ST. CLAIR NEWS - New Hospice program

Dignity and hope

St. Clair Correctional Facility inmates find redemption in helping others deal with terminal illness

By Kyle Shelton 11-07-2002 

These inmates will be the first to serve terminally ill patients in the St. Clair County Correctional Facility.
Courtesy of State Department of Corrections

They have been sentenced by a court of law to serve time in the St. Clair Correctional Facility, but they grasp for something better even as they grasp the hand of the terminally ill.

In helping those who are dying spend their last days with dignity, the 20 inmates that graduated to become the first hospice workers at the prison last week will find dignity themselves.

Warden Ralph Hooks said their reach doesn't exceed their grasp, that they can find a accomplish more than just being imprisoned.

"For may years many of you have only taken," he told the graduating class. "Now it's time for you to give back and we appreciate your volunteering."

Alabama Prison Commissioner Mike Haley echoed Hooks sentiments, but told the inmates they were not just volunteering for a worthy cause. He told them they were, in fact, servants of hope for the inmates who will get their services.

"At this point in time you guys may be the most courageous men in the state of Alabama," he said. "It takes a strong man to be a servant to his fellow man, to look beyond himself into the heart of another person. You will give comfort to the uncomfortable and bring a glimmer of hope to those lost in a sea of hopelessness."

The program, according to Jackie Palmore, Director of Hospice and Pallative Care, is the second in the state.

The first program was began at Hamilton A&I in July.

"The prison hospice program is formatted and based on the same standards as a community hospice program," she said. "The goal is to promote quality, comprehensive health care services utilizing a holistic team approach to deal with the physical, social, spiritual and emotional aspects of death and dying."

The inmates approved for the program are heavily screened and take a 36-hour training course before taking on hospice duties, she said.

Along with inmates suffering from terminal illness, the workers, Palmore and others will also help families cope with the terminal illness of their loved one, Palmore said.

"Because bereavement is so important, we treat the family as well," she said.

The program came about as a way to address a combination of issues, according to Haley.

"We do have an aging population and there is also a greater awareness of terminal illness in the system and the need to provide comfort to those persons who are terminally ill," Haley said. "Regardless of who they are, it's the right thing to do."

Inmate Willie Toyer, who graduated with the first hospice class at St. Clair last Wednesday agreed, but expanded the concept of hospice care outside the prison walls.

"Love and life don't stop because of imprisonment," he said. "Hospice should be like a lifestyle that we should all strive for. People are leaving â€" going out of this world â€" and you want a person to leave with dignity. It's really a wonderful opportunity for us to give back to society."

The graduates were: Jerome Bass, Michael Betts, Paul Black, Alexander Brown, Eddie Baskett, Greg Brown, Dwain Daniel, Billy Davis, Floyd Derking, Nathan Garrison, Greg Harkness, Thomas Hyde, Cedric Isom, James Maxwell, Jeremy Smith, Charles Stanley, Willie
Toyer, Robert Woods and Derek Wright.

The hospice programs are administered at the state prisons by NaphCare of Birmingham. A third hospice program is currently planned for the state facility in Limestone County.