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Maryland's Outside Connection

A DYING BREED

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A DYING BREED
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By David Belton #128-607
Maryland Correctional Institution - Hagertown, MD

For many of us, death is viewed as an unwelcome and uninvited guest, and it has a way of arriving when we least expect it.  For the young, it will arrive in youthful and vibrant days.  For the mature, it will come somewhere between daybreak and dawn.  For the elderly, those of use who have reached our senior years, it will reach us just as the sun is declining somewhere over the western horizon.  But for us, it is not the reality of death that frightens us the most, but it is the prison where we presently reside.

     There is, I believe, a larger portion of the general public who is unaware of a “dying breed” in its prisons.  In 1995, in a backdrop of the Maryland House of Corrections, former Governor Paris Glendening made a surprise and unusual announcement:  If you were sentenced to a life sentence with the possibility of parole, life now means what it implies – LIFE!  His proclamation would have dramatic effect on the lives of over 2,000 prisoners in the system serving life, thus creating in de facto a dying breed in its prison.

     Project Hope – Helping Older Prisoners Enter Society – pointed out in its statistics in July 2004, the Division of Corrections had over 24,000 prisoners, and of that number 2,203 were lifers, and 6,333 were between the ages of 41-60 and over.

     Over the years, we as a group, have remained silent and been without a voice.  We have seen ourselves as political pawns caught in a system that rewards leaders with votes for their “get tough on crime” approach.  Consequently, this concession became a payoff for punishing offenders for their past wrong, but totally ignored the process of any rehabilitation dracion policy, I’ve seen too many lose hope.  Of course, they will never admit this, but their actions oftentimes betray them.  They’re become battle fatigued from too many encounters, suffering from too many setbacks, experiencing too many losses – parents, children, and kin – so, what do they do?  They throw in the towel and become statistics among the dying breed.  You see, for some, this is much easier than hoping against hope; and without HOPE, we die!

      I have often heard it said death is one act man is forced to participate, and we are losing men to kidney failure, cancer, heart disease, strokes, and other maladies that accompany those advanced in years.  Recently, one of our peers became ill and was committed to our prison hospital.  As serious as his condition was, there were others whose condition was much worse, even to the brink of death.

      The patient’s whose bed was serious the television also possessed the remote control.  He asked the latest arrival didn’t he want the device, to which he replied, “No”.

      “Why not”, he wanted to know, “You’re dying aren’t you?”

      He was unaware that the person controlling the gadget was the next one they had appointed to die.  Several days, thereafter, the one possessing the remote succumbed to his disease, dying without the comfort of relatives or loved ones.

      In the end, for us, it is not living with the inevitability of death that terrifies us the most, but it is the prospect of dying in prison all alone and without the comfort of the ones we love most.

      Granted our situation is bleak for the moment, but I believe help is on the way, and never, ever let us refuse to HOPE!  

 

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