A Jessup inmate reflects on the rewards of training service dogs from jail.
We’ve all seen the commercial where the dog goes to the fridge, gets a drink and brings it to his owner. This is the type of feat that several men incarcerated at the Jessup Correctional Institution are currently training service dogs to perform on behalf of the physically challenged men, women and children in our communities.
Although we here at JCI are in prison, many other people, due to physical disabilities, may be in a far worse prison than ours. There are many, many people who are imprisoned by the failure of their bodies. Perhaps you know someone who has one of these debilitating conditions or diseases. Imagine your mind working perfectly, but not your body. I sometimes wonder what it would be like to lose everything I take for granted, even in prison—talking, walking, turning on the radio, playing sports, going to the commissary, getting a glass of cold water on a hot day, or just going out into the yard. Often, what makes life bearable for these people is their relationship with their service dog, a loyal friend and partner for life.
Canine Partners for Life is a non-profit organization dedicated to training service dogs, home companion dogs, and residential companion dogs to assist individuals who have a wide range of physical and cognitive disabilities. Dogs were first introduced to prison in 2000 at the Maryland Correctional Institute for Women in Jessup; then the program spread to four other correctional facilities in Pennsylvania. Here at Jessup Correctional Institution, our first set of four male Labrador puppies arrived in June 2011.
Yes, I’ve heard all the grumblings. The dogs will make a mess all over the place! They’ll contaminate our food! Two people and a dog in one cell is inhumane! And then there are people, like a good friend of mine, who just don’t like dogs. Now let’s examine the benefits. The presence of puppies makes the institution a warmer and friendlier place. Dogs offer companionship; they enhance our sense of community; and by training these dogs we are helping to make a difference in the lives of others. (There should be no concerns about hygiene: the dogs do not eat in the dining room and are not allowed to have “people food.” Any dog’s “accident” is immediately cleaned up and put in a special bin, and the area is sanitized.)
Prisoners have a great deal to contribute to society. In my 30 years in prison, I have contributed to many programs. Some are geared toward self-improvement; some aim to help us become mentors or facilitators to other prisoners. Some are focused on reducing violence in the community, and some are geared toward redemption—making amends for past transgressions. Canine Partners for Life is not about a one-time donation. It demands a 14-month commitment of time and energy to help someone in the community enjoy the miracle of greater independence.
If you are interested in obtaining more information about this program, please contact Canine Partners for Life.
Vincent Greco is an inmate at Jessup Correctional Facility.