Sunday, October 10, 2010

I remember the first few lines of this song, “Blues in the Night”, as in the title of the song. I heard the song in a movie I watching in an open field with the rest of the GI’s. The movie was shown in an open field beside an Army hospital where the American battle wounded soldiers were treated during the liberation of Luzon in the Philippines, 1944. The hospital was no more than the town church, and inside this church lay rows of beds for the wounded soldiers . This Spanish architecture of concrete and stone church was very similar to the ones you see in the Southwest US. Following his usual routine, the church catholic priest would still say mass at the front altar every morning!
What was the movie about? It was about a US pilot downed during the war and came back to his training Air Force school as a ghost instructor. This killed pilot was played by the actor, Spencer Tracy. He left a fiancée whom he obviously did not marry. And in one scene he was supposedly guiding a cadet pilot doing his solo flight. Spencer Tracy, the ghost instructor, was sitting on the back behind the cadet pilot and in one scene, he was irritably annoyed. Because this young cadet for one thing, was now dating his former fiancée. And while flying, this young cadet would start singing, “My mamma done told me!”. So Tracy, the ghost instructor would shout back, “Quit talking about what your mamma had told you and concentrate on your flying”. Being a ghost he supposedly could not be heard.
Why was this movie shown in the open area? By that time the Japanese planes in the area were pretty much decimated. And so there was no danger of enemy bombings. Not long before then, I had the interesting experience of seeing a US plane chasing a Jap plane . Then, after a few machine gun bursts, down went the Jap plane. I was imagining that the local natives were already rushing to the downed plane salvaging whatever aluminum scrap metal they could salvage. They would melt this aluminum metal to make pots and pans.

What was I doing hanging around that hospital area? It so happened my youngest brother was recuperating from a brain injury he sustained during a bombing raid, ironically by American planes. This happened when US planes bombed the town center a couple of weeks prior to the US landing in Lingayen Gulf, Luzon. (General Douglas Mac Arthur himself landed on the beach with the first wave of infantry men). Before the landing, some US planes were reconnoitering the town area. Suddenly these US pilots were annoyed because Japanese anti aircraft guns started shooting at them. They proceeded to bomb the vicinity. Half of the house we were in was blown off. One person in our group died and a few wounded. Walking through the town streets later, we passed more dead civilians. General Douglas Mac Arthur landed on the beach soon after the first wave infantry men hit the beach. He strolled on the beach about 10 miles from where we were.

Days after the landing, an Evacuation Army Hospital was set up in town. An army major brain surgeon and his team picked up my brother, set him on a stretcher in a jeep for the army hospital. And he proceeded with an operation the next day. This team of jeeps had to travel through beside bamboo thick river trails outside town. We felt safer evacuating to the countryside bundocks after the bombings. Luckily, my father was a great diplomat, pleading with the US army soon as they secured the nearby town we were in. My wounded brother was beginning to go blind from possibly an infection. Anyway, here I was making my routine visits to see my youngest brother in the hospital.

While making my routine rounds of visits, I would pass through the center ailes of this hospital church and see these wounded GI’s. One wouded soldier particularly stuck in my mind. Because he had an open stomach wound and his inside guts were plainly uncovered. During my passings through I heard him shout a couple of times, “Momma”. I believe this kid was only in his teens. Not much older then my oldest brother. A few days later, I saw his bed empty and clean. So I asked the GI nearby where he was. He grimly said, “He died last night”. For a 12 year old, this made a lasting impression on me. I am now convinced what a powerful impression “Momma” makes on her child.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Recently my volunteer work at the State Prison Hospital has been primarily as a Spanish English translator for prisoner/patients either confined in the hospital wards or as outpatient needing medical care. These patients are either Central or South American Spanish speaking patients. Many of the ones I meet have been in the US for more than 15 or 20 years, yet they either do not fully understand or cannot communicate in English. Obviously this handicap greatly contributes to the deterioration in their medical ailments. Here are a few of my past encounters.

Case Patient One was in the waiting room getting ready for an operation in the Surgical Unit. The medical staff needed to fill out a significant number of checkups and paper work which needed to be completed before the surgeon could proceed with the operation. Not only was the patient required to give them information but also to receive medical treatments. To complicate matters, the patient’s degree of anxiety usually magnified during this waiting and answering of questions period. My work not only consisted of interpreting these questions but also to try to calm these patients down. I remember Patient One asking me to stay longer in the surgical area even during and after the operation. As I suspected the reason for his anxiety was he thought the operation was an excuse for the prison medical personnel to execute him in the operating room.

Case Patient Two was an outpatient regular visitor who had a history of heart problems. The medical care given to him at the Prison Hospital was more than any outside citizen would normally get. In my thoughts, I wondered whether the poor average citizen outside prison would be able to afford such treatments. These included not only doctor regular checkups but also extraordinary medical remedies such as installing a pace maker on the patient, etc. At one visit the doctor recommended a bypass operation. The patient informed me to tell the medical staff he was not willing to undergo such an operation as he was already in his 60’s. Besides he informed me his father died of the same heart ailments in his 40’s. However, there was one medical problem the prison personnel either would or could not handle. The prisoner was mentally ill. His conversation with me gave him away. How would the prison medical staff handle this mental illness if there were no available Spanish-English speaking counselor or psychologist?

Case Patient Three was an Eye clinic patient who had eye sight problems. After examination by a medical student then followed by the supervising eye doctor in charge, the patient was told his sight problems seem to be getting progressively worse. The problem was this patient had never had an eye examination most probably even before he was incarcerated and there developed growing scars in his eyes all those years. The treatment was now only confined to controlling these scars tissues from growing worse. It was too late to have an eye operation. And so control medical remedies were given. The medical staff as I explained to the patient emphasized how to follow these medical instructions and medicine given to him was to be followed. We emphasized the fact that if this patient would not follow these remedies that he would eventually end up going blind.

Case Patient Four was an HIV patient deteriorating to a possible AIDS status. We had difficulty retracing his case history as he occasionally lied during a questioning period. Eventually, when we were alone he mentioned with some pride how when he was a former bus driver in his native country that he had a woman in every bus destination. Being on an outpatient status he would then be transported back to his cell block. He later complained about problems urinating. He also stated that his cell did not have a toilet bowl. And so during curfew time at nights, he contrived several container schemes where he could discharge his urine in his cell room. He had no way to explain to the correction officers of his need to go to the toilet more often. On a later clinical visit the doctor informed him he had prostate cancer. Because he was seriously ill an operation was scheduled to be performed at the better equipped city hospital. Again there needed to be a translator all this time right up to preparation and recovery from the operation. His HIV status weakened his immune system so that his cancer eventually metastasized. A few days before he died at the prison hospital room he motioned to me to read to him a letter in the drawer from his brother out West. He was not very conversant and almost comatose. I was later surprised to be informed the brother who wrote this emotional letter was a Ph D Engineering candidate at some state university. What a contrast between the two brothers! We finally contacted a catholic priest to give him the catholic Last Rites.

Case Patient Five was either a hilarious or sad case depending on how you look at it. This patient was in the recovery room within the surgical unit area at the prison hospital. He had a minor operation. A young nurse was attending to him in this recovery room. He seemed bored. And so he said in Spanish that he would pass the time masturbating.

There is a TV program showing cases of Americans being incarcerated in foreign countries and their subsequent pleas for release. This is the reverse case but probably a worse situation. The fact is that these Latin prisoners are mostly uneducated. These prisoners are not fully conscious of what is happening to them while in prison. They are like logs floating in an ocean waiting to be washed on a shore, ending up to be released or dying in prison.

Monday, July 28, 2008


I just finish my rounds visiting prisoner/patients at the third floor of the hospital ward and was on my way towards the elevators. On my way out, I used my prison issued key to unlock the ward doors and approached the elevator waiting area. At the elevator waiting area, there stood this wheeled stretcher with a dead body inside a dark plastic bag. I was puzzled not seeing anyone attending to the body. It stood there in this elevator waiting room as if anticipating for someone to wheel it to the elevator too. Again I used my authorized key to get the elevator moving to where I was waiting and still staring at this dead body beside me. Finally I closed the elevator doors and took a last glimpse at the corpse still unattended.

Finally I reached the exit floor area, removed and discarded my rubber protective gloves, turned in my authorized key, made a few stopovers at the offices of prison personnel and headed for the hospital exit doors. On my way out next to the entrance/ exit area I passed through these same elevator doors where I got out from the third floor ward. Low and behold, there was this same corpse on the same wheeled stretcher also waiting to be shipped out! Again this unfortunate dead prisoner was left alone in the hallway with all the hospital activity busily going about and no one paying attention to this body lying in the middle of the hallway.

Let me describe how one gets into the prison hospital. After you enter the hospital lobby, you announce to the receptionist whom you are going to meet inside the hospital. Climbing up the stairs you wait outside the screening room with electrically operated sliding doors both in and out of the screening area. Only one of these sliding doors is opened at one time for people to get into or out of the hospital activity area. The guard motions you to come in or wait for a while to come in. If there are prisoner/patients coming in and out and always accompanied by their prison guards, you wait for the all clear motioned by the guard assigned in the screening area. Finally you get into this screening area where you sign in, go thru metal detectors, and get issued with a passcard by another attending guard, after you give him your driver’s license. If the metal detectors buzz, as is sometimes the case because I use hearing aids, you get searched top down before exiting the screening area. The same routine follows as you leave the hospital except you skip the detector devices.

Going back to my exiting experience, again I had to wait before entering the screening area. On that day, there was a group of daytime only prisoner/patients exiting with their guards. Some prisoners had chain shackles in both their hands and feet and another chain connecting these two shackles. As each prisoner exited, they were required to shout not their names but their prisoner assigned numbers shown on the back of their prison issued uniforms. So I waited staring at the dead body waiting to be transported out with still no one around it. At the same time the last prisoner in this line to exit out also started staring at the body. Finally we looked at each other and I said, ”Looks like this guy did not make it”. So the prisoner answers me, showing no emotion of sorrow or gladness and casually said, “That’s the way it is. Shit happens.”

What is the meaning behind that remark? Let me quote some of the comments I have heard from some of the prisoner/patients in this hospital. “We are the last people society wants to associate with. No one gives a damn what we say concerning our medical needs. No one cares how much physical pain we have in this hospital. This is the last motel we are staying before we die.” To sum it up they perceive themselves as meaningless fragments in an alien world. “Shit happens.”

Saturday, June 21, 2008


Russ Thompson was a man in his middle fifties admitted at the prison hospital for end stage COPD. During my visits with him he was usually on a wheel chair and he was attached to an oxygen tube to facilitate his breathing. He also had emphysema which resulted in him uncomfortably coughing regularly. I decided to write a brief biography of his life. In my judgment, his last days in his life shows more of an interesting drama of human nature then what you can watch on most current TV programs. Here is his story.

“I am thankful to talk with someone who has similar beliefs as I do. I am at peace with myself. My only regret is that I have not been truly of God until these last recent years.” Mr. Thompson started his spiritual path about one or two years ago. He was surprised how much peace it has brought in his life. He credits his conversion to his incarceration in the state prison. “As I was serving my time here in prison, I began to see the spiritual side of me. I don’t know why I committed those crimes which till now I am very remorseful.” Mr. Thompson needed some uplifting. So I said to him, ”You had to go the bottom of your humanity to see the truth of what your spiritual self is made of. Now it is time to move on to a better way of life.” “I do not fear death”’ he said. “I am confident at the thought of death.”

As is typical of prisoners such as Mr. Thompson, he had his up and down days. This is what he told me in the following visit: “I am still very much focused on communicating with God through my prayers. But I am having difficulty meditating this week. My mother just informed me that my brother committed suicide. I am hoping and praying God will still accept him. It bothers me.” “Russ, God’s mercy exceeds more than what any of us humans are capable of. Besides, you do not really know what mental torture your brother had to go through before he decided to end his life. Are we sure you or I would have acted differently?” Russ continued, “When I was growing up I was very close to a brother who had cerebral palsy. No one in the family could understand his speech. But I did. I wanted to take care of him. I was angry at God for giving me such a brother with cerebral palsy. I could not stomach those preachers on TV talking about God. Now I believe I am a different person. But once in a while the old personality seems to come back. I catch myself and start praying.” Later, as I was leaving the prison hospital, I wondered. Was this the brother his mother informed him who recently committed suicide?

“I was a different person before I found God. However, I am not always confident I have completely rejected my past life. Tony, here is an example of what I am talking about. This incident recently happened. I was shaving with my safety razor here at the hospital and the nurse told me to turn the safety razor in. I have 20 or more safety razors in my cell block and I could not understand why I could not keep mine here. The nurse quickly responded, “I am going to write you a ticket (violation).” At first this made me angry. But then I calmed down because I am now not an angry man. I used to be before. Even when I was growing up I was that way. I would challenge every authority figure.” “Russ, we are not human beings that are perfect in every way. When your thoughts come back where you find yourself as the old you, this does not mean you are back as the old you. Not until you act on these thoughts. I am hoping these spiritual conversations we regularly have are motivating you to find your spiritual true self.” “I am glad you come to visit me. I am always grateful I have someone to talk to who is similarly interested in a more meaningful spiritual life. I don’t know why it took me so long to see the light. My mother and some relatives always had a spiritual outlook in life. At that time I thought this was a lot of bunk. Spirituality has recently made a big difference in my life.”

Mr. Thompson has intermittent problems with breathing. His medical condition is deteriorating. He now has three or four vertebrae severely damaged due to his consistent coughing. “My emphysema illness is contributing to my deterioration. I also have recently developed problems in breathing. When I am not having these severe pains, I can more freely meditate and carry on a conversation with God. However, when these attacks come I get disoriented. It seems I loose track of reality. I have this fear of losing my faith in God. I do not want to come back to the old me.” “Russ,this is understandable. Very few people are as level headed when they are in severe pain. My suggestion is to ask God to accompany you in these moments of trial.” “I know He is always with me. But during these times I get disoriented and I find myself separate from Him.” “If you realize Jesus is always walking beside you, I believe one cannot have fear”, I replied. I also suggested to him to keep asking for medication from the nurse’s ward to alleviate his suffering.

After so much previous hesitation, Mr. Thompson confided in me that he wrote his sister asking for forgiveness. “I received a letter of reply from my sister. It is in that envelope over there (beside his bed). Please read it.” In summary this letter stated his sister has forgiven him. And that they would meet again in heaven. I commented, “This letter could not have been written any better. All these meditations and prayers are now making you realize God has forgiven you. Look at the changes in yourself these past few months.” “I hope I have the opportunity to see my family members again. I would like to show them I am not the same person I was before. I want to see my mother and other relatives to tell them how God has changed me. But initially I would like to live in an interfaith shelter here in this county. I want to continue giving God’s message to mankind.”

The Parole board finally gave approval for a medical parole for Mr. Wade. In all my experiences, these medical parole releases always follow with the prisoner dying very soon after. It is my belief, the prison personnel will not grant a medical release unless they are reasonably sure the prisoner will die very soon after release. In fact on some occasions the prisoner patient dies before being released.

Here is an incident that occurred before Mr. Thompson’s release on medical parole. “Tony. I am very concerned about a report given to me by the prison personnel. It states I would sell my morphine when paroled. I believe a nurse at the ward supposedly reported this was said by me. I am not sure. It may have been another inmate patient who reported this comment. In truth I may have said this just as a joke. It makes me angry because for one, the corrections department has informed me they will not supply me with morphine when I am released. I am going to suffer in pain. I feel like reverting back to my old self when people accuse me of something involving drugs I have no intentions on following through.” “Russ, it would be a major setback if you revert to your old self. Look at the big picture. Your goal is to have peace not only in this life but also in your spiritual life when you die. Take a good look at everyone else you deal with. Don’t you think we all have some kind of problems?” “I understand what you are saying. But we are convicts. Nobody here will take a convicts word before a nurse or anyone else on the outside. My vertebrae is even deteriorating. I will not be able to get some medical pain relief on the outside.” At this time I noticed Mr. Wade was on his usual wheel chair and would probably be this way for the rest of his life. Also, he was breathing with the help of an oxygen tube.

A week later Mr. Thompson reported to me, “I am on a withdrawal program from morphine pain medication. These withdrawal doses are going too fast. I feel my body cannot cope with it. They are making me suffer.” He was in bed and too weak to sit on his wheel chair. “What if I suddenly got well and all these medical problems completely disappeared. Will I revert back to my old life style? I don’t know. One thing I do know, I don’t want to loose the peace and serenity I have found with God in my life.” I said, ”You have worked so hard to get you where you are now.” A few days later Mr. Thompson reported his regression from a previous large dosage of morphine was going well, He also had some spiritual matters to talk about which was giving him pace of mind.

A few days before his release I visited Russ. He looked physically better than the previous days I saw him. “Tony. I feel great. I know God has given me this parole opportunity to amend my life. I also read and re-read those spiritual prayers and inspirational materials which is now a ritual I follow through. You have helped me significantly in changing my life and of being aware of God’s presence. Tony, I even feel physically better. I do not need those pain killers like morphine now. I feel like a new man. Look, I am also not using the oxygen tubes to help me breath. This is like a miracle to me. I would like to show my mother I am not the old selfish person she used to know. I recently thanked the nurse for helping me. Even though I recall a few times we had our serious disagreements. I thanked her for her care to us convicts.” “And what was her reaction” I asked? “She cried. She told me some days she has too much pressure imposed on her.”

Five months later, the Medical Social Worker at the Corrections Department informed me Mr. Thompson died in a medical facility.

Thursday, May 01, 2008


Jason Saylor, a man in his early forties, was dying of liver failure. Jason was terrified of dying. The first thing I noticed when I entered his room was the look of deep anxiety in his face as he lay in his bed.

“I do not feel very good”, Jason said. “I cannot eat well. Yes, I would like my mother to see me. At one time I did not believe in God. I would like a minister to come and visit me. I feel I am being punished.” So I responded, “A minister will come to see you. As for your illness, God is not punishing you. Your recent life style brought this illness of hepatitis and liver failure on you. I don’t believe God operates that way.” Jason was an alcoholic.

On my next visit the following week, Jason still had a great deal of anxiety. “Yes, my mother came to visit me. I told her everything about the crimes I committed. Recently, I have been praying very often to God. I do not want to die. My mother is also afraid I may die.” “Jason”, I said. “I also am afraid of dying. Talk to God, same as you and I are talking now. Tell Him you are afraid of dying and see if you can find some courage to face this difficulty.” Soon after, Jason got very emotional. He started crying. He did not want me to leave his room. “I don’t want to die alone”, he said. Finally he reached out his arms and wanted a comforting hug.

The following week, Jason told me,”I am very sick. I am concerned of my abdominal pains. Now, I pray to God very often. When I pray, I ask God for His forgiveness. I used to drink a lot. I abused too many women. I remember I used to stalk these women, looking whether they left their home’s front door unlocked, etc. Now I am tormented what I have done wrong.”

The week before Jason died, he started talking about the spiritual encounters he just had. This probably could have been just his hallucinations. To Jason, they seemed very real happenings. “My grandmother came to visit me here. We had a long conversation. My grandfather was with her but he said nothing. He just looked on to us during this visit.” Both his grandparents have been deceased a long time.

A couple of days later, Jason died. His mother and two sisters came to his bedside shortly before he died. It seems like he had made his peace with his family before then. He was ready to let go. However, no conversations took place during his last hours. Jason was already comatose.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


I met Patrick McCarthy, a patient at the prison hospital, five years ago. He was being treated for stomach cancer. He was about 60 years old but, as is common with other prisoner patients, he looked 10 years older. Although no one had been killed during his crime spree, Mr. McCarthy had committed a violent sex crime in his youth. “I am discouraged. After 30 years in prison, I feel I have paid my dues. What I wish for is to have some family time and a normal meal with my relatives.” Mr. McCarthy was discouraged. This happened soon after the Medical Social Worker at this prison informed him his Medical Parole petition was unlikely to be approved based on the response of the Parole Board members. Mr. McCarthy had been sentenced for a 100 year prison term for his crime. He could not realistically expect parole. He talked about accepting his prison status. “When I was young, I was irresponsible which also included my sex habits. I have not had sex for 30 years and now I don’t miss it. I was led astray by the rebellious attitude of the young in the 60’s. My parents failed to guide me. They had problems among themselves. This is how I landed in prison”. Pat came from a Irish catholic background. At one time he told me, ”I did not have much contact or relationship with my father. He was too busy. I missed his companionship. I missed this normal relationship with my father. But I have no resentments as to what happened to me while growing up. I do not resent what I missed not having a normal family. Jail time has given me the opportunity to be closer to my Creator.” One of his uncles, a Franciscan priest from Chicago occasionally visited him at the prison. At the time of his crimes, Mr. McCarthy mentioned that he was being treated for mental illness. This had not been brought out during his trial. The fact is that Mr. McCarthy was being treated for schizophrenia for many years during his prison term.

“I don’t know what my mission in this life is. Perhaps it is to continue my ministry here in prison attending to other inmates in need. What does God want me to do?” Mr. McCarthy mentioned how he was counseling a fellow inmate spiritually. This fellow inmate murdered his two children by putting them inside an incinerator. Also during one of my other visits with him, Mr. McCarthy showed me letters of affection from a spiritual group of inmates in his former facility. “While in prison, I personally knew of at least 10 distraught inmates who committed suicide.” I stated that his eloquent prayer invocations, his popularity with other spiritual inmates in the prisons, and his counseling sessions were probably his mission in this life. “Since you have much closer contacts with these prisoners who’ve have had similar experiences, you may be the person who can most help them”, I added. While in prison, Mr. McCarthy also earned a psychology degree. We arranged for a catholic local priest to give him regular communion per his requests. “God bless you, Tony, for visiting us prisoners here in this hospital. We are the last people the general public wants to associate with. Most everyone wants to avoid associating with us prisoners. In fact one of the nurses in this ward is treating me like dirt. I am glad you decided to do this (Hospice Ministry) after you retired from your profession.”

Mr. McCarthy’s medical problem is that he was having a constant battle with stomach cancer. His symptoms were the usual stomach pains, acidity forming in his digestive system, gas pains, constipation, diarrhea, water retaining in his body, swollen abdomen, swollen feet, etc. To complicate matters he had also developed a hernia and due to poor dental hygiene, eventually all his teeth had to be extracted. During those years, his medical condition progressively got worse. At one time an X-ray showed a lump the size of an apple in his intestines. Again he was sent to the city hospital for an operation. Mr. McCarthy eventually was sent back to the prison hospital with tubes attached to his stomach and abdomen. One tube was to feed him his nutrients and the other to drain off his urine and bowel excretions. However Mr. McCarthy always had the attitude he would recover. Like a roller coaster ride he did periodically get better but only to go back to a more deteriorated condition. Mr. McCarthy was able to have his feeding tube removed and thereafter was able to take the usual solid meals given to these prisoner/patients at the prison hospital. But the extracting urine and bowel tube and bag remained. This bag attachment was a great deal of discomfort to him. Moreover Mr. McCarthy was constantly cleaning his abdomen from liquids, using gauzes and towels to absorb these liquids that would leak around the tube area. As usual, infections would periodically develop around the tube opening, one time becoming so bad he again had to be sent to the city hospital. Mr. McCarthy told me about an irritable ward nurse who said to him upon entering his room, “You stink. This room smells foul.” Also there were prisoner/patients who refused to share the same room with him because of this sickening odor. At one of my visits Pat said, ”I know Tony, this room stinks like shit. I have no bag right now and I’m using these gauze and towels to absorb the drainage from my intestines,The nurses in the ward tell me they can only come to help me with a clean bag according to their schedule.” Eventually Mr. McCarthy was so determined to have the doctors remove this bag and have the hole in his body sewn up. This was a point of aggravation to him that he consequently filed a grievance report on the prison system. What we later found out is that the doctors were concerned about closing this hole. They maintained this procedure could be fatal and kill him. Pat calmed down when he was told this fact. On his last emergency trip back to the city hospital Mr. McCarthy finally died.

On several of these serious setbacks, followed by reasonable recoveries, I always wondered what was keeping Pat alive in every one of these ordeals. Most probably it was because of his strong belief in God and catholic religious rituals he regularly followed. However his beliefs and his confidence in his catholic practices, once in a while, bordered on some prejudices. For example, he believed Islam is a religion which practices violence. But his good works included praying for the dying inmates in this prison hospital and even praying for the hospital staff and security guards within. At one time a non-catholic inmate was near death and severely disturbed because the prison authorities misplaced his personal belongings since he had to be sent to the city hospital due the seriousness of his condition. Apparently a catholic priest who visited this non-catholic patient gave him a rosary. He was discouraged that this rosary was also lost. So Pat gave this patient one of his rosaries and was continually concerned of his dying status. My co-Hospice volunteer worker, Judy, who also happens to be a catholic, would regularly give Pat a Communion Host. Pat requested regular visits from the priest since he also wished confession and the occasional Last Rites, a sacrament for the dying. I sometimes wondered, given his current medical condition, what sins this guy had to confess to a priest, if any. I made it a habit to “steal” a Sunday catholic quarterly missal at my church so as to give it to Pat. With his 9 inch black and white TV in his room Pat would follow the catholic mass using this missal on hand. There came a point that it was a waste of time handing Pat some Bible excerpts or catholic prayers as he knew them all. So I would read to him some famous poems which were religious in context. In particular he liked the poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow entitled “A Psalm of Life”.

Tell me not in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

There was not much more to rehash during my later visits, so we made it a practice to say a decade of the rosary before the visit was over. And while saying the rosary Pat had a lot of included petitions such as the war in Iraq, fellow dying prisoner/patients, the Holy Father in Rome, and even for my regular driving trips with my wife visiting our children and grandchildren in the Midwest, East Coast, and South. Pat had religious pictures of saints posted all over the walls in his room.

In my judgment this man died a saint. No, he had no religious eulogy nor any catholic rituals when he died. Pat has no chance of being canonized as a saint in Rome, let alone recognized he ever existed. When a prisoner/patient dies, the Corrections Department has to comply with procedures on what to do with the body. Unbeknownst to me, Pat did a have a daughter who obviously was estranged from him for many years. Since no one claimed Pat’s body, he was buried at the prison cemetery close by. How ironic! Even in death McCarthy has not gotten out of these prison grounds.

Rest in peace, Pat!

Thursday, December 13, 2007


Joe Robinson was a black man in his middle forties and was sick with multiple myeloma and also mentally ill. Joe was not initially actively dying but he was bedridden and seemed to be filled with anxiety.

As I entered his room, I began with my usual introductory line saying, “Hi! I’m a volunteer from Hospice here at the prison hospital. I am here to assist you in your spiritual and social needs….” Before I could finish my usual introductory line, Joe immediately interjected. “Can we talk about my fears? I am hearing voices! Yes, usually they are frightening me. I hear these voices threatening me and making me very anxious. Yes, they are evil voices.”

Although I knew he was mentally ill, I was not prepared to deal with a schizophrenic. I have no training especially with this type of mental illness. What do I tell this man in order to ease his anxieties? Although Mr. Robinson was seeing a prison psychiatrist he obviously was still very mentally ill. So I came up with this basic reply, “Tell those voices to shut up! Tell them you are in charge of your thoughts, not them.” I also surmised this person needed spiritual help. What simple prayer may I suggest to him to counteract those voices? So I continued speaking, “Do you know the ‘Our Father’ prayer? In this prayer there is a phrase saying ‘Deliver us from Evil’. Why don’t you and I say the ‘Our Father’ prayer together, now”, After this prayer we recited together, Joe continued ,”My brother is a minister. I feel at peace when he comes to visit me”. “OK I will talk to the Medical Social Worker to call your brother for another visit. Be conscious that Jesus Christ is always beside you. No harm can come to you if you realize this.”

In my next visit the following week, Mr. Robinson’s medical condition was worsening. His left hand was swollen. His abdomen on the right side was profusely bleeding. I also recalled that my suggestions to him last week, on shutting down those evil voices in his mind. It was only a temporary solution. So I asked, “Do you still hear those evil voices talking to you?” “Not very much”, he replied. “They seem to be slowly fading away. I had some woman appear in my room this week. She told me not to be afraid. She also put a gauze here in my open wound and said the bleeding would stop. She also told me that Jesus Christ would be here beside me. This woman’s name was Sherry or Mary, I am not sure. I am more at peace now and I am not afraid. As I think about Jesus Christ, those evil voices are slowly leaving me.” Whether Joe had an illusion because these hospital nurses were regularly attending to him or he had some spiritual revelation, I do not know. The fact is he seemed to be mentally relieved of his anxiety. And so I continued, ”You are now realizing God is more powerful than those evil voices. Try to keep in constant communication with Jesus Christ. Just say what is in your heart.”

The following week, during my visit, Mr. Robinson was dozing on and off from consciousness. I realized he was delirious. His voice seems to grow weaker. “Joe, do you remember who I am? Let me say a prayer for you.” Mr. Robinson then countered, “Listen. Do you hear the voice of Jesus Christ? Now listen.” “These evil voices, are they still there?” “No, they are not there anymore. I hear the voice of Sherry.” Sherry was the woman in his mind to tell him not to worry. While I said a prayer for him, his eyes kept closing and alternately opening as if losing consciousness.

The week after, Mr. Robinson was feeling better. “Hey, I got good news. I have been granted Medical Parole. I am really happy about this. No, I do not hear those evil voices anymore. But I have this pain in my chest.” “Ask God to help you also in your physical pain.” “I know that. Jesus Christ is the only one that can really help me. Thanks for coming to see me.” During my visit, the head nurse and a ward nurse were attending to Mr. Robinson’s needs. He said to them, ”You are all not going to leave me are you? I am at peace now. I feel good inside.”

In my last visit, Mr. Robinson was very uncomfortable and his pains seem to aggravate. I believe he was dying. He was on oxygen, his open sores kept reappearing, and he would lapse into unconsciousness on and off. “Joe, don’t be afraid to die. Don’t loose your faith. Jesus Christ is here beside you keeping you company.” His last words were, “I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe….” His words started fading away.

The Corrections Medical Social personnel informed me Mr. Robinson was indeed discharged from the prison hospital under a Medical Parole status. Unfortunately he continued saying, Mr. Robinson died two days after his release. One comforting situation is that his mother and other close relatives were at his bedside when he died. He was at a Hospice house at that time.