An interview with Christopher Scarver, discussing his books of poetry, his time in solitary confinement, and his opinions on American prison reform and rehabilitation.

Salvation Lay Within: An Interview with Christopher Scarver

By: Athena Williams 




Athena: Let’s get right into it, and talk about your books of poetry.  I found you through an article on well-known incarcerated African-American writers.  That’s pretty exciting, becoming a published poet.  Did you write poetry before your incarceration?

Christopher: No, I did not write poetry prior to prison, but I did write a few hooks and bars to songs that I never had the focus to finish.


Athena: You spent such a long time in segregation.  It’s filled with a lot of sensory deprivation and it can easily break people mentally and physically.  What kept you going through all the years you were in isolation?

Christopher: I am not completely sure what got me through those many long years in administrative segregation (AKA lockdown/The Hole).  I read a lot of books.  The books I owned were my best friends.  Most of them were self-help based.  They shaped my view on life, my personal being, people (in general) but most importantly - they altered my beliefs about what is and is not possible - what I, personally, am capable of, as well as how to become more capable - and why I should become so.  Certain aphorisms and axioms also helped.  In a way, it could have been the vague nebulous words that came to mind, spontaneously, periodically, during that hole/seg time that got me through it, because I got a little mail every now and then but nothing as interesting as what came through that vague nebula.  To another person, those same words would’ve meant nothing but they were to me, so profound that I began to write them down.  It was like I had another source of mail, “mental mail,” or messages from outside my cell.  Or it was like I was on a deserted island and every now and then, the tide would bring in a few pieces or scraps (flotsam) in the form of a word here, a phrase there, or a nebulous emotional distraction.  My job was to take the time to collect them and store them.  Otherwise, the tide of forgetfulness would drag them back out to sea, to never be found again.  If these pieces had texture and/or resonance, or otherwise appealed to some aesthetic sensor within, that was all I needed to be moved to pull them out of the mental world and into the physical.  I did not know back then how these pieces would come together, nor how they would be published.  I just collected them.  I know now that those pieces of “flotsam” attracted to themselves their relevant parts and that poetry, art, etc. create themselves by drifting towards receptive minds, and/or minds that can see their value.  With those scrapped pieces periodically floating in, in a sense I was unconsciously building or crafting a raft to float off of that deserted island of isolation. I guess I made it (made that raft and made it off that island), because I am no longer in that hole.


Athena: I’m opposed to ridiculously long sentencing, and you have a ridiculously long sentence.  When we take a look at the current European model of incarceration, and their focus on redemption and rehabilitation- as well as capping sentences - we see they’ve had success and a much lower rate of recidivism.  It’s working.  We could have that in America too, we are the greatest country in the world, after all.  What do you believe can be done to combat your long sentence so you are able to live your life as a free man?

Christopher: As far as America's long and excessive prison sentences versus the intelligent use of prison time seen in Europe, I’d say Europe cares more about people (all people) than America does.  America only “talks” about “freedom,” “liberty,” “one nation,” “equality,” “e. pluribus unum,” “equal justice,” “justice for all” but it never meant any of that.  There was never a time in America where these words were true for minorities or women - or all U.S. Citizens at one time.  Those who benefit from the existence of prisons in America control the politicians and the these politicians (on both sides of the political spectrum) refuse to allow prisoners to even have our loved ones purchase the #1 modern tool necessary for self-education, self-therapy (I.E. effective/real rehabilitation.)  That tool is the laptop computer.  This computer (with the proper educational, therapeutic, and vocational apps, programs/software) would save each state tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars annually.  Though some states do allow prisoners to have computers, these computers are mainly for entertainment.  They deliver music and video games at 200%-400% of what the public pays for it while banning self-educational, therapeutic, and vocational apps, software/programs.  The reason why is as I write in my book, “A MIND IS A TERRIBLE THING TO WASTE,” 

pg. 47 - “Prison is America’s counter-intelligence program.”

pg. 123 - “Prison is the industry that ignorance built.  Crime can only grow out of ignorance.”

Colorado legislators (and legislators in other states that have banned such basic modern educational tools) should be thoroughly investigated to determine if they have been compromised or corrupted by lobbyists, such ALEC (The American Legislative Exchange Commission), which is a conglomeration of corporations represented by a mass of lobbyists both of which draft their own legislation - and many times their legislation is against the good of the common American people.  To answer your question about what can be done to combat long sentences in America, I would say read section 4 in the aforementioned book.  That section is titled: “HOW THE AMERICAN PRISON SYSTEM SHOULD WORK.”  That is a blueprint that will solve many societal problems at the same time.  Without intelligent preparation, prisoners will only get out and come right back.  What is written in that section and other parts of the book will guard against such recidivism.  Take this info, make a list of demands for such a National Prison Rehabilitation Program (which would amount to a Prisoners’ Bill of Rights proposal.  Then arrange a March on Washington.  A “Free My Family Members March,” or “Rehabilitate and Return Our Loved Ones March,” “Set My Uncle Free,” “Set My Aunt Free,” “Set My Friend Free,” “Set My Sister Free,” “Set My Brother Free,” and “Set My Father Free” is what some of the picket signs will say.)  It should be timed for Biden’s 2nd term or his Democratic successor’s OR for the end of this term, if he loses the 2024 election.  It would probably take that long to set up.


Athena: What current issues are affecting you and fellow prisoners the most during incarceration? 

Christopher: Current issues prisoners are facing now are listed in that book.  To be brief, we are barred from the tools to improve and uplift ourselves in meaningful ways.  As I said, prison is a counter-intelligence program.


Athena: There are a lot of activists out here who want to help.  We see what’s going on in the judicial system and we hear the government promise to make a change, but they don’t put their money where their mouth is.  Now is the time.  I’ll say it until I’m blue in the face - the system is designed to enslave, rob, and kill African-Americans.  As more and more people become woke and we learn as a society what’s really happening, we can band together to make a difference.  What are some ways you would suggest people out here who are just jumping on board can help others and take an active role in making a change?

Christopher: I would suggest communities, particularly Churches, Mosques, etc. find a way to take over their state’s prison systems and educate their own respective people.  In this way they can take an active part in what kinds of people are returning to their communities from prison.  Instead of leaving it in the hands of people (I.E. prison officials) who are not from their communities and who want prisoners to return to prison, to ensure their job security.


Athena: If you were released in the near future, would you take any part in Black Lives Matter activism?  What are your thoughts on the death of George Floyd (rest in peace) and the protests that followed?

Christopher: Yes, I would be involved in the struggle if I or when I get out but my part in it would likely be aimed at people who look like me who think and act like black lives don’t matter before they get themselves locked up. These are the types of people I’ve served time with. Some of us, in here, need to address the fact that these immature selfish ones are sabotaging our struggle. My struggle is to get all of us easier access to the tools to improve our lives - ON DEMAND but as they say - “you can lead a horse to water…”

We can’t make anyone do anything they don’t want to do.  At least not without violent confrontation, and that’s not an option for me.  Sometimes the hard headed humans have to go to hell to see the light and/or feel the heat before they can wake up, and act with intelligence.  My personal focus would be on starting and finishing college, so that I can solve some engineering and economical problems.

What happened to George Floyd was out of order, of course.  At the same time, such violence and worse takes place too often in this country because, as a people, we don’t know how we fit together. We don’t know what to do with the money and other resources that we do have. We have the power to improve society and all of our lives, simultaneously, but that power is misappropriated. We waste time. We waste money. We waste energy. We think too small. We have enough money, collectively, to purchase whole blocks, towns and cities and the police ourselves but the collective thoughts on such topics is, “that sounds like too much work,” so we suffer because we fail to act scientifically. As I said in that book, the HBCUs could help solve some of these problems simply by formulating some correspondence college courses for those of us who can’t go to their college campuses because many of us are locked in prison and can’t get free and some of us who are free, just don’t have the funds to attend the sad part of it is when some of us are released, there’s going to be some more tragedies created due to such neglect from minority leaders in government, the clergy, and educational institutions by now you think they’d realize that their own loved ones could very well be the victims of such unprepared ex-convicts.


Athena: I’ve been thinking a lot about how separated prisoners are from the outside world.  I remember asking you how we e-message back and forth, to make our correspondence easier and you explained to me that it wasn't available.  And that lack of contact is so different from a world of instant communication.  Do you think prisoners are kept back from socialization purely as a punitive measure?

Christopher: In this particular prison system, prisoners are denied emailing because the officials can not figure out a way to get a bigger cut from the profits made by such communication.  They are greedy and selfish.


Athena: All right, we’ll do a tougher one.  You know my stance on the exploitation of true crime and how often people promote negative stories of people incarcerated - especially people of color.  I remember reading a story in the newspaper about a white affluent family complaining that their son said he was being picked on by the other prisoners for running up debts. The article didn’t outright say it, but it heavily painted a picture of the other prisoners being people of color.  The photo in the article was one of the affluent white family’s mansion and beautiful lawn.  And we never see articles from the other side, where are the articles about how people of color are being treated and persecuted in prison?  I also have taken note of the constant focus on the same white racist/sexist killers from 30 or more years ago over and over again.  I find this incredibly offensive to the families of their victims, and it’s harmful for our society’s mental health.  What’s it been like for you, getting mail from journalists or people seeking to exploit your own situation and case so they can make money off of other people’s tragedies?

Christopher: People who contact me from the outside who want something from me without reciprocation make it bad for those who may have been sincere - because I’ve heard it all but can’t always distinguish who is who.  They clog up the mail.  I’m not into quantity when it comes to people.  The qualitative aspects of human interaction is what is important - but I can’t get that due to the riff-raff writing.  Sometimes, I’m compelled to throw it all in the trash.


Athena: You’re viewed by many people who see you as emerging from the dark dungeon of isolation as a literary hero and prisoners’ rights activist.  It goes to show we all have extraordinary gifts and talents within to do good things.  What’s next for you in the literary world?  Any new poetry books we can look forward to?  And what do you see as your ultimate goal from sharing your talent as a poet with the world?

Christopher:  I am being pulled into a more introspective existence lately.  I don’t think I’m going to be doing any more art or writing for a long time.  I did intend to write a book this year, but I have to attend to something else.


Christopher is currently serving Life imprisonment without parole (3 life terms) in Colorado for the murders of Steve Lohman, Jesse Anderson, and Jeffrey Dahmer.


You may purchase his books on Amazon, Abe Books, Ebay and visit his website at:

Submitted: August 15, 2021

© Copyright 2023 athena williams. All rights reserved.

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