Excerpts, Denver Post “Colorado’s prison population is aging quickly and more inmates than ever are sick with illnesses that will kill them long before their sentences are up.
In the first state prison hospice program in the nation, inmates of the Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility in Cañon City are trained to care for fellow prisoners as they follow the course of diseases such as cancer, HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C toward the inevitable.
Colorado’s total prison population more than doubled from 1991 to 2009, but the number of inmates age 50 or older increased 720 percent, according to “Old Behind Bars,” a 2012 study by Human Rights Watch. Nationwide, the number of people in prison who are 65 or older increased 67 percent in only three years to 26,200 in 2010…
…In a prison where executioners once administered a poison cocktail to condemned men, nurses now feed morphine into the arms of the dying for their comfort. Men convicted of brutal crimes minister to the physical needs of the ill and elderly, and sometimes find redemption in the role of caretaker.
“I’ve learned that there is more to life than just taking from people,” said Wayne Rose, 40, a career bank robber who cared for dying fire-starter Robert Bryan for five months until he died in January. “I want to leave here a better person. I get a good feeling out of it.”
If Rose continues this work for the length of his own 40-year sentence, he is likely to care for hundreds of men like Bryan, who was 65 when he succumbed to lung cancer.
The increase is due in large part to a national trend that began in the 1980s of ever-longer prison sentences and more charges that put people away for life. The number of inmates serving life sentences in Colorado without the possibility of parole more than doubled from 269 in 2001 to 615 in 2012, according to Department of Corrections records.”