Friday, May 18, 2018

From Convicted Murder to Hospice Worker -- Compassion in Prisons

"Most prisons were never built to be nursing homes. Correctional officers often aren’t equipped with the necessary training, and medical staff can be spread thin. Here at the California Medical Facility, that’s where men like Lyman, Saephanh and Murillo come in. They are part of a cohort of about two dozen men called the Pastoral Care Service Workers. Most of them are convicted murderers serving life sentences who have been granted an unusual role: providing dignified deaths to their fellow inmates," reports the New York Times.

"A job in the hospice is not easy to come by. To qualify, Lyman and the others first have to pass a series of interviews and disciplinary checks and agree to random drug tests. They do 70 hours of preliminary training in the psychological and spiritual dynamics of end-of-life care, bedside etiquette and the bereavement process. But the real education comes with the patients. Keith Knauf, a Presbyterian chaplain who oversees the program, believes that caring for the dying teaches compassion and changes these men in profound ways. Of some 250 workers who have been released from prison since the program began, he says, none has returned for a felony and only three have returned for minor parole offenses. Knauf’s estimates put the program’s recidivism rate at 1.2 percent. Nationally, around 25 percent of federal inmates return to prison within eight years."

"Seven days a week, the workers pull 10- to 15-hour shifts, often longer. It’s one of the lowest paid jobs available, making just 15 to 32 cents an hour. They brush patients’ teeth, massage sore limbs, read books out loud, strip soiled mattresses and assist the medical staff. Trust is a rare currency in prison, and some patients whisper conspiracies that the hospice doctors and nurses prioritize the interests of the criminal-justice system over their well-being. The workers can serve as the trusted middlemen between the patients and medical staff. When patients are in their final hours, it is the workers who sit bedside, holding round-the-clock vigils. They pride themselves on their policy: No prisoner here dies alone."

--Excerpted from The New York Times

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