Prison hospice worth discussion

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Hannah Delzell
CONTRIBUTOR

Death is a word that brings mixed emotions for many. In America, death is not a topic that is welcomed in day-to-day conversation. It can be viewed as a weakness even though it is completely inevitable.

On February 19, the University of Nebraska at Omaha held a special screening of the movie, “Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall,” and it was followed with a guest panel discussion that focused on aging inmates and hospice. The documentary goes through the life of George William Hall, otherwise known as Jack, who was a Private in the United States Army from 1942-1945.

In 1977, Hall was sentenced to life in prison for murder. The film touches on Hall’s teenage son had a drug addiction and eventually committed suicide. Hall killed the man that sold his son drugs and served his life sentence at Iowa State Penitentiary.

The film follows the last six months of Hall’s life, and how he was changed for the better in prison. He was involved in church services at the prison, and had friends on the inside who took care of him.

Hall faced many problems after coming back from the war. He dealt with divorce, alcoholism and loneliness. In the film he said many nights he couldn’t sleep, or he would wake up from nightmares about the war and used alcohol as his vehicle to cope with his problems.

Photo Courtesy of The Gateway
Photo Courtesy of The Gateway

After coming back from the war, Hall said when he got upset with people his first instinct was to kill them. He said that’s what the war taught him, to kill and to kill fast.

In 2005, the Iowa State penitentiary made a place for hospice patients, and allowed courses for other inmates to be trained and take care of the terminally ill if they passed the right tests and wanted to.

The government does not fund the hospice units in American prisons, in fact prison inmates and private donations fund the hospice centers.

After having a heart attack and trouble breathing, Hall was admit-ted to the penitentiary hospice care center at the age of 83. Many of the people who took care of Hall were inmates also in prison for life sentences. One of the inmate helpers in the film known as Herky was Hall’s main caretaker. Herky saw the hospice center in the jail as a way for him to prove he can be the person nobody thought he could.

After the film it was followed by a discussion. Edgar Barens, the director of the documentary, Gary George of Hospice House – The Josie Harper Residence and Lori Molzer of AseraCare Hospice.

“The elderly population is the fast-est growing population behind bars, so we definitely need to step up,” Barens said.

Barens said right now there are only about 20 other prisons that have an institution similar to the Iowa State Penitentiary when it comes to hospice care and care for the elderly. All three of the guest panel members said hospice is negatively stereotyped regularly, when it is actually a place that helps elderly people struggling with health problems.

“Most people in hospice are served at home and those hospice teams go in and out of an individuals home,” George said.

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