Our history

2000
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Humane Prison Hospice Project
2000

At the core of Humane’s work is the transformative power of incarcerated people providing care to their peers.

Our collective DNA

Central to the spirit of Humane Prison Hospice Project is the organic involvement of communities inside and outside of prisons . . . caring, supportive people too numerous to name in a brief history, yet vital to the work. You are seen and deeply appreciated.

2007
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2007

Sandra Fish and Michael Satris worked together in Michael’s law practice, seeking justice for incarcerated individuals.

A catalytic question

The seed of Humane Prison Hospice Project was sowed in the Law Offices of Michael Satris, in Bolinas, California. Sandra Fish, who has experience with dying people and prison work, was working part-time there.

When Michael mentioned that one of his clients had terminal lung disease, she wondered aloud, “How are they dying in San Quentin?”

“Badly” was his immediate and solemn response.

Sandra immediately began looking for ways to begin offering humane end-of-life care for incarcerated people.

2010
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2010

“Serving Life” is a documentary, narrated and executive produced by Academy Award®-winner Forest Whitaker, that explores life at Louisiana State Penitentiary, Angola, where incarcerated men care for their peers as they die.

Insight from the beginning

Sandra made endless connections in the intervening years. One of those was to Brothers’ Keepers, a peer crisis support program in San Quentin, which had begun independently. Marcia Blackstock and Diane Beynon, the founding facilitators, took note when the Brothers asked for hospice training.

Sandra had learned from her research that when individuals experiencing incarceration care for their peers at the end of life, the experience is transformational — a profoundly rehabilitative experience for all involved. It became clear to her that this work needed to be implemented by trained incarcerated people.

From 2010 to 2012, she gave the Brothers’ Keepers information about the new work they aspired to do, organized speakers from Hospice by The Bay and the Zen Hospice Project to meet with the men, and screened the film “Serving Life,” about a working prison hospice, for the group.

2012
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2012

Sandra Fish and Ladybird Morgan found they shared a passion for the concept of in-prison hospice.

NEW INTEREST

Late in the year, Sandra met Ladybird Morgan from Hospice by the Bay. Ladybird was a highly trained social worker and nurse with expertise in end-of-life care. Ladybird approached Sandra with great interest in joining the mission and Sandra felt thrilled as Ladybird possessed all the credentials she lacked. However, Ladybird was leaving to work for Doctors Without Borders for three years and told Sandra, “Don’t start without me!” She assured Ladybird the mission would still need her upon her return.

2014
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2014

“Prison Terminal” is a 2013 documentary by Edgar Barens. Given unprecedented access inside Iowa State Penitentiary, Barens follows the last six months in the life of Jack Hall, a WWII veteran incarcerated for the murder of his dead son’s drug dealer.

THE POWER OF STORYTELLING

Katherine Pettus, a leader at the International Association for Hospice and Palliative Care (who would become a Humane board member two years later), introduced Sandra to Edgar Barens who had just released his Oscar-nominated documentary, “Prison Terminal.”
His film became a pivotal tool for Humane, educating and inspiring the public, end-of-life care workers, prison staff — including wardens, and incarcerated people.

2015
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2015

The number of Americans in U.S. jails, prisons and juvenile detention centers has increased dramatically since about 1980.

REFINING THE APPROACH

Sandra and Ladybird already knew that training incarcerated people to be caregivers would be crucial to the success of Humane. By this time, they had determined that formerly incarcerated people must be involved as well.

2016
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2016

Ladybird Morgan and Sandy Fish celebrated with Marvin Mutch upon his release from prison — and got to work.

GAINING A HERO ADVOCATE

Ladybird returned, and just months after Marvin Mutch aka the “Mayor of San Quentin” was released from prison for a crime he did not commit, she and Sandra met him for lunch on his first birthday in the outside world in 40 years. Not only had Marvin finished his sentence at California Medical Facility, where he witnessed its hospice program firsthand, but he also had been a founding member of the Brothers’ Keepers. Humane Prison Hospice Project was officially born. Men incarcerated in San Quentin and enrolled in a computer programming training course offered by The Last Mile created Humane’s logo and first website.

2017
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2017

Critical collaborations with staff members from Mission Hospice accelerated Humane’s momentum.

ONE CHAPTER CLOSES, MORE DOORS OPEN

Marcia and Diane retired and transitioned the Brothers’ Keepers, which had been overseen by Insight Prison Project, to Humane’s management. This gave Sandra and Ladybird weekly access inside San Quentin in order to facilitate the program and officially add end-of-life care training. In June, seeking support, Ladybird, Marvin, Edgar, and Sandra met with two Mission Hospice & Home Care staff members, Lisa Deal and Susan Barber. At the time, Lisa was chief clinical officer at Mission and Susan served as the organization’s volunteer coordinator. Mission offered to sponsor the end-of-life training at San Quentin, leveraging the curriculum that Susan had developed for a community-based model. Susan joined Ladybird to train the Brothers’ Keepers.

April 23, 2018
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April 23, 2018

Opened in July 1852, San Quentin is the oldest prison in California. It is also the site of the state’s only death row, which is the most populated in the U.S.

Celebration

A group of nine Brothers’ Keepers graduated from the first Compassionate End-of-Life Care Training on April 23.

2020
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2020

During the global COVID-19 pandemic, protesters gathered outside San Quentin and other prisons to draw attention to how incarcerated people are living and dying behind bars.

A global pandemic

Humane was preparing to graduate a second cohort of Brothers’ Keepers trained in end-of-life care when COVID-19 hit. Prisons were shut down.

2021
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Humane Prison Hospice Project team photo
2021

Ken Ross of the EKR Foundation visits with the Humane team. Left to right: Ken Ross, Ladybird Morgan, Sandra Fish, Marvin Mutch, Edgar Barens, Susan Barber and Lisa Deal.

Coming back together

Five years after their first meeting, Lisa, Susan, Ladybird, Marvin and Sandra began working together as a team, with Lisa as the chief executive officer of Humane, Susan filling the roles of community liaison and volunteer manager, and Edgar as an integral part of the team.

With the California prisons still on lockdown and online meetings suddenly a popular way to gather people from around the globe, Humane redoubled its efforts to educate key audiences and stakeholders about the needs of those aging and dying behind bars and how to support them. Humane reached more than 1,000 people during this time alone.

2022
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2022

Marvin Mutch shares his story at a community fundraising event for Humane.

Momentum

Dr. Michele DiTomas, the newly appointed chief executive for a palliative care initiative at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, invited the Humane team to collaborate on the creation of a new curriculum to expand the use of peer palliative/hospice workers in additional California prisons. The new curriculum will be completed in early 2023.

2023
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CMF Vacaville
2023

California Medical Facility in Vacaville, CA.

Launch Time

With the help of experienced volunteer facilitators, the Humane team successfully ran two pilot training programs. Twelve residents of the California Medical Facility participated, and at the Central California Women’s Facility, 27 peers were trained in end-of-life care. The feedback Humane received from these 39 participants is invaluable to the continued development of the training curriculum.

2024
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2024

The Humane team looks forward to the proliferation of prison hospice programs as long as they are needed.

WHAT’S NEXT

Humane is currently developing a model to scale palliative care programming nationally, and talking with several other states about the possibility of expansion.

In 2024, Humane is scheduled to implement programs in three more California prisons.

“Before my cellmate of five years passed, he begged me to take care of him. So I did. I fed him. I cleaned him up. When he had to go to the hospital, he fought them. He wanted to come back. Him dying made me want to change. He was my friend. The person who took care of him, that was a good part of me.”

 

– Lenny, a Brothers Keeper, trained in end of life care by Humane Prison Hospice Project team 

Humane Prison Hospice Project is a program of Commonweal.