Maine State Prison Inmates Providing Hospice Care For Their Fellow Inmates 

According to the Maine Department of Corrections, nearly 20 percent of the inmates in Maine’s state prisons are over 50-years-old.But who takes care of them when they can no longer take care of themselves? The answer may come as a surprise to you. It’s a group of a dozen inmates who have trained as hospice volunteers to care for other terminally ill inmates and others who suffer from chronic disease.In 1987, Al Saunders was sent to the Maine State Prison as a murderer.Now, he’s providing invaluable end of life care to his fellow inmates as part of the prison’s hospice program that trains inmates to provide the much needed care.”I was with the original program when it started,” Saunders said.A two-day conference outlining the benefits of the program kicked off Tuesday. For Kandyce Powell, architect of the program, it’s been a 13-year odyssey trying to convince prison officials to give the inmates a shot.”Our population is aging in general and our prison population is a microcosm of that,” Powell said. “So we really need to get our arms around this and these men are remarkable”Twelve inmates, including Saunders and Kevin Knight, who’s serving 45 years for a 1990 accessory to murder conviction, now take part in the program that also provides music therapy to sick inmates.They also take care of inmates suffering from chronic diseases like Parkinson’s disease.”We take them out during the afternoons. Make sure they get out and get some air and see some inmates,” Knight said. “They have friends they want to meet too. If we go down there and they’re messy, they mess themselves, we’ll make sure they’re clean before we take them out.” It’s a program these men are fiercely protective of. They developed their own code of ethics and actually kicked two inmates out of the program for not living up to the code.”On the street, I was a businessman and was pretty successful at it,” Saunders said. “I actually have more satisfaction from what I do in here now than what I do on the street. It’s hard to believe you come in to prison and find a job or career that you’d enjoy even though the pay isn’t the same.”Inmates don’t get paid a dime and not one second of their sentence is shaved off for their efforts. So why do they do it?”We were young kids when we came in and we kind of took. And now this is an opportunity to kind of give back and actually feel human again,” Knight said. “And after you do it for so long in here the friends that you’ve made in here become pretty much family. So you want to take care of your family.”Powell says that by caring for their fellow inmates, these men have managed to find a piece of their own humanity.”If we don’t give these men and women a chance who are incarcerated to develop their potential and become who they really are inside we will never know if this kind of a program will work.”