Framework

Capturing the world through photography, video and multimedia

Inmate Andrew Shelton, left, one of Chaplain Keith Knauf's Pastoral Care Workers, reads the Bible to a dying William Merritt in the hospice at the California Medical Facility, a high-security prison in Vacaville. When a hospice inmate is thought to have less than 72 hours to live, they go "on vigil" and are never left to die alone.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

George Taylor, a 59-year-old convicted killer who is suffering from cancer, sits silently in a chair in the inmate hospice at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

Ronald Bramlett is wrapped in a sheet as Pastoral Care Workers attempt to move him to another room in the hospice wing at the California Medical Facility. The hospice is the oldest inside a California penitentiary and one of the nation's first.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

Hospice inmate Joe Turney grips his head in pain as he tries to sleep.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

Pastoral Care Worker Juan Moreno strokes inmate William Merritt's forehead as he lays dying in the hospice. Opened in 1991 in response to the AIDS epidemic, it was cramped and spartan: 17 beds in seven patient rooms surrounding a narrow nursing station.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

Hospice Chaplain Keith Knauf holds hands as he prays with terminally ill inmate Phillip Gary Granger. Knauf believes that working to ease death can teach compassion.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

Kenneth Kolen gets a shave from a Pastoral Care Worker. When the hospice opened, ill inmates from around the state could petition to be transferred there if prison doctors gave them a prognosis of six months to live.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

Pastoral Care Worker John Paul Madrona, serving a prison term for a 1993 murder, keeps an eye on Steven Thomas as he bathes in the hospice wing.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

Pastoral Care Workers Sean Reece, right, and John Paul Madrona, left, lift inmate Richard Curry from a day bed onto the hospice patio.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

Pastorl Care Worker John Paul Madrona, right, rests his head on his arms during eulogies for recently deceased hospice patients. He decided to turn his life around after being convicted of fatally shooting an environmental chemist in 1993.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

Pastoral Care Worker John Paul Madrano, right, tends to fellow inmate Gary Smith. “There’s not a guy among our dying prisoners who does not find John Paul to be a favorite,” said Chaplain Keith Knauf, who’d come to lean on Madrona.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

Pastoral Care Worker John Paul Madrona fist-bumps hospice patient Troy "Pinapple" Kamakona, since deceased. Kamakona had been serving a life sentence for the murder of his wife.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

With his cancer progressing and making him constantly tired, Freddy Garcia spends more and more time sleeping in his bed at the hospice.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

Freddy Garcia, suffering from terminal colon cancer, prepares to change his colostomy bag in the hospice's common shared bathroom.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

Cancer-stricken Freddy Garcia shaves his head as he gets ready for his May 6, 2011, wedding at the California Medical Facility.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

Freddy Garcia knots a homemade tie as he prepares for his wedding. He’d already been in state prison once, for burglarizing a house when he was 18. His cancer was discovered in 2009, shortly after he began a second term, nine years for stealing an Oakland Raiders flask from a JC Penney while carrying a loaded gun.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

Chaplain Keith Knauf, center, officiates at the wedding of inmate Freddy Garcia, right, and his longtime girlfriend, Marina Luevano. The ceremony was simple and quick.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

Freddy Garcia, right, glances up as Chaplain Keith Knauf, left, officiates at his marriage to Marina Luevano. When it ended, the newlyweds returned to the hospice. They held hands and gently kissed.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

Freddy Garcia, left, kisses his new wife, Marina Luevano, as the pair pose for pictures in front of a painted garden scene on a wall inside a visiting room. Garcia had put up a brave front, but bolts of pain were searing his abdomen.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

Freddy Garcia wipes yogurt off his 3-year-old daughter Breanna's face during a family visit after his wedding at the California Medical Facility.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

Freddy Garcia speaks on the phone with his wife, Marina Luevano, from inside the California Medical Facility. Their relationship had become strained, and he was contemplating a divorce less than two months after his prison wedding.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

Freddy Garcia, right, winces in pain as his mother Rosalilia reaches out to comfort him in his grandparents' Carson home on Aug. 9, 2011. Freddy's family and friends are all pitching in to care for him in his last days.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

Brother Salvadore Garcia, right, and friend Jessica Figueroa, left, help Freddy Garcia into bed Sept. 23, 2011, less than two days before his death at his grandparents' Carson home.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

Salvadore Garcia, right, gently touches his brother Freddy's head less than 12 hours before his death at his grandparents' Carson home.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

Brothers Jonathan, left, and Salvadore Garcia, right, hold Freddy Garcia's daughter Breanna up to view her father's body at the memorial service Oct. 7, 2011.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

Freddy Garcia cleans his abdomen while changing his colostomy bag in the hospice bathroom.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

Chaplain Keith Knauf, left, prays with dying prisoner Ronald Bramlett outside Bramlett's room in the X-Corridor, the inmate hospice inside the California Medical Center in Vacaville.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

Freddy Garcia rests his head on his hand after smoking marijuana to ease his nausea.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

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In prison and dying: Hospice care in a high-security penitentiary

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In prison and dying: Hospice care in a high-security penitentiary

The California Medical Facility, a high-security prison in Vacaville, houses roughly 3,000 criminals: some in good health, some ill, some dying. The hospice is the oldest inside a California prison and one of the nation’s first. Two men formed a bond there: Freddy Garcia, serving a nine-year sentence for armed robbery and suffering from terminal colon cancer, had twice petitioned the state for a compassionate release and been turned down. Finally he was allowed to go home to die. Caring for him before his release was fellow inmate John Paul Madrona, one of Chaplain Keith Knauf’s Pastoral Care Workers, serving a life term for murder. Tending to my “little brother,” as Madrona called Garcia, helped him confront the terrible deed from his own past.

Read Kurt Streeter’s two-part series, “Care and atonement.”

17 Comments

  1. November 20, 2011, 10:36 am

    Thank you for this remarkable look at the Vacaville hospice unit. The photos humanize the "monsters" we throw into our prisons.

    By: jazgerrakha
  2. November 20, 2011, 10:55 am

    Humbling story… By grace alone we are saved.

    By: B
  3. November 21, 2011, 7:19 pm

    These photos speak a million words to me. They remind of what is the most important things in my life in so many ways, my freedom, my temporary existence in this earth.

    R.I.P: Freddy Garcia.

    By: edmunndo@gmail.com
  4. November 22, 2011, 6:26 am

    Extremely powerful. Thank you.

    By: Digger
  5. November 22, 2011, 8:04 am

    Very moving set of pictures. Thank you for showing we are all human

    By: HG
  6. November 22, 2011, 5:32 pm

    excellent photojournalism. it’s about time there is some great photography on the internet. thank you Brian.

  7. November 30, 2011, 1:20 pm

    Justice is served,

    By: Penny Henain
  8. December 22, 2011, 2:34 pm

    Just as it will be when it is your turn.

    By: JoeInLA
  9. December 22, 2011, 10:50 pm

    Sadly, he was already Walking Dead as a gangster and failed thief. He lived his life for dead and irrelevant things: Oakland Raiders, a flask, the non-existent “honor” of gang life.
    His physical death was the anticlimax. He was dead long ago. His life empty of knowledge, dignity, or purpose.

    By: Ome Coatl
  10. December 23, 2011, 12:26 am

    It's wonder how these criminals got live their lives without being cut short, not like many of their victims.

    By: monster
  11. December 23, 2011, 12:14 pm

    Ladies and Gentlemen, We are shown these pictures to have pity for people who break the law! I do not have any pity for a Cancer patient who has murdered/ robbed/ raped an innocent life. Please wake up! It's a life people choose, you want to be a cholo, aight homie… do your ish, but don't expect any pity from me once you have an actual death sentence.

    By: nano2531@yahoo.com
  12. December 23, 2011, 2:38 pm

    May your husband, brother, or son die a slow painful death of cancer so you may learn the meaning of pity….

    By: elcohi@yahoo.com
  13. December 23, 2011, 9:27 pm

    May God forgive you for your cruel comments…and RIP Freddy, may god have mercy on your soul. We cannot judge someone else mistakes, please look within yourself before doing so.

    By: adsf
  14. December 25, 2011, 8:59 pm

    don't be retarded. obviously you never lived in that particular situation so its easier to judge and walk away then try and understand.

    compassion has no face and no qualifications for who unto it is given….

    By: unkn
  15. August 15, 2012, 3:50 pm

    I MUST SAY THESE ARE SOME TOUCHING STORIES. ITS A BLESSING THAT AT THE END OF THE DAY WHAT MATTER IS THAT THESE PEOPLE GAVE THEIR LIVES TO GOD THE BIBLE SAYS THAT GOD IS A FORGIVING GOD.
    For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. SO FOR THOSE ONES
    WHO GAVE CRUEL COMMENTS DO YOU THINK ONE SIN IS GREATER THEN THE OTHER TAKE A GOOD LOOK IN THE MIRROR HE THAT IS WITHOUT SIN LET HIM CAST THE FIRST STONE .

    By: ZAIRE326@GMAIL.COM
  16. November 6, 2012, 12:48 am

    Despite us being financially blessed and can have live in care here in East Sussex and also to other places, there are still people who have this noble vocation of being there for people in need. Indeed, by grace alone we are saved.

    By: Levi Cruz
  17. December 4, 2013, 10:15 am

    But how terribly, terribly sad that these "monsters" failed to humanize their victims.

    By: sabra505@aol.com

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