Reverend Lorie Adoff has trained over 130 inmate-volunteers to sit with and support dying prisoners at California Men’s Colony, a minimum- and medium-security prison in San Luis Obispo. After training inmates for eleven years, Adoff retired in 2013. (Ryder Diaz/KQED)
Editor’s Note: Many people hope to die surrounded by friends and family. But for prison inmates death can be unusually isolating. As part of our ongoing health series called Vital Signs, we hear from retired hospice chaplain Lorie Adoff. More than a decade ago, she helped launch a project called Supportive Care Services at the California Men’s Colony — a prison in San Luis Obispo. The program trained inmates serving life sentences to sit with other men dying behind bars.
By Lorie Adoff
First of all imagine, it’s very, very stark. There is nothing pretty about a hospital in prison. Nothing.
But I have discovered, working with the dying in prison, there is transformation.
They have the opportunity to have family come and visit them on a limited basis. A lot of times because they’ve been there so long though, they don’t have anybody who it matters whether or not they die in prison. They’ve been in prison for 30 years or 40 years and who cares? So, dying alone is a very, very real situation in prison.
Before Supportive Care Services, there really wasn’t anything in place to be with the dying inmates. Patients who were dying in the hospital would be put in a room. A nurse would check on him periodically, until he died. Continue reading
Natasha Smith, 37, plays with her children at her grandfather’s home in Huntington Beach. A unique program allowed Smith to live with her two youngest children while she served a four-year prison sentence. (Susan Valot/KQED)
Editor’s Note: In the past three years, more than 250 California inmates gave birth. Natasha Smith had her youngest daughter, Lydia, while at Valley State Prison in Chowchilla. The mother of four was serving time for drug possession and grand theft. This month, as part of our ongoing health series, Vital Signs, we’re bringing you personal stories of health care behind bars. Smith talks about reuniting with her baby — seven years ago — in a program that lets mothers serve their time outside of prison. There were once several such programs in the state. Now, only one Southern California facility remains. Reporter: Susan Valot
By Natasha Smith
I had a normal delivery, a vaginal delivery, so I got 48 hours. And then at the end of the 48 hours, I had to either arrange for someone to come pick up my child or she would go into the [foster care] system. So, I actually had Lydia’s father’s mother come and pick up the baby. And I didn’t really know her. It was very emotional handing over your baby to somebody you never even met.
You just kind of shut yourself down because it’s too hard to deal with: “Where’s my baby?” You just had a baby and your breasts are leaking. I mean, you’re lactating and everything else but there’s no baby. Continue reading
Inside Pelican Bay State Prison’s security housing unit. (Michael Montgomery/KQED)
After 59 days, California inmates have ended their hunger strike. The prisoners had been protesting what they called aggressive use of solitary confinement, which kept some prisoners in isolation for decades.
Some 30,000 inmates began the strike on July 8, but that number dropped over time. This week there were about 100 remaining, including 40 who have been on continuous hunger strike during the two-month period. Those on hunger strike were getting by on Gatorade, totaling 600-625 calories a day, and vitamins.
In addition, advocates say the men had put on extra pounds in anticipation of the hunger strike. Some may have weighed 225 to 250 pounds at the start of the strike; others likely weighed less.
While it does not appear that any of the inmates have suffered severe health problems that can result from starvation, the process of commencing eating again must be done slowly and carefully. Anyone who has refused food over a long period of time is at risk of “refeeding syndrome,” which can cause “potentially fatal shifts” in fluids and electrolytes possibly leading to cardiac arrest and even death. Continue reading
Pelican Bay State Prison, Crescent City, CA. (Michael Montgomery/KQED)
By Michael Montgomery and Lisa Aliferis
With an inmate hunger strike over conditions at California’s highest security lockups now at day 54, it seems remarkable that none of the 41 prisoners refusing food since July 8 has experienced serious or life-threatening medical problems.
Officials monitoring the protest report that, as of Wednesday, the men had body mass indexes in the 20s, well above a danger zone established by the court-appointed receiver overseeing prison medical care. Only two of the prisoners had lost more than 15 percent of their body weight, another critical measure.
While the inmates are clearly suffering as a result of the extended fast, and report bouts of extreme nausea and dizziness, there are “no imminent health emergencies and no prisoners in critical condition,” said Joyce Hayhoe, a spokesperson for receiver Clark Kelso.
So what’s keeping the hunger strikers from more severe starvation? The answer, it turns out, could be mass quantities of Gatorade, the ubiquitous sports drink.
Under state rules, inmates are considered on hunger strike if they refuse all state meals for more than three days and have no other food items in their cells, such as snacks from the prison commissary. Continue reading