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Powerful 'Grace Before Dying' photo exhibit opens at CCC

by: PHOTO COURTESY: CCC - Lori Waselchuk's photographs at Clackamas Community College show a hospice program at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.The Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola historically has been one of the most dangerous maximum-security prisons in the United States. A voluntary inmate hospice program initiated in 1998 has transformed the prison into one of the least violent.

“Grace Before Dying” is an award-winning photographic documentary by Lori Waselchuk that chronicles the prisoner-run hospice program at the Louisiana State Penitentiary. A community exhibition with quilts created by the hospice volunteers is on display in the Community Center at Clackamas Community College through June 28.

The powerful photographic display and the quilts not only show a culture of caring and compassion that challenges stereotypes of the incarcerated, but also provides an intimate and personal perspective on what long-term and life sentences signify for those inside.

Most of Angola’s inmates are expected to die there. Until the hospice program was created, prisoners died mostly alone in the prison hospital, and their bodies were buried in shoddy graves in the prison cemetery. The nationally recognized hospice program has changed that.

Now, when a terminally ill inmate is too sick to live among the general prison population, he is transferred to the hospice ward. Here, inmate volunteers work closely with hospital and security staff to care for the patient. The volunteers, most of whom are serving life sentences themselves, try to keep the patients as comfortable as possible. Then, during the last days of the patient’s life, the hospice staff begins a 24-hour vigil. The volunteers go to great lengths to ensure that their fellow inmate does not die alone.

The hospice volunteers’ efforts to create a tone of reverence for the dying and the dead have touched the entire prison population.

Waselchuk is a documentary photographer whose photos have been featured in magazines and newspapers worldwide. She has reproduced photographs for several international aid organizations. The photos in the “Grace Before Dying” exhibit also are in a book by the same title that includes essays by the photographer and Lawrence N. Powell, a history professor at Tulane University.

The exhibit will be featured in two upcoming community events: the engAge in Community Expo on May 15, and the Northwest Justice Forum June 25-27.

The exhibit at CCC is sponsored by the Education, Human Services and Criminal Justice Department. For more information, contact Yvonne Smith at 503-594-5207 or Ida Flippo at 503-594-3363.



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