The Potter’s Field

2016, Society, Activism, Poverty  -  42 min Leave a Comment
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Somebody once said that you can tell a lot about how a society treats its living by the way it treats its dead. Have you ever stopped to wonder what happens to homeless people when they die? You probably haven’t. This film answers that question.

Apparently, the homeless have become such a common sight that most people no longer see them. If they can’t be seen, then that means that hardly anybody body cares about what they’re going through and hardly anybody is willing to reach out a helping hand.

Of all the people that were interviewed randomly on the street, only one man seemed to be able to answer the question: do you know what happens to homeless people when they die? This man spoke about a place called The Potter’s Field, where he’d heard that the people who had no insurance would end up.

The Potter’s Field is a large, barren plot of land just outside Chicago. A U-Haul truck pulls up to a large hole and workmen start unloading plain ‘coffins’ into the hole.  They’re all identical and ugly — impersonal, nameless, faceless just like the precious cargo they contain. They will all be buried as John Doe or Jane Doe. The only certain information is their date of death, and even that can be a wild guess. Nobody knows anything else about any of them, and nobody will ever be able to find anybody because they’re packed together in one big massive hole. In Chicago about 250 indigents are buried like that per year.

These homeless people lost their identity long before they died, though. They slowly became just another inconvenience that most passersby try hard to ignore. Nobody knows their stories and what situations led them to end up in those conditions.

Then in 2006 a group of men and women stepped up to the plate and formed a society. The people who join, do so voluntarily. They’re all students and teachers from seven different high schools in Louisville, Kentucky and their goal is to offer a decent funeral to these faceless men and women.  Of course, usually only the volunteers show up to the short service— there’s nobody else there. Is it because these people had become invisible to their own kinfolk too?

One deputy coroner states that about 80% of the time when he’s finally able to find family members, they don’t seem too interested in taking care of their dead or in participating in the funeral services.

If nobody is going to show up, does it still make sense to invest time and money in a service? Because aren’t funeral supposed to offer closure to the living?