“Each human should die in the sight of a loving face,” Mother Theresa.
Our heart breaks every time we hear about another death behind bars with no loving face in sight. Over the past 20 years we have seen so many situations that could have been different, could have been better, kinder, more humane.
Here in Michigan, because we keep our prisoners behind bars for so long, our population is aging, and that means more will die while incarcerated. Traditionally our state has 75-80 inmates who are 80 and older! Some are in wheelchairs. Some on oxygen. What could possibly be the purpose in keeping these oldsters locked up? Does anyone really think they’re going to reoffend? Besides that, the cost of caring for these people is double or triple the normal expense. Ah, well...preaching to the choir, I know.
What I’m leading up to here, is a discussion about how to lend a little more dignity to the situation.
Each year, some 4,000 people die in state prisons...more than 100 right here in Michigan. The situation got a bit worse in 2021 because we lost 32 prisoners due to COVID-related issues. While some lives are lost due to criminal action behind bars, many die from natural causes. And, each year there are a few cases where a person dies alone, whose friends and loved ones either don’t care or are no longer in existence. Their remains get buried in a private prison cemetery in Jackson called Cherry Hill, and they are forgotten.
I have long thought that we should have an annual service early in the year specifically honoring those prisoners, much like we honor the “unknown soldier.” But our caring team thinks we should do more, perhaps expanding our effort to holding a memorial service for all Michigan inmates who died the previous year.
Perhaps am “all-faith” service involving not only Catholic and Protestant clergy, but an imam and a rabbi as well? Where to hold it? Who to invite?
Louise Reichert, author of that wonderful publication THE PRISONER’S PRAYER BOOK, is keeping the pressure on, and it is my goal to do something about it. We’re pleased to have added a former prison chaplain to our Board of Directors who has promised to help. The idea is not going to fade away. My promise.
Your thoughts, ideas and suggestions are welcome.
One thing is certain: We must do better.