From chapel to hospice, Rockview visit opens window on prison life

Bevin not proud of unbridled growth in prison population

Gov. Matt Bevin said Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018, during a news conference in the Capitol Rotunda that lawmakers should pass legislation designed to curb Kentucky’s rising prison population.
Up Next
Gov. Matt Bevin said Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018, during a news conference in the Capitol Rotunda that lawmakers should pass legislation designed to curb Kentucky’s rising prison population.

Government Day was a day I had thought about often, and as the day neared, many of my fellow Leadership Centre County classmates were discussing the upcoming visit, as well: What was it going to be like?

The 2019 LCC class arrived recently at the State Correctional Institution at Rockview with its IDs and paperwork, with some trepidation and nervousness, but open to learning about what happens behind Rockview’s formidable walls.

Sometimes when you are a crime victim, it’s difficult to change your perspective about “the who” behind that crime. You have feelings toward the perpetrator who brought crime into your life, how long you’d like him to serve, how he should be treated and how he should make restitution. With those feelings and thoughts that morning, I attempted to keep an open mind and learn more about Rockview’s operations, programs, facility and the staff members’ hard work and efforts made each day.

After our facility tour, the LCC class gathered in the prison chapel. We learned of one prisoner’s efforts to help fellow inmates by becoming a peer mentor, and how that work has helped him maintain his goals and post-release plans. We were also treated to a very informative presentation by John Wetzel, the Pennsylvania corrections secretary. He shared his thoughts on policy, how prisons and the internal services have changed, the opioid crisis and its effect on the prison system, his successes over the last eight years and some of his policy goals for the near future.

It was very apparent that Wetzel believes in what he does; his passion for his work was evident in his forthrightness and honesty, his stories and interactions with us.

During the afternoon, the class members regrouped at the Central Pennsylvania Institute of Science and Technology for an in-depth look at the opioid crisis and how it affects all populations; a discussion about local government; and a role-play exercise where we presented to a local governing board using either a pro or con approach regarding commercial development that included services for those transitioning from wellness services back into the community.

The biggest takeaway of the day for me was the morning discussion about the prison’s health care system. I hadn’t spent much time thinking about a prisoner’s aging process, but the question-and-answer session with Wetzel brought the topic forward. Because the cost for a prisoner to receive health care in the public sector is extraordinarily high, the prison has developed its own health services. Aging prisoners who are serving life may need the types of services that many of us take for granted, such as dialysis, oncology services, dementia/Alzheimer’s care and hospice care.

Hospice care. Do any of us give a second thought to a prisoner’s need for hospice care? Prisoners needing care at the end of their lives was something that gave many classmates pause. The aging prisoner population was not a sector I had considered prior to this visit, despite the fact that, professionally, my agency provides services for the aging.

Touring Rockview and learning about the prison’s operations allowed me to view a bit differently those who are serving time. Although I’m not able to fully reconcile my feelings toward the man who brought crime to my doorstep, at least going forward, I can reflect on our Government Day visit to Rockview and remember both faces of crime.

Salokangas is director of Centre Region Parks and Recreation and part of Leadership Centre County’s Class of 2019. More information is at http://leadershipcentrecounty.org.