As part of my training to become a Catholic Deacon, I spent time one summer working with a local hospice organization. I joined along with a hospice worker as he made his home visits. Before he even spoke a word, I could see that just his presence brought comfort to the patients. Hospice workers and ministers of all faiths help perform this work of mercy to the dying in order that they may die with dignity and to provide comfort to the family.
As a minister, or a hospice worker, you have an opportunity to experience moments with patients and their families that can have lasting impact on how they manage the impending loss of their loved one. This experience can also greatly affect the life of the workers themselves.
When we think of hospice, the above family scenario is what most people envision. However, death is also a part of life for those who are incarcerated.
Louisiana has an aging prison population. Seven percent of inmates are over the age of 60. Most people don’t realize it, but people are in need of hospice care in prison too. Louisiana-Mississippi Hospice and Palliative Care Organization has been training inmates at Angola for years to provide this service to dying inmates. These inmates have been providing this service without any promise of release or any reduction in sentence. I spoke with a parolee who provided this service while incarcerated at Angola. He told me that since he wasn’t able to contact the victim’s family to express his remorse, he used his work as a hospice worker to make reparations for the wrong and hurt he caused to the victim and their family. This was his way of giving back. This program provides something to these men that just can’t be taught in a class. It brings light and hope to a dark place for both the patient and the hospice worker.
Rep. Katrina Jackson sponsored HB 431, which would allow persons who were trained in the Angola Hospice Program to provide this service after they are released. Once certified, the persons would have to apply to a hospice provider and be employed by the provider. Once employed, the provider would have to make a disclosure to patients.
On Monday, May 6, 2019, the bill overwhelmingly passed in the House and now moves to the Senate for approval there. This bill removes a barrier for those who want to continue providing this service after they are released to parole supervision. It gives them the opportunity to continue their good work and earn a living wage.
What a great opportunity the Louisiana Department of Corrections (DOC) is providing to develop character and foster rehabilitation and redemption. We want people to leave prison better than they arrived. This program is a big step in the right direction. Thanks to DOC and Rep. Katrina Jackson for creating this opportunity and pending the bill’s successful passage, removing a barrier to re-entry.