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Louisiana Prison Hospice Program Has Become National Model

Steven Garner doesn’t like to talk about the day that changed his life. A 1990 New Orleans barroom altercation escalated to the point where Garner, then 18, and his younger brother Glenn shot and killed another man. The Garners claimed self-defense, but a jury found them guilty of second-degree murder. They were sentenced to life in prison without parole. When Garner entered Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, Louisiana, he didn’t know what to expect. The maximum security facility has been dubbed “America’s Bloodiest Prison” and its brutal conditions have made headlines for decades, reports KFF Health News. “Sometimes when you’re in a dark place, you find out who you really are and what you wish you could be,” Garner said. “Even in darkness, I could be a light.” It wasn’t until five years later that Garner would get his chance to show everyone he wasn’t the hardened criminal they thought he was.

When the prison warden, Burl Cain, decided to start the nation’s first prison hospice program, Garner volunteered. By helping dying inmates, Garner believed he could claw back some meaning to the life he had nearly squandered in the heat of the moment. For the next 25 years, he cared for his fellow inmates, prisoners in need of help and compassion at the end of their lives. The Angola program started by Cain, with the help of Garner and others, has since become a model. Today at least 75 of the more than 1,200 state and federal penal institutions nationwide have implemented formal hospice programs. Yet as America’s prison population ages, more inmates are dying behind bars of natural causes and few prisons have been able to replicate Angola’s approach. Garner hopes to change that.


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