Sunday, March 6, 2011

Dying and Doing Time: Hospice Prison Documentary - "Prison Terminal"

"Each year more than 3000 men and women die in U.S. prisons."

"It is estimated that 20% of the U.S. prison population will be elderly by 2025."

These are the sobering figures presented at the end of one of the trailers of Prison Terminal, a documentary about the prison hospice in the Iowa State Penitentiary, where inmates care for their own terminally ill. The film, directed and edited by Edgar Barens, spans a 6-month time period, and follows the lives of the patients, inmate volunteers, and staff. Here's one of the trailers (it starts after the first 15 seconds).


Prison Terminal is nearing completion, but needs some money to finish the project. Edgar started a fundraising campaign on Kickstarter March 1st, so if you want to see the full length film, consider a donation. By the way, the very cool thing about Kickstarter is that the money doesn't leave your pocket unless the project reaches its fundraising goal in the specified timeframe. So if, you want to be a part of seeing this project through, please do so by clicking here by Friday, April 15th.

This powerful story while being about the experience of dying and caring for the dying in prison, also makes me think of all kinds of important topics for our field and our country, like

- How we will cope with an ever-growing prison population, especially with increased health needs and costs of elderly inmates?

- Compassionate release is not the norm, but even if it becomes more frequent, how will inmates access health care after their release?

- How can we provide compassionate care to those who are dying in the prison system, or support the hospice initiatives that start on the inside?

- How can we help families have increased contact with the dying inmates?

- What are the special psychosocial, emotional, and spiritual needs of dying prisoners and their families?

- What is the best way to train the inmate volunteers, and what kind of bereavement care do they need afterwards?

Or something that I have struggled with in some of my palliative consultations for hospitalized inmates returning to prison...

- How should I change my prescribing practices to fit the correctional facility health care systems? (For example, no PRN doses of pain medications between certain hours at night because of lack of medical staff. Another example, no fentanyl patches allowed, because they could be removed and used by other inmates.)

Inmate Hospice Volunteers: Bertram Berkett, Michael Glover, Michael Williams, Charles Watkins

The Prison Terminal website has links to many interesting essays, and the National Prison Hospice Association has links on their site to articles which address a few of these questions.

One other interesting note, Edgar Barens has made two other films, the first, Angola Prison Hospice: Opening the Door, many Pallimed readers may be familiar with. The second, A Sentence of Their Own, is a documentary about a family impacted by one member's incarceration.

Usually a documentary is not just a story, it is an attempt to instigate cultural and societal change, something us hospice and palliative care types embrace wholeheartedly. So, in the spirit of providing compassionate, patient-centered care for everyone who suffers from serious illness, please visit the website, comment on this post, like or share the Vimeo videos, donate to get the movie finished (and maybe even get your own copy), and discuss it with your colleagues, family, and friends.

The more we spread the word about Hospice and Palliative Medicine, whether inside the walls of a prison or outside, through whatever platform we choose, whether it be social media, movies, radio, TV, print, or old-fashioned conversation, the more the public understands the value of what we do.

You can find Edgar and more on Prison Terminal at the website, Facebook and Twitter (@prisonterminal) and of course Kickstarter (where you can donate to the project).
(Edited: Updateed the video embed 12/21/2013)

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