Paul Scott credits California Men’s Colony with teaching him life, job skills
By Don Chaddock, InsideCDCR editor
For nearly a decade, Paul Scott has kept his word about his plans for life – providing comfort to grieving families as a way to honor the life he took nearly 35 years ago.
“I was convicted of second-degree murder,” Scott said. “I took responsibility for my actions because that life can never be brought back.”
He said now he focuses on saving lives and credits his time at the California Men’s Colony as helping turn his life around.
“I went into the system illiterate,” he said. “I knew my only chance of freedom was to learn the skills for the outside world and get an education.”
Scott got involved in the Gold Coat program at CMC.
“I initially started out doing drug and alcohol counseling and ran 12-step (recovery) meetings,” he recalls. “I became a certified HIV, hepatitis counselor and some inmates came in with (those conditions).”
He said he would tell them about the importance of following the prescribed regimen, taking their medications and being healthy.
“Some of the prisoners’ conditions would progress to AIDS and after they were in isolation we set up a hospice program so they wouldn’t die alone,” he said.
This is when he was also exposed to family members of those inmates about to pass away.
“Some were allowed in to see them, even if it was just a short visit,” he said.
Scott helped organize and run a once-a-month memorial service for inmates who passed.
When he had a chance at parole, he said he was asked about his life plans.
“I went before the board of prison terms and they asked what I would like to do in life,” he said. “I said I would like to prevent people from make the same mistakes I made. I said I wanted to provide relief for the families of victims.”
Scott was paroled amost 10 years ago.
“I had been incarcerated for 25 years and a lot of things had changed in society,” he said of his release back into the community. “The biggest change I encountered was the advancement in technology, from the various forms of communications like cell phones, computers, automation systems, etc.”
He said society was different after a quarter-century.
“The demographics and new development of the overall structures had changed,” he said. “Most importantly, I had to learn to avoid unhealthy relationships.”
Keep moving forward
During his early years in parole, he still counseled families in need, even if only as a volunteer. One time he said things seemed bleak and he almost threw in the towel.
“One time I was providing grief counseling to a family whose 8-year-old son was killed by a boyfriend who slammed the child’s head into the wall. After, I was in the parking lot and thinking, ‘I can’t do this anymore,'” he recalls, saying he was emotionally spent. “It tore my heart out helping the mother get through this. Then I thought, ‘I’m doing what I told the board I would do. I can’t give up.'”
He was home from prison for four years before he landed his current job. Today he works for OneLegacy, an organization promoting organ donation.
“What happened, in the process of me learning the skills I did, I became a family care specialist,” he said. “I applied for jobs for this organization, OneLegacy.”
Organ donations save lives
Scott said his grief counseling helps him in his current job because usually he’s dealing with families who have to make decisions in the final hours of a loved one’s life.
“It’s about turning something bad into something good. I let them know how many people pass away for lack of organ donations,” he said. “A third of the people on the transplant list are children and they haven’t even had a chance at life yet. I want to make sure they are presented with information so they can make an informed decision.”
He said there is often a misconception about organ donation and those waiting for transplants.
“Often, these people are on the list because of a disease or illness, not because of something they did,” he said.
Organ donation is also about educating the public.
“When I first started, the consent for Afro-Americans was 36 percent,” he said. “I’m the first Afro-American they’ve hired. After my first year in 2010, consent among that group has risen to the 75-80 percentage ranges.”
Reconnecting with his past
“Dr. Denise Taylor became head of the infectious disease control at CMC, and would attend the monthly memorial service,” Scott said.
Recently, Dr. Taylor marched alongside Scott during a parade.
“It was really an honor for Dr. Taylor to come down and walk with me recently in the Marin Luther King Jr. parade,” he said. “We carried a banner which said ‘donate life.’”
Dr. Taylor said she met Scott about 15 years ago.
“He was a patient on my caseload and I was impressed by his positive outlook on life and his work as a Gold Coat,” she said. “The Gold Coat Program is helpful to both the inmates they serve and the prison staff as a ‘second set of eyes’ for a group of inmates who suffer from severe mental disorders or dementia.
“The Gold Coat inmate can alert staff to problems with their assigned client which otherwise might go unnoticed,” she said. “Over the years Mr. Scott and I would discuss his life in prison and the difficulties he sometimes encountered as a result of being incarcerated – such as not able to help family who fell ill and his frustration with being an absent parent.”
He said for a former inmate to walk alongside a doctor from a prison meant a lot and demonstrated how much his life has turned around. Dr. Taylor agreed.
“Mr. Scott made use of his experiences as a Gold Coat and (care) volunteer and has directly applied them to his current job as Grief Counselor for One Legacy, an organization assisting with organ donations in Southern California,” she said. “I can’t even begin to describe how proud I am of him.”
She said he’s been able to help bolster confidence in the African-American community when it comes to organ donation.
“Because of his ethnic background (African-American), he has been able to reach out to a population that historically has not trusted medical institutions and increase the rate of donations from this community,” Dr. Taylor said. “In this manner he is directly responsible for saving lives and improving the quality of life for countless others.”
Message of hope
To those heading down the wrong path or those currently incarcerated, Scott said there is hope.
“People should know, don’t give up, there is another way,” he said. “You may not see the light at the end of the tunnel but don’t give up. There are opportunities available. Do the best they can. Do the most they can.”
What is One Legacy?
According to their website, OneLegacy is dedicated to saving lives through organ and tissue donation in the seven-county greater Los Angeles area. As the largest non-profit, federally-designated organ procurement organization (OPO) in the United States, OneLegacy is dedicated to achieving the donation of life-saving and healing organs and tissues for those in need of transplants and to providing a sense of purpose and comfort to those families they serve.