Growing old behind bars

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Aging inmates raise questions from health care to whether they should be sprung

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GEORGE DAVID Smith’s home is a 6-by-12-foot concrete cell in Graterford state prison, where his arthritis-crippled hands can barely fasten the ties on his jail-issued jumpsuit and where guards have to shout at him so he can hear.

He’s 79 now, the same age as the man he shot dead in a gas-station robbery in 1953. Smith doesn’t remember his victim’s name, maybe because he chooses not to or because he’s grown increasingly forgetful with age.

But he vividly remembers his hometown of Cleveland, Tenn., where he dreams of returning to revive his carpentry business.

After bouncing in and out of jail since the 1940s, he knows he could die here on Cell Block D.

“Me, I can get by on the outside. Most old folks like me can’t do nothing – they’re lucky they can go to the toilet and use toilet paper. I ain’t that messed up,” Smith said. “But they won’t ever let me out of here.”

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