Lori Waselchuk

Grace Before Dying

August 5 - 29, 2010

"Grace Before Dying" is a powerfully moving series of black-and-white wide-format photographs documenting the prisoner-run hospice program at Angola State Penitentiary, Louisiana's maximum-security prison, where a life sentence truly means life. More than 85% of the 5,100 inmates imprisoned at Angola are expected to die there.

Until the hospice program was created in 1998, prisoners died mostly alone in the prison hospital. Now, when a terminally ill inmate is too sick to live among the general prison population, he is transferred to the hospice ward. Here, inmate volunteers work closely with hospital and security staff to care for the patient. The volunteers, most of whom are serving life sentences themselves, try to keep him as comfortable as possible. Then, during the last days of the patient's life, the hospice staff begins a 24-hour vigil. The volunteers go to great lengths to ensure that their fellow inmate does not die alone.

Artist Lori Waselchuk created the series over a span of three years. "I've witnessed how the hospice team sparked a movement of empathy that not only spread throughout the inmate population, but also influenced the prison's security and medical staffs. Prison officials say that the program has helped to transform one of the most violent maximum-security prisons in the South into one of the least violent institutions in the United States."

Lori Waselchuk is a documentary photographer whose photographs have appeared in magazines and newspapers worldwide including Newsweek, LIFE, The New York Times, and The Los Angeles Times. She has produced photographs for several international aid organizations including CARE, the UN World Food Program, Médecins Sans Frontières, and The Vaccine Fund. Waselchuk is a recipient of the Aaron Siskind Foundation's 2009 Individual Photographer Fellowship; a 2008 Distribution Grant from the Documentary Photography Project of the Open Society Institute; the 2007 PhotoNOLA Review Prize; and the 2004 Southern African Gender and Media Award for Photojournalism. Waselchuk was a nominee for the 2009 Santa Fe Prize for Photography; a finalist in the 2008 Aperture West Book Prize; and a finalist in Photolucida's 2006 and 2008 Critical Mass reviews. She continues her work in Louisiana with a project on the bridges of New Orleans.