Gold Coats: Killers Caring for Killers
April 8, 2012
Currently, there are 1.6 million individuals incarcerated in the United States. Ten percent of those inmates are serving life sentences, with another 11% in for more than 20-years. Like the rest of America, the inmate population is aging and dementia is cropping up with alarming frequency in the penitentiary.
Today’s Sunday NYT, just below the fold on the front page, carries an interesting piece on prisoners that are caring for other prisoners suffering from dementia. This is an innovative way to provide some of the much-needed extra care for such individuals without increasing the already high and unpopular cost of running a prison.
In the California Men’s Colony, the program is called “Gold Coats” because the inmates trained by the Alzheimer’s Association to care for demented inmates wear gold-colored coats rather than the standard-issue blue. These men, most of them hardened convicts in their own right, take a daily dose of abuse for their efforts. The Gold Coats are subjected to urine, feces, and other bodily fluids as they patiently care for their failing and flailing brothers.
Other inmates reportedly view the Gold Coats with suspicion at best; downright derision at worst. As they morph from predator to protector, Gold Coats are seen as pandering to prison officials.
Why bother with such good deeds that go so roundly punished? It’s not the $50 per month [good pay by prison standards], or the longer meal-time they are afforded in caring for their ward. It’s probably not even the upgrade to their personnel file.
No; the reason most of these men volunteer to help demented prisoners in the bowels of the penitentiary is for the chance to become human once again. And that gives us all some hope.