Room Number Six
Louisiana State Penitentiary Hospice Program / Inception January 1, 1998
On January 7, 1997 with tears streaming freely down my face, I stood over his cardboard casket being lowered into a pauper’s vault in the unfrequented prison cemetery. I unclasped my fist while letting slide from it a crucifixion, a token of our friendship he had given to me. Transfixed on this cross laying upon his casket, vivid memories race through my mind. Logan and I had been doing time together, housed in the same living area for several years. We slept in beds next to each other and over the years established a concrete friendship behind these razorwire fences! Through his stories late at night, I have vicariously lived on the bayou encompassed in the Cajun culture; worked an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico; set traps, caught and ate crawfish fresh from the bayou. I sensed his southern pride when he spoke of his kids, his family and their traditions. We watched each others back, as they say in prison, until the day they diagnosed him with lung cancer.
Logan, whose nickname was "Bones," went through surgery where they removed one of his lungs thus reassigning him to the hospital’s ward, Nursing Unit #2. Hospital Security was strict. For one prisoner to visit another prisoner it took an act of Congress. Those assigned to the hospital back then, lived there and died there, essentially alone. On those occasions that I could find a ranking security officer compassionate enough to allow me to visit, I would go see my friend. His face would light-up as I entered the room, Room Number Six. As our tradition was, we would sit and tell each other stories, laughing along the way. For at least a year, I would spend a few hours with him every couple of weeks. With each visit his condition, but never his spirit, regressed. Little did I know, he was preparing to die. The day before he died, Bones asked that I be there for him to the end. He said, "I told my family that I did not want to be buried in Gueydon, La. among lots of strangers. I would prefer to be buried here where all my friends are." I reassured him that I would be there until the end!
Bones died alone at the hospital in room number six on January 5, 1997. When word got to me a few hours later in my dormitory, I wept uncontrollably, engulfed by the feeling in my heart that I had failed my friend. HE DIED ALONE! As my tears drop into his grave, I ask Bones to forgive me for not being there with him at the end as I had promised. Security refused to allow me to visit that morning.
August 28, 1999, in room number six. I’m a hospice volunteer sitting vigil with another friend dying of cancer when the correlation of room number six strikes me. I swallow hard to fight back my emotions. Ernest Davis, friendship began in a similar way as Bones’ friendship had. I befriended and lived with him in the same dormitory. His death I vowed would be different!
A month earlier, Ernest and I are sitting on his hospital bed, when he points to the hospice literature left lying upon his bedside table. His throat cancer had already claimed his voice but I could comprehend most of what he communicated. The fear in his eyes told the story. He was visually struggling with the doctor’s diagnosis, magnified by the thought of dying alone in prison. To older prisoners, the hospital was "The Place of No Return." I took his hand in mine and promised him that I would be with him from now on. I explained the hospice philosophy to Ernest then invited him to accept hospice care so that I could literally love him to death. I’ll never forget asking him if he knew how to spell hospice? He rolled his eyes at me and with his hoarse whisper he spelled, H-O-S-P-I-C-E. I smiled and said, "that’s correct but we spell it a little bit differently, we spell it, L-O-V-E!" He nodded, eventually accepted the hospice program and we set out upon a daily journey, hand and hand.
Sitting at Ernest’s bedside I look at his niece, asleep in a chair, she has spent the night with us both. For twenty years she grew up visiting her uncle in prison. Now due to our hospice visitation policy, she was allowed to sit vigil with us also. Holding Ernest’s hand I close my eyes, thinking of what it was like before, periodically visiting Bones, and what it is like today. Never again, due to our hospice program, will another man unnecessarily DIE ALONE in room number six.