photo source: famm.org

What happens to the old people in prison? No one thinks about the elderly in prison.  Most people think of prisons as places where dangerous criminals are locked up because society needs to be protected from them. They are locked up and the key thrown away for 30 – 40 – 50 years or more, until they die of old age. LWOP – Life Without Parole. A young man, or woman, as young as mid teens, committed a crime, and had the rest of his life was taken away. Twenty-two states try children as young as seven as adults. We don’t often picture inmates as people with walkers and wheelchairs, or think they spent nearly their entire life in a cell.  It also takes approximately $30,000 a year of the taxpayer’s money to pay for one inmate to live in the horrible conditions found inside prisons. Senior inmates are almost double that.  There are 2.33 million inmates in the the Us.  How many prisoners are there worldwide.  It is a scary thought.elderly prison inmate

                                       source credit: ca.news.yahoo.com

It is difficult to write only about the elderly in prison without explaining what the prisons are for everyone, and the treatment all inmates  get. It is how the younger inmates are treated that affects them as they age. If they are unlucky enough to spend multiple decades locked up they will go through a lifetime of malnutrition and insufficient medical care that affects the elderly in ways that are cruel and unnecessary. That is what happens to any institution that becomes “for profit”. On the outside we don’t consider age 50 to be elderly. In prison it is. Age 50 and above is the fastest growing segment of the prison population. Some prisons are nursing homes with barbed wire.

This is the effect of the “War on Drugs” when people were handed life sentences like candy. The sentences they were given would not be given today, yet they keep these people inside long after they paid for whatever  crime they committed. Today, everyone wants to carry a gun. It’s their constitutional right, they yell. The want to be able to strap them on their hip like some long ago cowboy. But in 1980 you went to prison if you were caught with a gun in your possession. These men are dying.  They want to see their grandchildren and spend a little time with their family.  They are no threat to anyone.  Because they are in prison, the caregivers hired to help them are not even allowed to give them a hug.  They can’t show kindness  to a dying man.  They are in prison, after all.

This is a link to one of the best articles I’ve read about the aging in prison. There are also experiences of about a half dozen men.  It made me cry.  One man saw a tree for the first time in 20 years – a tree – and the experience so moved him.  The Painful Price Of Aging In Prison

In the 1980’s, when Ronald Regan began “The War on Drugs”, those who were apprehended with even tiny amount of marijuana were given extremely long prison sentences. If someone is arrested with alcohol, a very harmful substance, it’s okay and legal. Death from alcohol abuse is common.  But can’t prohibit alcohol.  We tried that already.  So now they have tried with marijuana, classifying it to be as dangerous and lethal as heroin. Its a Class 1 drug. There has never been even one death from marijuana, ever, and you can’t OD on it like you can with alcohol poisoning. But this phony war has imprisoned hundreds of thousands of people and have made certain corporations very rich.

Now, 35 years later, these elderly inmates are very sick and dying. The war on drugs stopped nothing, but it filled the prisons and the corporations took over because of the money they could make.  What is the point of giving someone a fifty year sentence for drugs?  If he has done a crime, give him an appropriate sentence.  It serves no purpose to take away his entire life. And when they get proper medical care in their younger years and they are fed horrible food so they don’t get the nutrition they need to stay healthy, then you have people dying when they are fifty. Renal failure is one of biggest medical problems.

photo credit: theguardian.com                                                                                    This was taken the day before this man died.  He is handcuffed to the bed.

 We have learned in recent years that much of the evidence that was used throughout the years to find people guilty, was wrong. When that mistake  is found, often through DNA, or finding evidence that had been suppressed that would have exonerated them from the start, you would think they would be released, but they aren’t.  Even when the courts are presented with new evidence, setting them free is nearly impossible. Even if a judge overturns a conviction, the prison won’t set him free without more years of hassle, as seen by the case of three men called The Angola Three All three had their convictions over turned after spending decades in prison, but the prison wouldn’t let them go. 85% of all inmates in Angola, die in Angola. With attorneys trying to get them released, one man died, one man who was near dying did get out and died a few days later.  There is still one man inside.  After yet another court case where he was deemed innocent and the judge said they would not be allowed to file another case against him, the prosecutors are determined that he will not get out.


As of 2015 it is against the law to sentence a minor to life without parole, but it isn’t retroactive. If you were sentenced in 2014 the new law isn’t for you. And if you are 65 and already had been imprisoned for nearly 50 years you won’t be allowed to have even a small portion of your life back. To date, it has been unsuccessfully fought.

This article talks about the Supreme Court ruling about youth offenders.  For every youth that has been given life with no parole, he will die in prison as an old man. There are women, but the majority are men. Juvenile Life Without Parole

prison elderly2

Are these elderly prisoners a danger to society?  No. But sadly, after spending decades locked up inside a prison, and not having access to decent medical care, dental care and nutritious food, you body is going to break down faster. You will be much older than than the same aged person who didn’t go through that. A persons body can be neglected for only so long before it breaks down.

Because of poor dental hygiene, and no six month check ups, teeth pain is a  common problem that is ignored even after the teeth become infected and an abscess has formed.  Many problems could have easily been taken care of when it was a simple cavity.  Even after a tooth has abscessed, painfully evident by swollen a mouth and an inmate screaming in pain, they will let him cry in pain for a long time before anything is done. To make matters worse, guards will taunt the inmate and laugh at his discomfort. If he is are extremely lucky he might get an aspirin, but that won’t help the problem of increasing infection. Teeth pain is one of the worst pains to endure and for prisons to allow inmates to suffer this way is inexcusable. If you are in pain, too bad. Eventually, he will be taken to a dentist, but by then he will  have suffered for weeks or months. The dentist could be a two or three day bus ride away, with the inmate being shackled to other prisoners. Spending a lifetime in prison, as your teeth rot because of bad food and lack of care, is inhumane. I have learned  these things through many letters I have received over the years from inmates.

prison food,lockdown,ad seginmate privileges,no justice for inmates
example of prison food on while on lockdown Photo credit: pennsylvaniacooking.blogspot.com

After decades of poor quality food, barely above starvation, it takes a toll on health. If you are one of the few who has family who puts money on your books – a term used when money is sent that can be spent in the commissary or to make calls – you could purchase a variety of food very much like what you could buy at a gas station convenience store. Fresh vegetables or salads are not on the menu.

Disease is rampant and are most are untreated. Many illnesses wouldn’t have ended in death if the inmate had received care. The notion that inmates get free medical treatment is highly exaggerated. They have to fight for medical care and often lose. My grandson’s father, Jamie Cummings, who today turned 33, has been in prison for ten years.  He not only has epilepsy, he was recently been diagnosed with Pericarditis, an inflation of the sac around the heart. He had a seizure that was severe enough for him to be taken to a hospital.  Quite often they just let him lay in his cell because the guard doesn’t want to do the paperwork.

It was during this hospital stay they discovered the problem with his heart. They kept him there for four days monitoring his heart.  The cardiologist told him – and wrote in his report the medication he needed.  It is easily treatable but is often fatal if left untreated. The sac around the heart hardens and blood cant pump right.  It causes chest pains and difficulty moving around because the body doesn’t get enough oxygen. The medical unit at the prison won’t give him the medication that will save his life.  I’m now fighting for him. Jamie has been having chest pains. He talked to a nurse using video chat in the medical unit.

Although there are many inmates with chronic illnesses at Huntsville Prison, there is often no medical staff there for long stretches of time. They leave at 5 PM and return around 3 AM.  Although in my experience I have called there quite a few times as early as 2 PM and receptionist tells me they are already gone for the day. If an inmate needs medical help someone calls a nurse at a different location using video chat. What good is that? There are many chronic illnesses that need more than someone just looking at them on a screen. Older inmates need better care than that. When Jamie had his latest video chat because of chest pain, the nurse said he didn’t “look” like he was in pain and told him to drink more water, the nurse’s remedy for everything.  Jamie does get medication for seizures but he still has them. He went into the hospital with that medication so they can’t decide he doesn’t need them.

The medical care isn’t free.  Every January he is charged $100 he doesn’t have.  Every time I put money into his account  they will take half until it’s paid.  I pay it because as lousy as the care is he needs to be able to call for help when he has a seizure.  Many inmates don’t.  If they don’t need to see a doctor for the rest of the year he still has to pay $100 for one visit. sickness runs rampant in prisons.  If some things aren’t treated they could get really sick or pass it on to others.

You can read  Jamie’s story at:   My Name Is Jamie. My Life In Prison

Cost is the bottom line for everything.  Cut the cost. Who cares?  Inmates are a forgotten society that has no value. Jamie’s experience is just ONE person, one human being.  2.3 million people are locked up in the United States. If they gave inmates the medical treatment they needed, there would be no profit. Investors would be unhappy. After all, they are just inmates, and most of them are black. They don’t care who they hurt.  It seems greed is the reason for everything these days.

A picture of this wouldn’t do it justice.  You need to read the article:       Ten Worst Prisons in America

Another large percentage of inmates are Hispanic. Yes, America is in a uproar about illegal aliens, but Hispanic families with wives and children are separated from their husbands and imprisoned having committed no crime. How bad would your country have to be to risk crossing the border of another country illegally.  Maybe they shouldn’t have done it, but does that mean we have the right to enslave them?  Many have severe medical needs.

I watched a video of a new prison being auctioned off and prospective buyers were promised an endless supply of people. Hispanics caught at the boarder were going to keep the new prison full.  The bidding started at $5,000,000. Today, Texas already has more than 110 prisons.

Many inmates become diabetic because of a high carb diet which turns to sugar. They aren’t going to get the diet they need. Arthritis or any common “old age” disease, won’t get treated. Many illnesses a prisoner has is treatable, but in prison they are left untreated regardless of the pain, until it gets very bad and then the absolute minimum is done.

When sentencing became absurd during the “War on Drugs” in the 1980’s, no one looked at the future affects and thought about the elderly inmates who needed more care than what they would be willing to provide. How could the prison continue to be profitable if they had to pay for necessary medical procedures? The law states they have a right to medical care, but they don’t say how much or when.

When prisons, like hospitals and schools, became “for profit”, corporations wanted to jump on the bandwagon. The Prison Industrial Complex took over many prisons . States were broke. They couldn’t repair roads or schools, and they couldn’t afford the costs of the increasing populations of the prisons while having to constantly build new prisons to house them.  Corporations, like CCA and the GEO Group, offered to take the prisons off the hands of the states and run them. But here was the deal: the states had to sign 20 year contracts promising the prisons would be kept 90-100% full AT ALL TIMES, or the state would have to pay them for the empty beds. That could run into millions of dollars. The corporations sold the deal by telling the states they would now have more money for roads and schools. That didn’t happen. Instead, there were many lawsuits because the corporations were cutting too many corners for profit.  People were dying because of the lack of medical care. They cut out too much food and other necessities. Some of the states that signed those contracts will not be renewing. But these corporations donate a lot of money to the campaigns of politicians to guarantee they will vote on issues that are in the best interest of these corporations. This puts a lot of pressure on both sides.

New prisons are still being built, even though this year there has been much in the media about lowering the prison populations. In my opinion, it is a sham. There has been no mention of the 20 year contracts already in force. There were investors and stock holders who are looking forward to all the profit  to be make. The United States has 5% of the world’s population and 25% of all the prisoners. Do we really have more criminals? No. This system preys on blacks and Hispanics.  Many people get imprisoned that shouldn’t be. That is the only way they get the support they need from the white privileged population who need to keep racism alive and well.  Every black person they arrest could find guilty of something, guilty or not.  There are six times more black people than white people in prison, yet black people are only 13% of the population.  Prisons are filled with black people, a much lower percentage of Hispanics and the occasional white.  The media, bought and paid by those who make the profit, convinced the public that black men are dangerous. They start in elementary schools, where 6x more black kids are imprisoned in juvenile detention.

Although this article is focused on the elderly, most of them started out young kids when they were first imprisoned.  It is these laws that need to be changed, so people don’t spend their entire lives in prison.  Prison should only be for those who really are a threat to society, and that percentage is much smaller than you think.  To understand the problem with the elderly, you need to understand why there is a problem and why it is as bad as it is. Many lives have been ruined for that reason.

At a time when it would be compassionate to let a dying man be at home, it is denied. There is something called – compassionate release. An inmate can apply to be let out to die at home.  Four times this year an inmate applied for it and four times it was denied, and since the process is very long they often die before and answer is given.

SQ sm cages

 There is one last thing I haven’t mentioned – mental illness. That is another article by itself. So many people who have a mental illness have been put in a prison because there was nowhere else to put them. Conditions inside made their problem worse and they often get put in solitary confinement for their own protection.  Even those who have committed crimes often have a mental illness that is made far worse because of how they are treated. Many try to commit suicide and some succeed.  They have also been left in their cells to die with no one helping them, with staff watching them die through the window on their cell door. You don’t want to see the video I watched for an hour, watching a man take his final breath and not one person, including medical staff would help him until after he was dead.  Then they did CPR so they could say they followed the book. It was one less person to care for. There are many lawsuits. There is almost no help for people who need therapy. This last picture is a group therapy session. Effective? You decide.

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3 thoughts on “The Elderly In Prison – Is It Right?

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