Crossroads Hospice is extremely proud to be a part of an incredible and inspiring effort to bring hospice education to reformed inmates serving life sentences in correctional facilities.
Bringing Hospice to Prisons is a three-part blog series that will serve to highlight some of the personal stories of those involved in the program through different lenses. Read part one.
Beth Huliska is not only a social worker at Crossroads Hospice, but a few years ago she was approached to join another team — a collaboration among many hospices working on a very special project in Missouri that would prepare life-sentence-serving prisoners to provide hospice for each other.
At the time, her role at Crossroads was bereavement and grief support in hospice. She spent her time contacting families and loved ones after a loss to provide any kind of support services they might need. Her supervisor, Val Criswell, asked her to be involved with the correctional facility training program. Here, she would serve a role to provide input based on her expertise in the psychosocial aspect of hospice.
“The whole idea [of the program] was to get [the prisoners] an outline of information so they could provide hospice to the other offenders,” Huliska says. “Just to be more aware of what they’re doing — to provide them with more so they have a better idea when they’re going in, what to expect and what they’ll be seeing.”
While rehabilitation and education are huge components of prisons in the U.S., there’s a growing need for support at the end of life: the number of offenders who are dying in prisons is increasing and in large part, it’s due to illnesses.
That’s where this special project comes into play. Collaboration with 10 or so people from different hospices was integral to compiling a successful curriculum to present to the prisoners.
While Beth’s role dealt in the psychosocial aspect of hospice, bereavement and stress management, for example, there was a doctor who put together a piece on end-of-life symptoms, and a nurse responsible for educating how to assist with personal care.
There is so much that goes into providing proper hospice care and only a great team could be responsible for making this type of program come together.
“I feel like we were lucky to be a part of it and to be able to participate and have it still included as part of our job responsibility,” Huliska says.
It wasn’t all that easy, however, as one could imagine how daunting it may be for a group of outsiders to work with, for and in a prison — the overall intimidation and not necessarily knowing what is and isn’t allowed to be included in their eight-hour class.
“We kind of went through [the presentation] many times to just make it better and more suitable for the audience.”
The inmates’ knowledge of hospice care varied from prison to prison. Larger facilities had introduced hospice programs, but some smaller prisons had no hospice care at all.
The reception, Huliska explains, was overwhelming and a bit unexpected.
“They came with a lot of experience because they had already been providing hospice care to one another. I think our goal is to just help give them more information and insight and anything we can do to help promote what they were already doing.”
While the concept may seem novel to an extent, hospice has actually, for quite some time, been a part of prisoners’ lives. That just goes to show that the kindness of human nature is not always lost.
“I think it’s been going on in its own way in the sense that they’ve already been trying to be there for one another at end of life,” she says. “What we’re trying to do is just bring in more of the hospice philosophy and share it with them.”
Because even those incarcerated deserve a peaceful and comfortable end-of-life experience.
“I think every individual has the right to die pain free and with dignity.”
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