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Louisiana-Mississippi Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (LMHPCO)
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."
-- Martin Luther King, Jr. "Letter from Birmingham Jail"
I first learned of the prison hospice program on a long drive home. Riveted by the story unfolding on NPR, I felt compelled to investigate. My research led me to The Louisiana-Mississippi Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, whose mission is as follows:
The Louisiana-Mississippi Hospice and Palliative Care Organization exists to ensure the continued development of hospice and palliative care services in Louisiana and Mississippi. LMHPCO provides public awareness, education and technical assistance regarding end-of-life care, as well as advocacy for terminally ill and bereaved persons, striving to continually improve the quality of end-of-life care in Louisiana and Mississippi.
The Louisiana-Mississippi Hospice and Palliative Care Organization supports hospice programs in six prisons, five in Louisiana and one in Mississippi. The Executive Director, Jamey Boudreaux, invited me to visit Angola and I quickly took him up on his offer. Seeing it for the first time in September, 2014, I realized that this program would be an easy fit for the Kelly Ann Brown Foundation. Kelly was always so forgiving of others in the worst of circumstances and was always compassionate. This program exemplifies compassion in the face of an unjust judicial system. While many of these men are guilty of their crimes, punishment is distributed with grave inequality in the United States. Louisiana has the strictest sentencing laws in the nation, which is why I chose to focus on the prison here. Over 5,000 of the current inmates at Angola prison will never leave. In fact, more people will be buried in Angola than will walk out its doors. My mom always says that everyone is connected. Whatever happens anywhere affects us all, even with people that are never getting out of prison.
LMHPCO provides educational support to both staff and inmates. Jamey Boudreaux told me that the last time he was at Angola, Warden Burl Cain said that the hospice program is largely responsible for the positive changes at what used to be the bloodiest prison in the United States. Hospice has not only changed the relationships between prisoners, but also the relationships between guards and prisoners. Six months passed without a fight breaking out. The compassion and humanity of hospice care isn’t contained to just the dying, it has spread through Angola.
David Brown Steward
Click here to learn more about LMHPCO.
The following is from a lovely letter written by Jamey Boudreaux, the Executive Director of LMHPCO, describing his experience with prison hospice programs:
I had no idea as what to expect the first time I walked into the Louisiana State Penitentiary. As Executive Director of the state hospice association, I was told that Warden Burl Cain had initiated a hospice program within his prison and inmates were directly involved in delivery of care to terminally ill inmates within that facility. The thought of inmates trained as hospice volunteers both intrigued and frightened me. All my life, I had heard horror stories about Angola, and now as a spokesperson for hospice care in Louisiana, I shuddered to think that I might be called upon to defend the integrity of hospice because of what might happen within this correctional facility.
However, as soon as I passed through the Front Gate of the 18,000 acre facility, housing 5,108 inmates, I knew there was something different about this place. The inmates were not as I had imagined them, as often portrayed in the media and on television; they were friendly and curious about LMHPCO’s work to improve hospice services throughout the state. They were interested and excited to learn that they were part of a national movement to improve care for the dying. They had found purpose and a sense of redemption in their volunteer work with their patients and one another and I found an example of hospice–at its best! Here is an example of something I had only read of in our history: a true volunteer hospice program—practicing fundamental principles of compassion and care at the end-of-life, without any consideration of compensation or reimbursement. It reminded me of the origins of the hospice movement, established over 35 years ago…and just as the hospice movement had impacted institutional dying in this country, so too this prison hospice program had helped to transform this correctional institution from being one of the “bloodiest prisons in America” into a national model for corrections.
Since my initial introduction, the Angola Hospice was awarded the Circle of Life from the American Hospital Association for “their outstanding innovations and commitment” to improving end-of-life care and licensed by the Louisiana Department of Health. The LMHPCO Board of Directors extended membership and support to “any and all hospice programs within corrections” and that encouragement has resulted in 6 additional Louisiana Correctional facilities launching their own hospice initiatives. In September 2006, LMHPCO held our first week-long hospice volunteer training at Angola, attended by 119 inmates from five state male correctional facilities throughout Louisiana. In March 2007, the program was repeated in the women’s facility (LCIW) at St Gabriel, LA. In April 2008, the LMHPCO Board of Directors held their quarterly Board Meeting at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, Mississippi, in order to meet with prison administrators and plan for the initiation of hospice services within that facility in 2009. In March of 2012, LMHPCO presented the second Louisiana Prison Hospice Volunteer Conference at Angola. For the first time, hospice volunteers from LCIW (Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women) were included in this statewide, week-long inmate volunteer conference. LMHPCO is also committed to providing educational support to hospice professionals, working within correctional facilities in Louisiana and Mississippi.
Hospice within corrections is important because it provides those of us practicing hospice in the “free world” with a memory of our hospice origins, as well as a reminder of what becomes possible, when we care about the end of life. Before there were hospice reimbursements and corporate models of end-of-life healthcare, hospice was a bold alternative to institutional dying in this country—a volunteer movement, committed to ensuring compassion and presence at the end-of-life. The inmate hospice volunteers across this country are a constant example and reminder to our “better angels” in service to one another, especially at the end of life.
Louisiana-Mississippi Hospice & Palliative Care Organization