Even though it has dismal ratings, the Documentary Club is one thing the Oprah Winfrey Network is doing right.
Serving Life, which premiered Thursday at 9pm focuses on four new volunteers in the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola’s hospice program. They are all long-term inmates.
TV Guide reports, Because the average sentence at the maximum security prison is 93 years, inmates die there, some inevitably from terminal illness. To handle this, warden Burl Cain has instituted a hospice program, reasoning, “It’s just immoral not to care about somebody dying and try to have compassion when they’re going to wherever they’re going.”
The irony of killers watching over the dying gives way to a more subtle twist. While death is the reason that so many of them are serving at Angola in the first place, it has become their salvation.
The director of the prison program explains, “Hospice is the ultimate test; have you changed or have you not?” Not only do these criminals find use for their time caring for those who often cannot so much as bathe themselves, they’re also confronted with the enormity of the crimes they’ve committed.
A disclaimer precedes the film; “The events that take place in this documentary are factual. This program contains scenes of death and dying. Viewer discretion is advised.”
You are confronted with shots of deteriorating men who slip away before your eyes, but Serving Life never feels particularly sensationalistic.
The movie’s beauty lies in the fact that you never forget that these people have committed terrible acts, and yet overwhelming compassion supersedes it. The image of a frail, dying old man eating ice cream is moving, regardless of his murder history.