Monday, February 15, 2010
Prison Inmate Hospice Volunteers: Iowa State Penitentiary
Each year, more than 3,000 men and women die in prisons. It is estimated that 20% of America’s prison population will be elderly by 2025. Many will eventually need quality end-of-life care. Some will ask, “So what? Did these prisoners treat their victims with dignity? Why be concerned about their death journeys?” One response is that people are more than the worst things they ever did. Another is that society should be held to a higher standard of treating prisoners better than they treated victims. At several prisons, inmate hospice volunteers are providing comfort to terminally ill inmates.
“Sail to Serenity” by Edgar Barens is the hospice prison program at the Iowa State Penitentiary. Some patients may no longer have attentive relationships beyond prison walls. Many serving life sentences, including some who are hospice volunteers, know they will die in confinement. Nurturing support given by familiar faces of those who have also experienced the prison system can enhance prisoners’ quality of life during the dying process.