A prison program that provides healing and help in multiple directions. In spite of the crimes they’ve committed, inmates say this is a way they can invest “the best of themselves” into something that will help others.
For the past two years, inmates at the G. Robert Cotton Correctional Facility have provided a valuable service to others, and learned self-improvement at the same time. Cotton is one of seven Michigan prisons were inmates can participate in a program to raise puppies and train the dogs to assist blind people. Prisons in Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin are also part of the program. One hundred percent of the cost is covered by the “Leader Dogs For The Blind” organization.
To be selected as a volunteer in the program, inmates must have a good behavior record. They work with the dogs in teams of two or three at a time, learning to interact in a partnership setting with the puppies and with one another.
Melissa Spooner, the Prison Puppies coordinator, comes to training with the inmates once a month. The rest of the time, the inmates work together on their own each week to train the dogs.
One inmate, Lance Payton, said he enjoys being in the program. “It helps me with my patience, and being able to give back,” he said.
Another inmate, Michael Ellis, said working with the dogs is a great stress reliever. But it’s more than that. “We’ve all done some type of crime against the public,” he said. “To know what we are doing is investing the best of us into a dog, and then that dog is going to help someone that needs it.”
So far, the program is a huge success, with about 60 percent of the puppies raised in the prison going on to become Leader Dogs.
It is also making a huge difference for the inmates themselves. The nationwide average rate for inmates to relapse into criminal behavior after release from prison is 50 percent.
For those participating in the Prison Puppies program, that number drops to 17 percent.
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