Saw an amazing photography show this morning. Lori Waselchuk chronicles a program at a maximum security prison. The exhibit flyer says, “A life sentence in Louisiana means life. More than 85% of the 5,100 inmates imprisoned at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola are expected to die there. Until the hospice program was created in 1998, most prisoners died alone.”
The inmates who work in the hospice program are pictured caring for others and keeping a 24-hour watch when someone is near death. They “go to great lengths to ensure that their fellow inmate does not die alone.”
I don’t want to be a pollyanna about this (I can see that some patients are still so susceptible to violent outbursts that volunteers may visit them only by speaking through a small window), but I am interested that many of the hospice workers discover a new side of themselves. George Brown, 49, says, “The most important thing I have learned as a hospice volunteer is that I have a heart and it has feelings.” Sometimes the guards find a new attitude in themselves, too. The flyer adds that the show, Grace Before Dying, “reflects how grace offers hope that our lives need not be defined by our worst acts.” Read about it here.
I have heard about one or two similar prison programs. Here is a piece about the Yoga Prison Project , started at San Quentin in California. And here is a movie about a prison meditation project called Dhamma Brothers.
My second cousin Alex was so energized by teaching meditation in a Boston prison that she is now entering a graduate program to gain more skills.