I highly doubt that many people would associate the word compassion with criminal — what a paradox! After all, people are not in prison for committing remarkable acts of kindness. No, we are here for doing just the opposite: victimizing people and leaving immeasurable damage and psychological trauma in the aftermath. But what if I told you some of the most selfless acts of altruism occur right here in prison? What would you say if I told you there are men in prison who volunteer their time for no other reason than to help those who can’t help themselves during the last days of their lives feel some sense of comfort and dignity before they depart this earth? Yes, I’m talking about the inmate hospice program.
Years ago I was offered to participate in the inmate hospice volunteer program. I was surprised to learn that such a thing even existed. However, I declined the offer because, well, I was afraid. I was afraid to be that close to death. Nonetheless, I was still intrigued to hear more about the program, so I asked the man who offered me a position (an inmate) for a briefing of the program — he obliged.
He informed me that there were six inmate volunteers who had been trained by medical staff in hospice care, and each inmate was assigned to care for one inmate at a time. This was to ensure that each inmate under hospice care would receive the attention required to properly care for these individuals.
Duties included getting their meals, helping to clothe those who needed it, helping feed them if necessary, walking them to the shower, phone, and their bed. But the most critical aspect of their job, he told me, was to be a good friend to these men; to listen to them, sit by their bedside, tell them stories, read to them, and simply comfort them as they battled each day with their terminal illness. Oh, by the way, the man who gave me all of this information was one of the longest standing volunteers in the program who also was serving a life sentence — no, not 25 to life, but life without parole! I intuitively wondered what compelled him to devote so much of his time to nurture and care for men who wouldn’t even be around much longer; these weren’t his friends. Thankfully, he spared me having to ask what compelled him to do this service — he just offered it. He told me plainly, “I’d hope someone would do it for me.” Just like that. Pretty straight forward and rational if you ask me.
Recently, another man (now at a different prison) told his story of being a volunteer in the hospice program here. He, also, is serving a life sentence and has been incarcerated for nearly 30 years! Most people would justifiably assume this man has either done something heinous to get that much time, or if not would certainly be one of the hardest criminals in the system after having served that much time. The former I am not privy to; the latter he is not. What he is, however, is a man who believes that helping people who can’t help themselves is the right thing to do. But back too his story.
He told us (a college class) how he had taken care of a young man in hospice who had been afflicted with a disease that had ravaged his body and was surely to end the man’s life soon. The young man’s family sought a rare pardon from the governor under a provision that allows such pardons under these rare circumstances, thus allowing the terminally ill inmate to pass away at home, with family. Elated when the Department of Corrections agreed to this petition and the governor willing and ready to sign, the inmate worker celebrated the news with his friend who would soon leave to be with his family. But this was not what happened. It turned out that as soon as the victim’s mother was informed this was happening, she vociferously protested to the governor, essentially forcing the governor to deny the request. Her rationale was also straightfoward: she wanted this young man’s family to “suffer” the way she did when he killed her son. So the young man’s family did as she wished — they suffered the death of their loved one while incarcerated.
The inmate who gave this account choked up as he recollected this heart wrenching experience. Clearly, this affected him in a profound way. How could it not? He cared for this young man while on his death bed and thought he would be able to be with his family in those final precious days, hours, and minutes. I’m not going to comment on the morality or justifiability of the pained mother’s rationale to deny this man the luxury of being with his family in his last days — I have no place. I will just say that had it not been for the sacrifice and good will of his inmate hospice volunteer, this young man would have left this earth being denied the most essential need we all have: the comfort of human compassion.
Martin Lockett is serving a 17 1/2 year sentence for a tragic car accident. Martin has substantially turned his life around by completing his Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology, published his first book and is currently working on his Masters in Psychology. Martin plans to counsel at risk youth when he is released. He hopes his insight, thoughts and experiences from prison will help those who have a loved one incarcerated or someone facing prison time.
To read more about Martin, CLICK HERE
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