We lost a former prisoner this week. While it’s not nice, it’s not really surprising. Some of our friends behind bars are not in good health.
This death, however, was particularly troublesome for me. Could we have done more, or should we have done more? Not the kind of thing our consultant would want me publicly sharing in a week when we’re encouraging year-end gifts.
Yes, I’m struggling. You see, the world wasn’t supposed to be this way for Vivian.
Family and friendship structures that should have been there for her failed, and lies and hatred resulted in false claims of sexual misconduct.
A judicial system that allegedly presumes innocence and that should have been there for her failed, and she was found guilty and locked up for 28 years.
A state prison system that allegedly cares for the individual failed her, and she had to fight for appropriate medical care and compassion all the way.
A Parole Board that claims to be fair in considering all factors for release failed her, and denied freedom because she refused to admit guilt.
And even after her release, two years later due to serious health concerns, a private adult care facility, charged with caring for such individuals, failed her. Staff members in the cockroach-infested facility mistreated and abused her.
Lest I make this sound too dismal, there were a few rays of sunshine. Anne came into the prison system and the two women formed a meaningful, lasting friendship. HFP came on the scene a couple years ago at Anne’s request, trying to help where possible. And her daughter Dawn came to her side, and for the past several years became a tireless advocate for her mom.
Even when finally releasing Vivian this fall, the prison system couldn’t seem to do it right. I’ll not forget Dawn’s note to me: I am so angry right now that the staff couldn’t be bothered to make sure she wasn't cleaned enough to not cause her whole bottom and back and private area to be bright purple and sore. Almost like she wasn’t a person, so it wasn’t a big deal to let it get that bad. I know she was sick. But damn. I can't believe what I saw on her today. She shouldn’t have been neglected like this.
She finally got appropriate care in an appropriate facility, but death followed shortly. We lost Vivian on Tuesday. She was 63.
The problem is, there are many more behind bars in similar situations, and they may not have a friend or a daughter to help them bear the burden. That’s why it’s so very important for HFP to remain strong and healthy. That’s why it’s so important to tell this story. Says Dawn: There is nothing fair for her in this story. I could have kept her out of hospice and treated the symptoms she had, and she would have ended up back in that shit hole of a nursing home. People who go to prison do their time and are still punished afterwards. It’s not right! I will do whatever I can so another family doesn’t have to go through this.
In a day when we are seeing so much division, scorn and hatred, we must be people of faith and compassion, willing to speak up and insisting on humane treatment and care for those behind bars…willing to support people and agencies who carry on in this field. It’s not up to those guys. It’s up to us!
It’s what Dawn wants.
It’s what Jesus demanded.
May the story of Vivian serve as a constant reminder: There, but for the grace of God….