Nov 092014

Serving Life Movie PosterActor Forest Whitaker narrates the story of a group of inmate volunteers who staff their own hospice inside a maximum security prison in Louisiana where the average sentence is more than 90 years.

Producers: Lisa R. Cohen, Jeca Taudte
Director: Lisa R. Cohen

This was a very interesting documentary filmed in Angola Prison in Louisiana. It was released in 2011, and is the story of reforms which helped take Angola Prison off the top slot and the most violent prison in the U.S. The Warden came to realize that he many of the inmates serving sentences of life without parole, and older inmates with sentences so long, would most likely die in prison.

The Warden, in one interview, makes the point that it’s easy to teach people skills like carpentry or food preparation, but the challenge is getting them to understand the concept of empathy, and without that, they’ll someday be back in his prison. While he has the southern drawl of a “good ole boy,” I think he’s a lot smarter that he sounds. He manages to solve two problems at once.

The Warden establishes an in-house hospice unit in the medical facility there, and staff’s it, along with the medical staff, with carefully selected inmates. The movie follows the training and first patients for four of these volunteers. There were a couple of them we didn’t expect to make it, but they came through, and with several of them, I think the Director managed to capture the moment when the light switch turned on for those inmates.

In addition to the rehabilitative effects on the volunteers, these older inmates are able to die with some dignity and comfort.

It’s a very moving story, and I would highly recommend watching this one.

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