The Other Death Sentence
Date:  12-18-2017

More than 100,000 Americans are destined to spend their final years in prison. Can we afford it?
From the Mother Jones article by James Ridgeway:

Mother Jones Editor’s note: This article was supported by a MetLife Foundation Journalists in Aging Fellowship, a collaboration of New America Media and the Gerontological Society of America.

William “Lefty” Gilday had been in prison 40 years when the dementia began to set in. At 82, he was already suffering from advanced Parkinson’s disease and a host of other ailments, and his friends at MCI Shirley, a medium security prison in Massachusetts, tried to take care of him as best they could. Most of them were aging lifers like Lefty, facing the prospect of one day dying behind bars themselves, so they formed an ad hoc hospice team in their crowded ward. They bought special food from the commissary, heated it in an ancient microwave, and fed it to their friend. They helped him to the toilet and cleaned him up. Joe Labriola, 64, tried to see that Lefty got a little sunshine every day, wheeling his chair out into the yard and sitting with his arm around him to keep him from falling out.

But Lefty, who was serving life without parole for killing a police officer during a failed bank heist in 1970, slipped ever deeper into dementia. One day he threw an empty milk carton at a guard and was placed in a “medical bubble,” a kind of solitary confinement unit with a glass window that enables health care staffers to keep an eye on the prisoner. His friends were denied entrance, but Joe managed to slip in one day. He recalls an overpowering stench of piss and shit and a stack of unopened food containers—Lefty explained that he couldn’t open the tabs. Joe also noticed that the nurses in the adjoining observation room had blocked the glass with manila folders so they wouldn’t have to look at the old man.

Lefty had been popular among the prisoners, though. A minor-league ballplayer turned 1960s radical—his southpaw, not his politics, earned him the nickname—he was the subject of one of the most infamous manhunts in Massachusetts history. He had already been in and out of prison several times on robbery offenses when he fell in with a group of Brandeis University students who decided that stealing guns and money could help them foment a black revolution. They held up a bank in 1970, and when Boston police responded, guns drawn, a patrolman named Walter Schroeder was shot dead. Lefty claimed that he never meant to shoot the guy—that it was a warning round that ricocheted—but the jury didn’t buy it, and he was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. (The students got no more than seven years.) Continue reading >>>