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I never expected what I saw. We so seldom get a glimpse into what really goes on behind prison walls. I think sometimes we prefer what we see in movies or on television shows, because we don’t have to face the reality of what happens behind bars. In this rare glimpse into that reality, Edgar Barens takes us on a journey into the final days of convicted murder Jack Hall, a military veteran serving life in prison. It’s a journey I’ll never forget.
Having never pondered old age and death in prison, I was surprised how sad I was to learn that it’s mostly a very solitary event. Prisoners are left alone to die, for the most part, in the same cells they spend every other day. And I know there are people who will say that it is what they deserve – but on my human level, I don’t think anyone should have to pass from this life alone – even if you caused someone else to do that very thing.
But some prisons are now creating hospice care within the prison walls. And Jack Hall was the beneficiary of the hospice care at the end of his life. And it was beautiful.
There were nurses, and the occasional doctor, but Jack was attended to by the men with whom he shared his life sentence. It was the hardened criminals – convicted murderers and kidnappers – who tenderly bathed this vulnerable, dying man; who brought him outside for fresh air in his wheelchair; who lifted him up and carried him when he could no longer walk; and who knelt, holding hands, by his bedside, praying for the Lord’s guidance and strength to continue to do what they needed to do for him.
And when Jack died, I cried. I cried for the family that loved him, the life he missed leading because of a moment of anger and frustration, and I cried for those men who dedicated themselves to making sure Jack passed gently into that good night.
Everyone should see this documentary. It will give you insight into a reality we have been oblivious to, and maybe an insight into forgiveness and understanding.
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Almost eight years ago, my dad made the decision to discontinue treatment for his many medical issues, stop dialysis, and enter hospice to bravely face the final steps on his journey Home. I remember so vividly the night that Ann called, letting me know that my dad was being transferred to hospice, and I remember sitting with him, crying, begging, wanting him to continue the fight. It was selfish. I probably knew that then, but I had a brand new baby, two other great daughters I wanted him to see grow up, and I certainly didn’t want the pain of losing him.
But hospice did more than just offer my father comfort in his final days. Hospice made me look at my father from a whole different perspective. All of his brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, came from throughout the country to spend time with him. Friends from his many years at Philadelphia Electric stopped by. Men he knew from the Knights of Columbus, women from Church, friends he’d had for many years all came to see him, have one last laugh with him, and tell me what a wonderful man he was.
I knew that. But I knew it on a daughter’s terms. Your dad always looks like a knight in shining armor when you’re a little girl, but my dad’s shine never dulled in my eyes. But to sit there, listening to people talk and reminisce about times they had spent with him was eye opening. He was loved. His friendship was cherished. He lived a life many people envy – one where he was surrounded by good friends, family who loved him, and with as much laughter as he could pack in.
Today, as my friend Jennifer goes through this with her mom, I am reminded of the pain I felt every day that my father was dying. But with these eyes that have been wiped free of the many tears that flowed, I can see beyond the process of dying and focus on the joy of his living. It was a wonderful life – not without its hurdles, not without pain; but when it had been lived to the very last breath, it was a life worth celebrating. I hope Jennifer and her family will be able to do the same.