By Larry N. Stromberg
It was the fall of 2019. I went to work that morning as a Peer Support Specialist, CPS worker, working my rounds in the prison infirmary like I’ve done almost every morning for the last few years at SCI Graterford and now at SCI Phoenix. As I walked by an infirmary cell, somebody new was in one of the medical cells. His name was Joe Granruth. I slowly entered the infirmary cell and introduced myself to Mr. Granruth. I told him my name is Larry and I’m a CPS worker. He said to me with a weak low tone in his voice, “I’m Joe. I’m a lifer dying from a brain tumor and of full blown bone cancer.” I was taken aback by his honest remarks about his health and his prison sentence. I told him, “I’m here to help you the best that I can. I’m here to talk to you, even pray for you, Joe.” He smiled and seemed grateful that somebody seemed to care. Over the next few months, me and Joe became good friends. We talked about spirituality, the criminal justice system, about family, music, books, movies, sports, about his loves and losses. He told me about his life. We talked about everything. He was ready to move on to the next life. Yes, he was scared to die. He told me he was ready to leave this place called earth. He said to me, “Never give up on hope, Larry!” Joe was a man of sincere remorse. His heart was genuine. He spoke words of hope to me. A lifer myself. But, the cancer was beating him down. The pain was immense. The chemotherapy wasn’t helping his terminal condition. He longed for the everlasting peace of being pain free.
Pain free in his body and soul. Still, he told me, not to give up. Follow your dreams. Always hold onto hope, despite your circumstances. Well, Joe began to deteriorate even more. The cancer was eating away at his bones. The horrible headaches were overwhelming. He lived on morphine to ease the pain. He lost control of his bowels. The last day I saw him, his eyes were wide open as I could hear each gasping breath on his ventilator. Joe passed on that day. Tears fell from my eyes as I lost a good friend. I haven’t forgotten him. Joe died with true courage. He inspired me so much, while enduring his own terminal circumstances. Since then, Iv’e met many men who died in the infirmary. They all became my friends. Men with life sentences and others who had a parole date. Each one of them inspired me to be a man of more compassion. To be a man who still dreams and not to become desensitized by the system. A man who is hanging onto hope with each breath I take. Even while enduring a death by incarceration prison sentence.