Hard Time

The oldest lifer in Colorado prisons is dying to be anywhere but here.

Fremont is designed strictly for outpatient care. It is not equipped to handle patients who require long-term, 24-hour attention. Although Madson has his own wheelchair-accessible cell with custom hot- and cold-water handles, he will soon have more specialized needs. Although Fremont can manage his care at the moment, if he is allowed to remain in the general prison population much longer, Al-Abduljalil worries that his ailments could become worse and make him prone to victimization.

"I do think there is a risk," she says. "He's in general population. This is a large facility. We have gangbangers here and people for very violent crimes who can take advantage of someone who is weakened physically or mentally. He is old and weak and shows some early signs of dementia. He is definitely a candidate for assisted living."

Although the Department of Corrections has prison infirmaries and hospices in both Cañon City and Denver that provide 24-hour care, Madson is not yet sick enough for admission.

Alfred Madson Jr., arrested for murder in 1941.
Alfred Madson Jr., arrested for murder in 1941.


Read Madson's letter to Westword regarding Harrison Fletcher.

There is, however, a nursing home in Limon that would be happy to have Madson.

The Prairie View Care Center stands on the northwestern edge of town, in a neighborhood of houses the color of after-dinner mints. It is simple, clean and spare, much like the town itself. Thirty people live there, although there is room for forty, and they range in age from 51 to 101. Some suffer from Alzheimer's, while others are just old. For a cost of $134 per day, nurses change their bedpans, button their shirts, dispense their heart medication, settle their disputes, and occasionally guide them back to bed.

Madson's case manager at Fremont contacted Prairie View two years ago, when he was looking for a place Madson could go if his parole request was granted. The nursing home already has three residents who are veterans of the state prison system; none of them have presented a problem. Administrators reviewed Madson's criminal history, inmate record and health charts and conducted two personal interviews. Their conclusion: They could handle him.

"Under all circumstances, we felt he was appropriate," says Tiffany Buranosky, Prairie View's nursing director. "The impression I got was that whatever had occurred in the past was a one-time deal. At no time did he indicate that he was capable of murder or had a temper. He seemed like he would be willing and able to do whatever he needed to make people comfortable around him. He was a very polite and appropriate gentleman."

Prairie View has no special security systems for its former DOC residents, because none are needed. All patients are closely monitored. The nursing home is equipped with alarms and locked units. The staff is trained for emergencies. "We don't see how he can present a risk," Buranosky says. "If your grandma were here, I wouldn't feel he would be a threat. Physically, he needs 24-hour nursing care. He needs someone to assist him with the normal everyday activities of living. That's what we do. That's our job. I don't think he can get that care in prison."

And that's why Madson does not belong in prison, says Philip Cherner, a Denver attorney handling Madson's clemency request. To Cherner, the issue is not his client's guilt or innocence.

"You sit there in a sterile prison cafeteria and look across the table at this guy sitting in a wheelchair whose hands don't function and who can only walk a few feet and you say, 'Why on earth is he in here?'" Cherner says. "He's obviously no threat to anyone. What can we possibly achieve by taking a nursing-home resident and leaving him inside prison to be victimized by someone else?"

On average, taxpayers spend more than $26,000 incarcerating one inmate for one year. Add the cost of prescription drugs, medical tests, special food, special clothes, special housing and special monitoring, and the price tag skyrockets, Cherner argues.

"It's not a matter of feeling sorry for him," the attorney argues. "We're not only paying for routine care, but extraordinary medical care. Al is just the tip of the geriatric iceberg. It's just not an appropriate use of resources."

Madson has already served 21 years for the 1979 conviction, Cherner says. How much more can he be punished?

"I can only imagine what the victims' families must feel," the attorney says. "I'm sure they'd like to see Al in a pine box right now. But the criminal justice system does not exist solely for their benefit. It's more balanced than that. We will not deter one crime because he is in a wheelchair behind prison walls. It will not bring the victim back. It will not punish Al more than he has already been punished.

"At some point, he's not even going to understand why he's even being punished. We've got to get over this notion of punishing people over and over when there is nothing left to take. We need to step away from our own anger and take into account issues of cost-effectiveness, general fairness and Al's welfare. Retribution is not the same as justice."

On May 30, two members of the Colorado Parole Board met at the Fremont medium-security prison to consider releasing Madson.

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