One Day – Rick Vance

10 pm….

Walking across the yard, empty now. Everyone locked up asleep for the night. My day is just starting, I gather my thoughts, before arriving at the Pallative Care unit. I got 1 on the watch (constant care 1 on 1 in his cell) it’s been three long days for my friend who has “tipped over,” became fixed, eyes, breathing, etc. Most pass within 2 days, He’s holding on so hard 40 years locked up will do that. I enter his cell up beat talking to him, sharing my life, what’s going on on in the yard. The things he’s heard for most of his lifetime. Re-assuring him that I’m here to keep my promise, to be by his side. 5 days ago I wrote his sister a letter for him, thanking her for her letters and pictures I ask him if he wants to let her know how it really is. He says no just send his love. I do his wishes without question. We’ve known each other for about 6 months now, ever since his transfer from another joint, and have bonded. We talk about his situation (stage 4 liver cancer) and its final outcome. It’s been hard for both of us. I have a decent coping mechanism, but my friend has pulled my heart strings to the max. The most heartfelt moment I’ve had to deal with is him begging me to go home, and me telling him it’s not going to happen. That it’s me he has. I hold his hand and try to remain strong (trust me it’s hard).

Choices for end of life patients in the CDCR are few, not like on the streets. So we play the hand as it’s delt. We have hospice but that’s really for the men who have days left. Pallative care is for the men who have months left (1 year to 18 months) longer term, and no matter what a friendship happens.

Back to my watch I grab my Bible (he’s a Christian) and read scripture to him. Holding his hand, his breathing is fixed into the ruttle, and I know it’s close. I talk to him telling him it’s ok, that the Father has a place for him. And he continues to fight. I say words that are not falling on deaf ears…an hour later he passes. Nothing spectacular just fades away. I do what feels right. I touch his forehead say a prayer, close his eyes, and say goodbye friend.

Inform staff of his passing the alarm goes off 20 officers come running, making sure his death was “natural.” The doctor comes to call it and finally the county coroner does his job then they take him away. I have no time to grieve. There’s still a job to do. Packing a man’s life into 2 boxes, Pulling his pictures of family, friends, loved ones off the walls, stacks of cards and letters filled with love from years gone by packed away with respect. It’s the last thing I can do to fulfill my promise to him.

It’s so hard to remain professional it’s taken time to learn this skill. I don’t feel I’ve been hardened to people passing, I just put into play the words of good ole King Solomon. To everything there is a season and a purpose Ecc 3:1-8. The work is done its quiet once again. My coworker and I reflect and talk of his passing till the end of the shift @ 5 am.

Walking back to my unit I think how today was the final price he paid for a life without the possibility of parole sentence. I arrive back “home.” It’s dark. I sit on my back and let the emotions come. My time…his time.Tears of loss. Tears of hope; did.I do all I could? What can I do for the next man. I lie down and close my eyes. Sleep comes quickly. Dealing with death is exhausting.

I wake to another day take of me, clean myself, my area. I do my program, then I share what happened with a couple of trusted friends. One is a Native American, one is a preacher. Both are inmates. I trust there advice is always helpful and very true. A few men heard what happened and ask questions. I try to explain the best I can. Most men tell me they couldn’t do my job. My response is they are wrong. Strength, honor, courage, is in us all. It does not die, and I don’t allow the kindness in me to be replaced with the hatred of this place. I attribute the strength and kindness in me to the HKF Human Kindness Foundation and the teachings of Bo and Sita Lozoff. Their clear and insightful teachings have guided me, and with that I’m able to do this job.

It’s 10 pm.

Walking across the yard, empty now. Everyone locked up and asleep for the night. My day just starting I gather my thoughts…..

My religion is simple.
My religion is kindness.
His holiness the Dalai Lama

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