CIU Prison Initiative hospice manual implemented at prisons statewide

CIU Prison Initiative students bow in prayer.
January 02, 2020

Training updated by Prison Initiative alumnus; applauded by prison staff RN

By Dr. Lindsay Hislop and Bob Holmes

Josh* estimated the man in the prison infirmary bed was about 60 years old. His tattoos testified to a life of hate, racism and godlessness. Josh introduced himself and sat down at the man’s bedside. Soon he learned the patient was dying from cancer.

Josh asked the man if he knew the Lord.

“Yes, I know the Lord,” the patient replied. “A black lady who visited me three weeks ago led me to the Lord.”

For the next few months, Josh prayed for the man and visited him regularly, encouraging him to overcome his depression. The patient was an inmate at Kirkland Correctional Institution in Columbia, but so was Josh.

Josh was enrolled in the CIU Prison Initiative, earning an Associate of Arts degree and learning to minister to fellow inmates.

Assisting the sick and dying in the infirmary is one example of the many opportunities for ministry that CIU student-inmates have behind the walls of the South Carolina Department of Corrections.  

But before they take on hospice ministry, the inmates attend 20 hours of classroom teaching and 20 hours of practical training in the infirmary, becoming infirmary/hospice volunteers. This training has been going on for a number of years, but since 2012, it has been provided by CIU as a non-credit course and taught, in part, by David, a CIU teaching assistant, who is himself a Kirkland inmate.

Under David’s teaching, almost 140 men have gone through the training. Over these years, David has further developed the course materials, and now, an updated manual is used by the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC) throughout the prison system.

Kudos from a Nurse  

Among those benefitting from David’s 2018 edition of the “Caregiver’s Handbook to Hospice and Palliative Care,” is Julia Hess, an RN and the geriatric program manager for SCDC whose responsibilities include hospice training. Hess has nothing but praise for David’s work, calling him “an amazing human being and friend.”

“He’s very and respectful, and a very smart and sharp individual,” Hess said in a phone interview. “David is a perfectionist. He’s going to do things perfectly or at least to the best of his ability.”

Hess especially notes David’s guidance on infection control, detailing protection to caregivers from the dangers of blood-borne and air-borne diseases.

“That’s certainly important, because when you are in an incarcerated population, you are so close to other people, and you don’t know what they have,” Hess said. “You have to pretend like everybody you know has everything you can get. I’ve really taken that and run with it.”

As for David, he’s rather humble about his contribution, calling hospice work “a special ministry that requires someone’s heart to be in it.”

“It is not a job some can be assigned to fill,” David wrote from Kirkland Correctional Institution in Columbia. “Hospice teaches compassion which you learn from feeding, bathing, and cleaning someone who cannot do it themselves.”

He notes that when such a patient passes away there is “the sense of loss and this deeply affects you.”

Most importantly, David says that by attending to someone’s physical needs, you open the door to address spiritual needs as James 2:15-16 teaches:

15 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?

Suffering and Surrender

And that brings us back to Josh who got to know the patient with cancer well enough to call him “friend.”

“At the time I was struggling with the goodness of God, but God showed me that through this man’s temporary suffering, his eternity had been sealed,” Josh said. “I began to encourage him, telling him that God knows our breaking point and sometimes we must suffer in order to realize our need to surrender.”

Josh adds that we cannot always understand God’s ways, but we can rest in the security of His perfect goodness.

“I believe (that man) now sits with God because his suffering led him to surrender his life to Jesus.”   

*(South Carolina Department of Corrections policy allows use of only the first names of inmates.)

Meanwhile, some CIU Prison Initiative alumni train as mental health companions and look after fellow inmates who are on suicide watch. Their work is having a very positive impact, catching the attention of WIS-TV in Columbia. Find out more about the CIU Prison Initiative.  

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