“The disease, you just have to fight it”: An Interview with Scott Lewis

Amanda Knox

In 1995, 29-year-old Scott Lewis was wrongly convicted of a 1990 double homicide based on the testimony of an incentivized informant. Despite having an alibi for the time of the killings, Lewis was convicted and sentenced to 240 years in prison, later reduced to 120 years. He spent two decades fighting to prove his innocence, and his conviction was finally overturned in 2015 after a detective came forward testifying that a dirty cop had coerced a false statement from the informant.

Today, Lewis is a real estate broker and is classified as an essential worker. 

Amanda Knox

How are you doing?

Scott Lewis 

It’s a little challenging. I can’t wait ’til this epidemic passes, so I can hit the road and get out there in the world, so to speak. After being incarcerated for such a long period of time, being in quarantine doesn’t sit too well with me.

Amanda Knox

Tell me the story of your wrongful conviction and exoneration.

Scott Lewis

I was arrested in 1991 for a double homicide I did not commit. I ended up spending 23 years in prison until I was awarded federal relief in 2014. And then the conviction was officially vacated sometime in 2015.

Amanda Knox  

2015 is a big year for me, too. That was the year that I was definitively exonerated. But I was born in 1987. So, you’ve been through it, my friend.

Scott Lewis 

I think we’ve both been through it. You went through yours a little younger. But I definitely remember that distinctively. When your situation came to an end, it was pretty much around the same time. Thank God that you have strong resolve, because that’s what it took. And that’s what it takes for a lot of our brothers and sisters that have gone through similar situations.

Amanda Knox

To that point, where were you imprisoned and what were the conditions like? How did you adapt?

Scott Lewis 

I was imprisoned in two prisons during the course of my entire prison stint. One was Chester Correctional Facility. The other was the MacDougall Correctional Facility. When I went in, the culture of the prisons started to change a lot. Eight months or so prior to me actually being sent to prison, there was a lot of gang violence going on. So when I went in, my thought process wasn’t, “I’m going to go to prison. I got to do this time.” My thought process was, “How am I going to get through this?” What I did was I kind of tricked myself mentally and I said to myself that I wasn’t in prison, that I was actually in law school. And I just had to stay there for 24 hours a day. So that was my philosophy. I was just training myself to win my freedom.

Amanda Knox  

23 years is a lot.

Scott Lewis

It wasn’t easy. I don’t know about you, but when I look back on it, sometimes it’s still unbelievable that I was able to endure. It sounds like a long time, but now, being in a free society and a free man, it feels like it was a blink of an eye. Can you relate to that?

Amanda Knox  

Totally. I was in for four years. And I think one of the reasons why it might feel that way is because it’s just so different than any other way of living.

Scott Lewis 

Right. It’s like, today, you have a 24-hour day, and it never feels like there’s enough time. In prison it’s the opposite. Two hours feels like it’s never gonna end. So still trying to deal with that a little bit in regards to my own individual style, because I’ve always been a person that was energetic. I like to get up. I like to move. I like to work. Here’s my ‘Things To Do List,’ scratch these things off, and get on to the next thing. Whereas in prison, it was hard to do that, because the one thing you had on the list may have taken you two years to scratch it off. You were just put on slow go. And it made the process a little more challenging for me, because things just didn’t seem like they were going fast enough.

Amanda Knox

How was reintegrating back into free society?

Scott Lewis

When I went in, like I said, I told myself I was in law school, so I was already planning my steps. The only thing that was stopping me from doing anything was the door being closed. Knowing that that door was going to open at some point, I was preparing myself for that to happen for that whole 20 years. So when I got the word from the federal judge, I was ready for it to happen. I had to believe that the justice system eventually was going to work, because if I believed that it wasn’t going to work, then it would have meant all the fighting I was doing was going to be for no reason.

Amanda Knox  

It wasn’t law school if you can’t graduate.

Scott Lewis  

Exactly. 

Amanda Knox 

So today, you’re a real estate broker, correct? 

Scott Lewis

Yes. 

Amanda Knox  

And you are classified as an essential worker.

Scott Lewis 

Yes.

Amanda Knox 

How has the pandemic impacted you?

Scott Lewis 

Well, it was really strange. When everything hit, my first thought was, “People are losing their jobs. The real estate market is going to tank.” As a broker, I had agents who worked under my supervision who were also relying on the real estate business to make a living. So it was like, “How are the bills going to be paid?” They classify you as an essential worker, but you can’t work because everybody’s losing their jobs. It was a superficial right with no substance. The agents that I had working under me, I was preparing them. I said, “Listen, the market is probably going to shut down for like six months.” But to my surprise, we’ve been able to produce some real work.

Amanda Knox 

I wonder if that’s because people, one, want to take advantage of the low interest rates, but two, the fact that there’s a lot of uncertainty about what the world is going to look like afterwards, maybe people are feeling compelled to get out of the rental market, because they’re afraid of what the rental market might look like after all of this.

Scott Lewis

I think you’re right. And I think sometimes when you lose your freedom, it makes you realize that there’s some things in life that you took for granted, that are now super important to you. From a philosophical standpoint, people who probably at one time thought, “Well, I could buy a house anytime,” this woke them up. You can lose your job at any point, and the opportunity that you took for granted of becoming a homeowner is not going to always be there. So I think some people probably said, “I’m not going to squander this opportunity, because who knows what’s gonna happen.” I think when people work, they work to eventually become a homeowner.

Amanda Knox 

That’s the American dream.

Scott Lewis

But I can assure you that I can’t wait until the epidemic passes. Safely, obviously. So people can get back to work and be the productive citizens that they are.

Amanda Knox  

Do you feel safe when you’re doing your job?

Scott Lewis  

The advantage of being a broker is I don’t necessarily have to deal with people. I have the liberty of just being the quarterback. What I tell my agents, though, is, “Make sure you wear your mask. Make sure you wear your gloves. Don’t just take a transaction because there’s an opportunity to make money and jeopardize your health.” I have a dear friend of mine who was actually in prison with me, his name is Nicholas Aponte. He is my office manager, and I made him my office manager because when we were in prison, we both worked in the market shop making license plates. I was actually doing the physical labor of the license plates, whereas he was in the back office working with computers. So, because I was representing myself, I would do a lot of my legal work, by handwriting. And then the courts were starting to get really tight on me. “You need to get a lawyer and these motions need to be typed up and they need to be to spec.” So I would write my legal briefs and I would give them to him and say, “Hey, man, type these things up.” So that’s what we did. And we became great friends. And while we were in prison, he also did hospice care. He took care of a lot of inmates that got sick and he has a second job as a RNA, a nurse. So when this happened, he went full throttle into the nursing industry and started taking care of the patients that were getting sick. And literally just four days ago, he tested positive. So he’s going through that process now. I mean, it’s just one of those things. So far, he’s the only one that I know on a personal level that tested positive, but obviously, it affects me. He’s like a brother to me. When you’re inside with somebody for that long period of time, and you guys have come to rely on each other, it affects you in a different way. It’s definitely heartbreaking. I believe that he’s going to be able to get through it. I always tell him, “Listen, we came through, I don’t want to say worse situations, but we came through trying situations. And we both know that a lot of it is mental. So don’t let this thing beat you in your head. You’re a hero. You are on the frontlines. You got sick trying to help other people because that’s who you are. That’s who you became.” Me, being a businessman, I said, “Listen, make sure you keep that paper, and when this is over, you go to the parole board and let them know you served. They need to let you go.” He’s doing something that a lot of people would probably not put themselves in a situation to do that to help other people. 

Amanda Knox 

Do you think that your and his incarceration experience helped prepare you in any way for the challenges that we’re all facing?

Scott Lewis

Oh, no question about it. You know what they say; what doesn’t break you, will make you. When I first got sentenced, they gave me 240 years, and I was facing the death penalty. And over the course of time, I was able to break 240 years down to 120 years. And the judge had the nerve to say, “They cut 120 years off your sentence. You should feel fortunate for that.” I was still left with 120 years. I can’t believe this guy has the audacity to even say I should be happy that they reduced my sentence from 240 years to 120 years. It just made me a fighter. It just made me say to myself that I’m not going to allow anything to defeat me. It doesn’t mean that you don’t acknowledge the challenge as something real. But what it does mean is that sometimes challenges are put before you to test who you really are. I find myself reminding Nick about that. “Dude, the disease, you just have to fight it. You’re not gonna allow that disease to win. You’ve already been there.” Because he was sentenced to like 60 something years and he wasn’t supposed to make parole. He wasn’t innocent. But he made a mistake when he was young. And I told him, “You just have to find a way to pay that back to society. You owe it to the people that you harmed to make something out of yourself.” So I think that’s why he chose health care, because he’s in a position where he’s actually taking care of people now. I think he finds his strength and his purpose in doing that. I myself, I couldn’t do that. But whenever I face any type of challenge, I always draw back from that experience. There’s really not much worse that you can go through then that type of humiliation, especially, like you and I, being innocent people. That’s where I get my strength. And I’m sure Nick gets his from that same way.

Amanda Knox  

What advice would you give those people out there who are struggling through the pandemic and quarantine?

Scott Lewis 

Don’t look at the sickness from a negative perspective. If you look at the numbers, they’re saying over 80,000 cases and maybe 2000 deaths, right? Instead of highlighting the 2000 deaths, why don’t we look at the 78,000 people that have survived and build on that energy and give people a sense of hope that they can overcome it? It doesn’t mean you have to not pay attention to the people that are losing the case, but I think from a societal standpoint, we need to find ways to edify each other, not ways to give each other bad news. Tell me some good news. I want to hear about the 78,000 people that were able to survive. How were they able to survive it? 

Amanda Knox  

Did you ever become exposed to stories of wrongfully convicted people who survived and were freed while you were still fighting your case?

Scott Lewis  

I did. These were the keys to my freedom. I read the Rubin Hurricane Carter story. Reading that story actually gave me my legal basis or my roadmap. I won on a Brady issue, the same thing that he did. And what I learned from his story was not to be angry. In the very beginning of his incarceration, he was angry for like 10 of those years. And because he was angry, he wasn’t able to see how to get himself out of it. He was just so consumed with anger that he wasn’t able to see past the rage. When I picked that up, I said to myself, “I’m not going to be angry, because the anger is just gonna delay the justice that I’m heading toward.” 

Amanda Knox

To learn more about Mr. Lewis’ incredible story, watch 120 YEARS, an award-winning documentary about his devastating wrongful conviction and his fight from behind bars to win his freedom.  For updates about the film, check out 120yearsfilm.com, and look out for the film’s upcoming release on Amazon.