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SCDC provides proper burial for inmates with no survivors.

A metal casket adorned with a spray of blue and white carnations rested on a brace over the open grave.

A minister standing next to Jimmy Patterson's coffin read Biblical passages, then recited the benediction.

"In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen," he said. "The Lord gave. The Lord hath taken away. Blessed is the Lord."

He asked the mourners to join in reciting the Lord's Prayer. In unison, four voices responded to the call. One belonged to a prison chaplain, one to a deputy warden, a third to a prison social worker and the fourth to a correctional officer.

None of the five people attending Patterson's 15-minute burial service was related to him. None was a lifelong friend. Patterson died as he had lived most of his life, with no family and no friends outside of prison.

Patterson, 37, was the 26th inmate to be buried in the South Carolina Department of Corrections' cemetery, located at the vast state prison complex off Broad River Road in Columbia. Prisoners are buried there if their families can't be found or if relatives cannot afford a funeral.

"It's sad to come to the end of your life and not have anyone to say goodbye to you or to grieve for you," said Terry Brooks, chief of pastoral care services for the corrections department. "It says something about our world that you are surrounded by people all your life but end up lost at the end."

A dirt road behind the Women's Correctional Center leads to the cemetery, located in a pine tree grove. A blue-and-white sign that reads, "South Carolina Department of Corrections Cemetery," marks the entrance.

On a sunny day, light fills the grove, reflecting off rows of granite headstones. Grass has been trimmed from the headstones by inmates, and loose clay has been placed over recent graves.

The department opened the cemetery in 1988 after burying prisoners near Elmwood Cemetery off Elmwood Avenue for more than a century. Graves at the old site were not marked, so no one knows how many inmates were buried there.

Burying inmates at the old site upset Brooks because workers excavating a grave for one inmate often dug up the bones of others. Services ended when a backhoe lowered inmates' bodies, contained in a plain wooden box, into the grave.

In 1987, after performing a service for an inmate whose real name was unknown, Brooks asked corrections administrators to open a new cemetery. "It was an undignified burial for an unknown person."

Eight inmates were buried last year, double the average in previous years. At least one-third of those buried in the cemetery died from AIDS-related illnesses.

"We're seeing more inmates die from AIDS, and their families are less likely to claim their bodies," Brooks said. "That accounts for the increase."

The bodies of other inmates aren't claimed because they lost touch with their families, Brooks said. Gordon Cobb was buried in the cemetery last January after being in prison since 1937, serving life plus 30 years for burglary, larceny and sexual assaults.

Other prisoners are buried in the cemetery because their families cannot afford burial expenses, Brooks said.

Zoran Jovanovic, a 30-year-old native of the former Yugoslavia, was buried in September 1991 because his family had recently emigrated to the United States and had no money to bury him, he said. Jovanovic, who hanged himself in his cell, was sentenced to 10 years for burglary in 1987.

Family members are allowed to visit the graves, and any flowers left are watered by inmates.

Funeral arrangements at the cemetery are handled by Bostick & Tompkins Funeral Home of Columbia under a competitive bid contract. Funeral home employees embalm inmates' bodies, place them in cloth-lined metal caskets and take them to the cemetery in a Cadillac hearse. The funeral home also provides the floral arrangement of blue and white carnations. The department has a beige, hand-stitched pall, which is placed over caskets during graveside services.

The department pays $150 to Phillips Granite Co. of Winnsboro for a set of granite headstones and footstones, Brooks said. Inmates' full names are engraved on their headstones as well as the dates of their births and deaths. Their initials are carved into the footstones.

Two volunteer inmates from minimum-security prisons in the Broad River complex dig the graves with a backhoe and cover them with clay after burial. They also place the headstones and footstones around the grave.

It's a honor to help, but I feel sorry that nobody is around for them," said Charles Bradley, who has been digging graves for three years while serving a 15-year sentence for distributing cocaine.

One inmate's Story

Jimmy Patterson worried about having somebody around during the final days of his life, Chaplain Frederick Yebuah said. But efforts to organize an around-the-clock stay with inmates were unsuccessful, Yebuah said, although a prison doctor was by Patterson's side when he died.

A warden also spent a half hour with Patterson just hours before his death.

Prison officials know very little about Patterson's life. They know that he grew up in New York City and that his parents were killed in a car accident when he was young.

He entered prison in 1986 after being convicted of threatening a court official. Patterson had AIDS, which apparently killed him, but prison officials don't know how or when he contracted the disease.

Last year, when he was eligible to be released from prison, Patterson threatened to kill Gov. Carroll Campbell. He said the threat was an effort to remain in jail so he could continue receiving AIDS treatment.

"His family was the prison," said Sabrina Pearson, a prison social worker who saw Patterson daily. "The hardest part is to realize there was no one there to claim Jimmy's body or to bury him."

She was one of the five people who attended Patterson's funeral Jan. 28, three days after he died at Lieber Correctional Institution in Ridgeville.

Although relatively brief, the service was dignified, said Robert Shaver, a chaplain who helped conduct the service. "We don't want to treat the inmates as paupers," he said. Shaver visited Patterson twice a week in the prison infirmary.

At the end of the service, two funeral home employees dressed in dark suits sprinkled dirt on the casket and then lowered the coffin into the ground.

"We know the meaning of life is that we have people who love us and care for us," Yebuah said. "God the good shepherd looked out for Jimmy even though it seemed no one cared and he fell through the cracks."

Pearson, the prison social worker, repeatedly wiped tears from her eyes during the service.

"Jimmy was a good person," she said. "I hope something better comes for him. He's at peace now."

John Allard is a reporter with The State, a newspaper in Columbia, S.C. This article was reprinted from the Feb. 25 edition with the paper's permission.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Correctional Association, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:South Carolina Department of Corrections Cemetery
Author:Allard, John
Publication:Corrections Today
Date:Jul 1, 1993
Previous Article:Conducting safe and efficient probation and parole searches.
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