Steve Carpentier, an inmate at the Maine State Prison stills sees the face in his dreams: a dying inmate at the hospice care unit at the prison crying out that he was drowning. “I just grabbed my arms around him and called him by his first name. I said, ‘I gotcha. I’m not gonna let you drown.’ A smile came across the dying man’s face”. Carpentier, along with other violent offenders volunteers for hospice duty at the state’s maximum security prison. They are finding within themselves an untapped supply of empathy by caring for fellow inmates who are dying. The program in Maine is part of a trend at prisons across the country where inmate populations are aging along with the rest of America.
In Maine, the hospice program uses therapy dogs and soothing music to help inmates in the final days of their lives. All prison volunteers are trained and certified in hospice care. Nathan Roy, an inmate who volunteers at the hospice unit says, “I don’t think anyone should die in prison. That’s just wrong. But it is what it is and you can’t change that. So the best that we can offer is the opportunity for the person to pass with dignity and respect and a companion and compassion.”
Kandyce Powell, executive director of the Maine Hospice Council is the brainchild of the program. She has found that the inmates caring for their fellow inmates learn a lot about themselves in the process. “By providing care for another human being, what they’ve found is they’ve plumbed the depth of their own humanity and they found that person – that tender, caring, gentle person – that they just didn’t allow to surface before,” she says.
Deputy warden for programs, Michael Tausek, said the program has been a win for the dying inmates, the prison staff, and the hospice volunteers. He believes society could be a winner as well – inmates who develop a sense of empathy are less likely to reoffend. The volunteers have been changed by what they’ve seen. Carpentier said the images are in his memory forever. He acknowledges the care is difficult, but he know’s he’s making a difference for the inmates.
“I still see that man’s face every now and again when I’m sleeping. And I see that smile. It really touches the heart,” he said…….. San Francisco Chronicle 2/16/14