Saved in a cell: Inmates help other inmates learn compassion

Friday, February 22, 2013 - 5:59pm

Approaching the end of life is something that can not only have a profound impact not only for the individual, but also for those you close to that person as well. For that reason, one prison is utilizing its senior population as a way to reform young offenders with the chance of parole.

Elayn Hunt Correctional Center utilizes younger inmates as orderlies to take care of older prisoners as well as those on end-of-life care. It’s a way for the senior prisoners to show the true cost of a life of crime.

"Prison is not a compassionate place, as far as, with each other goes," Deputy Warden Seth Smith, Hunt’s program director, explained. “The use of other offenders in a familiar type role where they help bathe take care of like a family would I think it helps them mentally helps their emotions grow."

Each day prisoners walk into the hospital wing at Hunt Correctional Center. Some of them may not walk out.

"Miss Sidney told me you ain’t got long to live you know that, huhh. I said ‘yes ma’am.’ But then God came into my life and now I’m sitting here today," Dennis Lege, an inmate serving a life sentence for murdering a police officer, explained.

Warden Smith said not all inmates get Lege’s second chance.

"We do have an aging population. A large number of offenders will die in prison,” he said. “They are sentenced to life. Life means life here in Louisiana. That’s where they are going to end up. They are going to end up in the ground.

At age 17, Lege was stopped by police for running a red light in Lafayette. Lege had already spent time in state custody, but he says that night he made the biggest mistake of his life.

“I was scared of being locked up again, so I took the pistol and shot him three times in the head," Lege described.

His life was changed forever.

"Every time I go before the pardoning board they turn me down for seriousness of offense," Lege said. "I feel like there is no hope for me.”

Although Lege realizes he will likely die in prison, he wants to try and gain some control over his health, as well as teach others how to avoid his fate.

"I’d tell them prison is a dangerous game,” Lege said when explaining what he tells the younger offenders. “I'd tell them the truth, that prison is no place for a young person; it’s no place for nobody, much less somebody young."

Mentors go beyond just the hospital.

Inmate Stephen Munzey is a woodshop worker. He uses his carpenter skills to help around the hospital. At age 59 he’s spent almost half his life behind bars. He’s been convicted twice for armed robbery. Since he got to Hunt, he worked hard to turn his life around.

"But I mean I’ve accepted what I got my self into here. I am the cause of it. No one else is to blame for. It I did it," Munzey confessed.

Munzey explained getting locked up helped save his life.

"I actually committed the crime that I did this time to get off the streets," Munzey said.

He’s gotten clean from drugs. He's serving a 40 year sentence for armed robbery, and if he gets out on parole in 2016, he plans on going through more programs to help him stay clean. He warns younger people to stay off drugs and stay out of jail.

"I'm in prison. This is not my home. I don't run nothing. They run it,” Munzey advised.

Munzey could get out of Hunt, But Lege will likely die there.

"If they let me out of here, I'd want to die. I don't want to die, because I couldn't be took care of. People don't take care of me out there," Lege described. “They give me correction. They show me, and they help me when I’m sick and stuff like that. They don't put me aside and leave me.”
He says he's using his time to better himself.

"I matured a lot these people here raised me."

He prays his story can help inspire others not to make the same mistakes he has made.

“It makes me feeling inferior, because I don't have the power of God to re-give back the life that I took," Lege explained.

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