This documentary’s title—Serving Life—is a pun, in essence. It’s about a group of men at Angola State Prison in Louisiana, one of the most legendarily horrible prisons in the USA. Most of them are in for life sentences without parole.
What happened is that a new warden came in and changed things. Violence is down 73%–pretty impressive. He instituted a couple of different programs. There is now a Bible College, where inmates can earn degrees. The second change—the one this film follows—is that he instituted Hospice for the prisoners.
A bunch of prisoners signed up. A panel of Hospice executives interviewed each one. Then they went through the prisoners’ files. In the end, they picked a small handful.
“Serving Life” is a spectacular documentary from OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network), co-produced and narrated by Oscar-winner Forrest Whitaker.
The changes in the inmates who work the Hospice program is amazing. Some of them may never leave Angola—graphics show their crimes and sentences (“First Degree Murder, Life Without Parole” e.g. It boggles the mind watching these prisoners go from leery trainees to full-blown Hospice members who give baths and change diapers, and who—at the end—hang out with the dying person, so that he doesn’t have to die alone
One of the most touching elements was watching the Hospice guys make a quilt for their dying patient. “Whenever you get cold, you can put this on and stay warm.” When the man dies, the quilt goes with him.
Prison sucks. There are horrible things that go on in Angola, just as in any prison. “Serving Life” ignored all that, and focused solely on the Hospice program. Hospice works miracles out here “in the real world.” To find such love and care in such a disheartening place as Angola shows the resilience of the human spirit. And the power of love.
(“Serving Life,” 2011; no MPAA Rating, but probably PG-13 for some language. This film is available on HuluPlus)