The Gold Coats–An Exceptional Standard of Care

Correctional facilities are not geared to accommodate the needs of a growing aging population. With the natural slowdown of physical mobility and cognitive processes, aging prisoners are prone to predation and humiliation. Early onset dementia, including Alzheimer’s Disease, is difficult to detect in a population often accompanied with other mental illness and maladaptive social behaviors.

The Gold Coat program, based at the California Men’s Colony State Prison in San Luis Obispo, consists of healthy inmates specially trained to care for those with dementia and other cognitive impairments and are designated for the gold smocks they wear.


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In Memoriam

Sam Law, founder and original member of the Gold Coats, passed away in February 2021. The Gold Coats are an exceptional group of men trained to care for those with dementia and other cognitive disabilities behind bars. Many of these men also served as hospice caregivers, ensuring that no one dies alone and all were treated with dignity and respect. Sam’s impact on the Gold Coats program cannot be understated. He dedicated his time while incarcerated to caring for those who were most vulnerable. Sam’s devotion to this program and wholehearted compassion for the aging and cognitively impaired illustrates just how transformative empathy can be. Thank you, Sam, for these teaching these lessons. Rest easy—you will be missed by many. The following video, which shows Sam and Shawn sharing their reflections on the Gold Coats program, is meant as a tribute to Sam.

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About the Authors

About the Authors

Steven Berry (co-author) is from West Covina, California. Steven has served as both hospice caregiver and Gold Coat for seven years. He has been out since September, 2014 and has been working as a monitor/case manager for Volunteers of America of Greater Los Angeles. Steve recently completed the CCAPP/CAARR Drug and Alcohol Counseling classes. He is currently working on his state certification. Steve currently lives in West Covina, California.

Terrance “Terry” David (co-author) resides in the South Bay area of Los Angeles. Terry served as a Gold Coat for 6 years at the CMC-East Facility. After being released in 2010, Terry earned a B.S. degree in Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness from Thomas Edison State University, and a J.D. degree from Southwestern Law School. Today, Terry is a licensed California attorney, practicing in the areas of parole law, criminal law, and family law.

David Harvey (co-author) is from Los Angeles, California. David has served as both hospice caregiver and Gold Coat for 15 years during his 37 year incarceration. He has been out since 2013 and has been working as head cook in the food industry. David currently lives in Fontana, California.

Shawn Henderson (co-author) is from Los Angeles, California. Shawn worked as both a hospice caregiver/Gold Coat for three years. Shawn has been out since 2011 and currently works as a supervisor at a call center. He is living in Los Angeles.

Barry Hughes (co-author) is originally from Los Angeles, CA. Barry served as a Gold Coat 5 years and hospice caregiver from 2004 to until released from prison in 2012. He is currently working as a Health Technician for the Department of Mental Health Veterans Administration. Barry lives in Sherman Oaks, California.

Samuel Law (co-author) is from Los Angeles, California. He is a founding member of the Gold Coats when he and fellow inmates recognized the need for care for cognitively impaired inmates over 15 years ago. Sam helped develop the rotation structure of the program. Instead of doing the same (not always so pleasant) task in caregiving, Sam created the rotation schedule to give caregivers a break in the routine and prevent burnout. Samuel also worked as a hospice caregiver for 5 years. He has been out since 2009 and is enjoying retirement. He looks forward to contributing to the welfare of those in need with the Gold Coats home project.

Aileen Hongo (co-author) is a geriatric social worker and received her masters degrees in Gerontology and Social Work from the University of Southern California.  She came across the Gold Coats program through her studies.  Aileen continues to research the plight of the escalating aging prison population in correctional facilities unsuitable to accommodate the natural decline of physical mobility and cognitive processes of older adults. She currently works as a life skills instructor in the county jails.

Michael Kenneth Lafaver (illustrator) is a native of Homestead, Florida. As a volunteer hospice worker, Michael tried to use art to take the patients minds off of their pain and troubles. He found art to be his own form of escape therapy in times of trouble. Michael said, “Giving the patient a reason to just get out of bed has got to be beneficial to some degree.” Michael has been free since 2015 and is working and living in the Bay Area.

Ron Levine (photographer) is a commercial photographer based in San Francisco and Montreal. He has worked on assignment around the world photographing for ad campaigns, annual reports and corporate clients. His documentary projects have earned him extensive international acclaim, resulting in worldwide solo exhibitions. He is a much sought after speaker and lecturer, primarily on the subject of his 20 year project, Prisoners of Age, a series of photographs, video interviews and installations on the subject of elderly inmates in the prison system. He is the recipient of numerous grants and awards, and has been profiled in publications such as Applied Arts Magazine, Elle Magazine, PhotoInsider and Sweden’s Hasselblad Forum.

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