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Photo: Carolyn Jones, courtesy of The American Nurse Project

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They Can Find Grace in Unlikely Places
Tonia Faust, CCNM, RN
Louisiana State Penitentiary, Angola, Louisiana
Tonia Faust started working as a nurse in 1997 and now directs the hospice program at the Louisiana State Penitentiary.

"What makes this program unique is that we have 26 inmate volunteers in the program, who do this work for no compensation at all. They have their regular jobs, and then they come here during their recreational or downtime—either daily, every other day or, if it's a vigil, then 24/7. They go through a 40-hour educational program and then work under a mentor with one of our patients through death. For the most part, the dying inmates have someone with them all the time; no one dies alone. I mean, that is a luxury that most of us outside this prison won't have. It's truly exceptional to see these older, sometimes huge men sitting at the bedside of a dying inmate, reading or feeding them ice cream. The guys stay the entire time, and once the patient passes, they bathe and dress them for the morgue. Sometimes we even cry together. Then, when the body is gone, the volunteer will ask if he can go sit with someone else."