and all these pretty Christmas colors. And it made you want to be a part of that. ...

And seeing it on TV, I'mma tell you, I didn't want people to see me cry or shed a tear, but every now and then that happened. So I had to go in my cell. And I used to hang a sheet up, and the sheet would cover my whole cell, and I just used to go in my cell and have a big cry about it.

Wasn't bad tears, it was good tears, because I knew I still had a heart. Because being falsely imprisoned, sometimes it hardens that heart to where you don't want to show a sign of weakness.

I know watching soap operas helped me with my dilemma, and we all can learn a lesson about how we choose not to judge people about what they think or what they watch because we all need something to hold on to.

Scott was exonerated after 13 years in prison. When he got out, he kept up that entrepreneurial spirit: He created a detective agency, looking into other innocence cases. Scott's story will be featured in an upcoming PBS documentary called True Conviction.

And yes, he still watches every episode of General Hospital.

Dave Blanchard (@blanchardd) is a producer with Morning Edition. Digital News producer Heidi Glenn adapted this story for the Web.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Before Christopher Scott went to prison, he led a quiet life, spending as much time as possible with his sons.

CHRISTOPHER SCOTT: In the place that I lived at, we had, like, a pond, so I used to take my two boys out and go feed the ducks because they used to just like to hear how the ducks quacked. And, you know, that was my everyday life - just going to work, coming home, taking care of my kids and my girlfriend.

MARTIN: Then Scott was arrested and convicted for a murder he didn't commit. He was locked up for 13 years before the real killer confessed. Scott knew he had to stay out of trouble when he was in prison because if he was ever proven innocent, he wanted to be able to walk free. So how did he walk the straight line? We spoke to him about that as part of our fandom series.

SCOTT: Four things kept me out of trouble - working in a kitchen, going to the gym, reading three books per week, and the most important thing was the soap opera.

(SOUNDBITE OF "GENERAL HOSPITAL" THEME)

SCOTT: The first time I watched the soap opera in prison, I walked to the day room, and they was watching soap opera. And they was like, hey, dude, you know, this is the soap opera side of the day room where people watch soap opera. I was like, oh, this the side that I need to be on.

(SOUNDBITE OF "GENERAL HOSPITAL" THEME)

SCOTT: I got a crew of men that in the world of society was killers. One of them named Baby Shaq because he was a big guy like Shaquille O'Neal. We had a guy named T-Bone, and we had Slim 50. These was some of the hardest-core fighting guys, but when that soap opera came on, you can hear a pin drop on cotton. It's like, oh, don't nobody want to blink because if you feel like, if you blink, you're going to miss something.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GENERAL HOSPITAL")

MAURICE BENARD: (As Sonny Corinthos) Brenda's in trouble.

DANIEL BENZALI: (As Theo Hoffman) That's because she was injected with a neurotoxin. In less than an hour, Brenda won't be able to breathe. So Sonny, what matters more to you - revenge against me or saving Brenda's absurd little life?

SCOTT: We gave "General Hospital" a new name. We didn't call it "General Hospital" no more. We called it "The Dope" because it was addictive. We walked down the hallway, they'd shout, hey, did you see "The Dope" yesterday? And we had to share with each other all day long. Like, hey, did you see this scene where Jason shot at the guy, and he rescues Sonny, and they dove in the water and they had to swim 2, 3 miles to get away?

And it carried on to the kitchen where we all went to work at. It was like, oh, they finna (ph) come here and talk about "The Dope" today. We were like, yeah, if you don't want to hear about this dope, you might as well move around because we finna (ph) keep talking about it.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GENERAL HOSPITAL")

BENARD: (As Sonny Corinthos) I want to marry you.

VANESSA MARCIL: (As Brenda Barrett) Oh, my God.

BENARD: (As Sonny Corinthos) No, wait. Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait. No, sit. I want to marry you more than anything in the whole world.

SCOTT: You know, watching these love stories in a day room full of guys - you know, they made little snide remarks of, it's pretty much for women and females or whatever the case may be. But we didn't care about that because they knew that guy that was watching the soap opera probably can kick half of the cell block he lived on butt. You know, it was this one character on "General Hospital" named Sonny Corinthos.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GENERAL HOSPITAL")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) I don't want any trouble.

BENARD: (As Sonny Corinthos) Well, that's too late. You own a clinic in Russia. You kept my friend prisoner. You drugged him to keep him in control.

SCOTT: And he ran a whole town, and he had a bunch of businesses everywhere, but his main business was coffee importing. So I was telling myself, well, you know, this is kind of a inspiration to me, so I need to watch this guy and get some knowledge.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GENERAL HOSPITAL")

BENARD: (As Sonny Corinthos) But on a serious note, be careful, be smart, and most important - you stay alive.

SCOTT: And he used to hide whatever he was trying to ship in a barrel under the coffee beans, and it gets shipped out the country. So I looked at it. I said, man, you know, that may be a good way to move things in prison. And my job was working in the kitchen, so what I did - I created this hamburger business. But you got to get everything past the guards to get it where you have to go.

So I used to take a ice bucket and line cardboard at the bottom of the ice barrel. And I used to sit 60 hamburgers and 60 orders of fries on that cardboard, and then I'll put another cardboard on top of it so when the officers raised the lid up, they couldn't see it because it was underneath the ice. So once I got to the cell block, I'd dump the ice out and sell them.

And dude, I was, like, the black Wendy's or the black Ronald McDonald in prison. And that was kind of like that entrepreneurship that I learned from watching soap operas. The soap operas really - it resonated a lot about missing home, missing the arguing you heard your mom and dad have.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GENERAL HOSPITAL")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Jason is a Quartermaine, and he belongs back here in this house.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) I'm not going to resort to manipulating...

SCOTT: You'd miss the sisters fighting over the bathroom. You miss the brothers, you know, going outside, shooting basketball in the backyard. So, yeah, it resonated hard and heavy. Like, just say, holiday seasons...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GENERAL HOSPITAL")

SEAN KANAN: (As A.J. Quartermaine) Hey, Michael, it's you dad. I just wanted to - I just wanted to wish you a merry Christmas.

SCOTT: You see the soap opera people. They got the big Christmas trees. You know, they dress nice in red, and white and all these pretty, you know, Christmas colors. And it makes you want to be a part of that. It made you be like, I remember when we used to put candy canes on the Christmas trees and when my mom went to sleep, we used to sneak and eat them off the Christmas tree.

And seeing it on TV, I'ma (ph) tell you, I didn't want people to see me cry or shed a tear. But every now and then, that happened. So I had to go in my cell, and I used to hang a sheet up, and the sheet would cover my whole cell, and I just used to go to my cell and have a big cry about it. Wasn't bad tears - it was good tears because I know I had a heart because being falsely imprisoned, sometimes it hardens that heart to where you don't want to show a sign of weakness.

So, you know, I know watching soap operas helped me with my dilemma. And we all can learn a lesson about how we choose not to judge people about what they think or what they watch because we all need something to hold on to.

MARTIN: Christopher Scott was exonerated after 13 years in prison. When he got out, he kept up that entrepreneurial spirit that he learned on "General Hospital." He created a detective agency that looked into other innocence cases. His story is going to be featured in an upcoming PBS documentary called "True Conviction." And yes, he still watches every episode of "General Hospital." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.