The subject of death is surrounding me these days. At age 83, it’s bound to happen.
Friends are dying, peers are dying, my friends’ loved ones are dying. I catch a common cold, my tired old body tries to fight it off, and those close to me wonder if I’m going to be OK.
But that’s not the death I’m talking about.
I’m in the prisoner advocacy business, and death is a different ball game when it involves prisoners.
We’ve been frantically working this week to try to help Allen, who at the age of 33 is dying. The jury is out whether the state treated his earlier cancer properly, and if anyone is to blame. Makes no difference now. The cancer is back, it has spread, and it won’t stop.
In my 20+ years in this business, I’ve discovered two things that prisoners dread: dying in Duane L. Waters Health Center (the shameful prison hospital in Jackson); or, just dying in prison.
We’ve mobilized a team of staff, volunteers, family and friends this week, hoping to allay those fears by Allen. In his email message to me today, he said: “I’m not doing so well. My jaw has swollen to the point I can’t chew which means liquid diet..and weight loss. I’ve been in the bed ‘cause I’ve had a constant headache. I’m on morphine and that’s not stopping the pain, so I’m fighting, so please keep praying and fighting for me.”
It brings back so many memories.
-When HFP first got started, a weeping little black girl came to me asking if I could get her daddy out to die at home. There was no hope for victory in that one…he died two weeks later.
-The wife of a dying inmate called us, nearly hysterical, after going to prison for one final visit, only to learn that her husband had been transferred…no one would say where to!
-Our friend David was in a coma, dying in a northern Michigan hospital, still shackled to his bed (wouldn’t want him to escape!), and his parents were denied a visit.
I could fill a page with these stories. But my point is, when death involves prisoners, it’s a completely different story.
I’m hurting today. I’m hurting for Allen, for his mom, and for all the others in similar situations. More than 100 prisoners a year die in our Michigan system, and that number is only going to increase because our population is getting older.
We’re pulling every available string, hoping that Allen’s final hours may be spent with loved ones. That’s what you and I long for…it’s no different for the incarcerated.