On Thursday night the hubby, LuLu, and Little Man went to sleep early, and I found myself toying between doing work or curling up on the couch channel surfing. I decided a break was necessary, so I got comfy and was ready to tune in to some tv. I didn't really expect to find a documentary that would bring me to tears almost instantly, but I did.
It was called 'Serving Life', and it's part of the OWN Documentary Club.
The film captures the work of the Louisianna maximum security prison at Angola, where the average sentence is more than 90 years. The men there are rapists, murderers, kidnappers, and most will spend the rest of their lives there.
Just over a decade ago, Angola was one of the bloodiest prisons, violence prevailed, and the men felt they had to fight for survival, continue to be filled with hatred and hardened by their past.
But, in 1997, Angola implemented an inspiring volunteer hospice program that allows for prisoners to take care of their fellow inmates during their dying days. The effect of this program has been extraordinary.
The film is narrated by Forest Whittaker, who says, " 'Serving Life' reveals the humanity that exists inside each and every one of us. In the Angola prison's hospice, we meet inmates who decide to take an opportunity for redemption, reminding us of the connection that exists between each and every human being."
It's so true - when you look into the eyes of the men at Angola, you see they are just human beings, once boys. I didn't disregard the horrific criminal acts they were convicted of, but my heart immediately wanted to know more about the men, and rooted for them on their path to 'redemption'.
I also felt inspired by the Warden Burl Cain, who began the hospice volunteer program as well as a College Bible Study program for the inmates. He said you could teach the men there skills or trades, but without tapping into something deeper, their morality, the inmates would not have the opportunity to change their hearts.
"Early in my career here," Warden Cain says, "I started to realize the only true rehabilitation was moral. I can teach you skills and trades, but I'd just make a smarter criminal unless we get something in our heart, unless we become moral.... A criminal is a selfish person. Whatever he wants, he takes it. So the way to be the opposite of that taker is to be the giver. The ultimate gift is to be the hospice caregiver."
Hospice, Cain says, “is a way to die with your family. This [prison] is your family... Hospice is the chance to prove — have you changed or have you not?”
Another volunteer realized the importance of family. He said for months his parents asked him to call weekly, but he felt he wanted to serve his time alone. Seeing his friend pass with his brother by his side, he decided to make the call.
His mother cried when she heard his voice, and his smile was pure joy when he re-connected with his family. He was about to graduate College Bible School, and promised to save money to help them make the trip to see him graduate. His mother and father heard the change in their son, in his voice, in his spirit.
'Serving Life' served my soul last night. It was beautifully done, and never tried to 'push aside' the criminal acts that the men committed. No, the documentary will just open your heart to look deeper, to have compassion, to release fear and judgment, and embrace humanity.