Inmates Volunteer to Care

Inmates volunteer to care for terminally ill offenders in the prison program


The Associated Press
Statesman Journal

The first time Harvey Caron went to prison – seven years in a federal pen for flying marijuana out of Mexico – he spent all his spare time in the weight room. When he had done his time, he walked out bigger and badder.

When a cocaine deal in Roseburg went bad and he killed a man, Caron, 45, copped a plea on a reduced charge of murder and ended up here, in the Oregon State Penitentiary, for a life sentence rather than take a chance on death row. Instead of going to the weight room each day when he’s done with his prison job, he comes to the infirmary to pump himself up in a different way – helping a fellow lifer face a death sentence imposed by no judge or jury.

Caron is one of the 19. inmates – all but three of them convicted killers who have volunteered to care for the dying in the prison hospice.

His focus in life is to help Lou Miller; a convicted murderer himself, die with dignity from a brain tumor.

“I can’t change what I did, all I can do is live my life the best I can,” Caron said.

“I hope I make Lou’s last part of his life a little easier.”

Oregon alone expects 800 inmates to die behind bars over the next 45 years.

“A lot of these people don’t have any family who want to see them,” said William Cahall, health services manager at the state penitentiary. “This is our way of making sure they don’t die alone.”

With a mandate to provide medical care at the same level as outside the prison, Cahall put together a committee that looked at prison hospices around the country and created one here last April.

The most profound impact may be on the inmates who care for the dying. At the Texas Department of Corrections Michael Unit, the prison saw the number of violent episodes drop dramatically once they created a hospice with inmates caring for the dying.

“I don’t really understand why,” Calhoun said. “It just changed how that inmate population dealt with security.”

Fleet Maull, a convict who helped establish the federal prison hospice program and founded the National Prison Hospice Association, said the hospice restores humanity, by giving guards and inmates permission to care.

“They begin to feel, `We are a community that takes care of ourselves. We don’t just let our guys die with nobody taking care of them,'” he said.

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