There are a lot of old, dying men at Angola.
A new documentary airing on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network goes inside the Louisiana State Penitentiary for an all-access look at the prison’s hospice program, where inmates care for each other.
“They were incredibly open. There was nothing we asked for that they weren’t willing to let us see or do,” Lisa R. Cohen, producer and director of “Serving Life,” said from New York Tuesday. Cohen traveled to Angola last Thursday for a screening of the program, commissioned by OWN.
The 90-minute documentary follows a new class of hospice volunteers coming from the inmate population. They are screened and interviewed by the hospice medical staff. Those accepted then begin rigorous training to see if they can handle the physical and emotional aspects of their new vocation. Assigned a patient, they are with them until they die.
“We, very early on, were very clear about wanting to focus on the caregivers more than the patients,” Cohen said. “Because really what was interesting to us was what happens to a person when they give of themselves and any person, the worst of the worst, the people that, if you were going to pick somebody that couldn’t redeem themselves, and see what happens. … What they give back themselves and what giving can give you, what serving does for you.”
The production crew spent most of summer 2010 at Angola and several weeklong stays since the project started in summer 2009. The crew lived in guest housing on the prison grounds, shooting at the hospital every day and some nights.
“I have to say that that’s one thing we didn’t take into consideration, how hard it is to actually be rolling the cameras when that happens,” Cohen said of witnessing two inmates pass away.
The volunteers are not only responsible for the bathing and sanitary needs of their patients, but also their emotional state. An encouraging word, a held hand, can put the dying men more at ease in their last days.
“It was a profound experience for me,” Cohen said. “Some of these things I knew, but when you watch it unfold in front of you, the humanity that exists in all of us … the fact that no matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done, there are parts of every one of us that are common, a common bond that we can find common ground, and that people are human beings … underneath it all and capable of the most simple but incredible acts of compassion and kindness. I mean, just watching these guys, watching what they would be able to do. And you kept asking yourself, ‘Could I do that?’”
Cohen said there are, of course, some viewers who won’t agree with treating these men, some convicted of horrible crimes, with dignity in the end.
“The warden said this great thing in the documentary. He said, ‘You know, they’re not garbage. Whatever God makes isn’t garbage,’ which I just loved. I mean it’s so clear. That’s part of the message.”
“Serving Life,” narrated by actor Forest Whitaker, debuts at 8 p.m. Thursday (cable Channel 119).
‘GulfWatch’ on LPB
Following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in April 2010, Louisiana Public Broadcasting partnered with 10 other public broadcasting stations in four Gulf Coast states to from the “GulfWatch” consortium.
Over the last year, these “GulfWatch” partners have been sharing stories of their state’s recovery from the oil spill online at http://www.publicmediaexchange.org. In July, on a special edition of “Louisiana Public Square,” LPB brings together “GulfWatch” reporters from Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida with residents and a panel of experts to explore the environmental, economic and health challenges still facing the Gulf Coast region nearly a year after the capping of the Deepwater Horizon oil leak.
“Beyond the Spill: A GulfWatch Special” airs at 7 p.m. Wednesday on WLPB, Channel 27 (cable Channel 12).
Panelists include Alice Perry, Mississippi member of the federal Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force; Kenneth Feinberg, administrator of the Gulf Coast Claims Facility; Ed Overton, professor emeritus, LSU Department of Environmental Sciences; and Jeffrey Breit, a member of the Plaintiff’s Steering Committee in the BP litigation.
“GulfWatch” reporters are Jeremy Alford, LPB, Baton Rouge; Eileen Fleming, WWNO, New Orleans; Swede White, WRKF, Baton Rouge; Judith Meriwether, KRVS, Lafayette; Shedd Johnson, WVAS-FM, Montgomery, Ala.; Les Lovoy, WBHM-FM, Birmingham, Ala.; Rhonda Miller, Mississippi Public Broadcasting; Jill Hubbs, WSRE-TV, Pensacola, Fla.; and Tara Slusher, WEDU-TV, Tampa, Fla.
Shark Week looms
For the 24th summer, the end of July brings Shark Week on the Discovery Channel (cable Channel 46).
Discovery has a new chief shark officer, comedian and actor Andy Sandberg. He’ll be seen throughout the week beginning July 31, and he’ll also be featured in the one-hour special “Shark City,” 8 p.m. Aug. 4.
Other shows premiering include “Great White Invasion,” 8 p.m. July 31; “Jaws Comes Home,” 9 p.m. July 31; “Rogue Sharks,” 8 p.m. Aug. 1; “Summer of the Shark,” 9 p.m. Aug. 1; “Killer Sharks,” 8 p.m. Aug. 2; and “How Sharks Hunt,” 8 p.m. Aug. 3.
Worth a look
THE POT REPUBLIC: 9 p.m. Wednesday, WLPB, Channel 27 (cable Channel 12). “Frontline” goes to California to examine the country’s oldest, largest and most wide-open marijuana market.
THUNDERCATS: 7 p.m. Friday, Cartoon Network (cable Channel 33). Lion-O, Tygra, Cheetara, they’re all back in this re-imagined take on the 1980s animated classic. This time, they’re trying to save the world of Thundera from darkness as Lion-O seeks to take his rightful place as king.
Louisiana Public Broadcasting provided information for this column. Television stations with news about programming, on-air reporters or personalities should send the information to: Judy Bergeron, television editor, The Advocate, 7290 Bluebonnet Blvd., Baton Rouge, LA 70810; fax to (225) 388-0351 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.