Imagine what it must be like to open Christopher Scott’s mail.
The Dallas man and his nonprofit organization, House of Renewed Hope, receive about 200 to 300 poignant letters a month from men and women in prison. Some letter writers are on Death Row. All of the correspondence comes from or on behalf of inmates claiming to be wrongly convicted.
“We can’t help everyone,” says Scott, whose work is chronicled in “True Conviction,” a documentary that airs at 9 p.m. Monday on PBS. “But the ones we can help, we give them everything we’ve got.”
The extraordinary twist in Scott’s story is that he has been in their shoes.
In 1997, Scott was convicted of capital murder. He served 13 years of a life sentence before he and his co-defendant were exonerated, the true killer coming forward with a detailed confession.
After his release in 2009, Scott could have disappeared into a life of anonymity, but instead he chose to become a champion for others in prison also protesting their innocence. What’s more, he did it not just as an activist spokesperson, but as an investigator.
“I had to do something,” Scott says. “I know what it is to lose control of your life through no fault of your own. There’s no way I could sit on the sidelines while others are going through what I’ve been through.
“Right now, I have about 2,700 cases in my files and I’m working on four active cases.”
“True Conviction” — which premiered at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival in New York and was awarded a special jury mention in the best documentary category — details two cases that Scott and his colleagues Johnnie Lindsey and Steven Phillips worked on.
One is the story of Max Soffar, a Death Row inmate of 35 years who was pressured into a triple murder confession as a young man. The other focuses on Isaiah Hill, who was sentenced to life in prison on aggravated assault charges after declining a plea bargain.
Scott and his fellow “freedom fighters,” who also were exonerated after long prison terms, log hundreds of miles, conduct dozens of interviews and dig up compelling new evidence on behalf of their clients. By the end of the documentary, one case is joyously resolved, while the other is bittersweet.
“True Conviction,” directed by Jamie Meltzer, is airing as an installment of “Independent Lens,” an Emmy-winning anthology series of documentaries and fiction films.
“There’s never been a detective agency quite like the one Chris, Johnnie and Steven form,” says Lois Vossen, “Independent Lens” executive producer. “Who better than three innocent and freshly exonerated men to smell out flawed cases, false evidence or corrupt cops and DA's?
“Their search for justice is part true crime story, part struggle for redemption and part fight for social change.”
Freedom is something that Scott never takes for granted.
“People don’t realize how precious their freedom is until they lose it,” he says. “When my freedom was taken away from me, that’s when I started cherishing even the small pleasures in life.
“Being able to give that to others, just being able to give people hope, drives me.”
The premise of “True Conviction” is so compelling that Hollywood also has taken notice. A TV drama version is on the drawing board.
“Right now, they’re showing it around to see who wants to air it,” Scott says. “CBS is a front-runner, but they’re also talking to Amazon and to Netflix about it. They’re keeping me in the loop. I talk to the producers a lot. We’re all very hopeful about it.”
- 9-10:30 p.m. Monday
- KERA/Channel 13