We feel no one can tell you about this program better than the offenders themselves. Please read these two letters, written from the heart:
Today I am serving my 15th year of a 25 year sentence. The years leading up to my incarceration I spent many trips to county jails and treatment centers. I drank a lot, participated in fights and used illegal drugs. I basically disrupted the lives of everyone I came in contact with. My life was filled with nothing but selfish desires and finally society had enough. From the very beginning of my sentence I made a decision that I needed to change an extreme amount of character defects. During my 12 years in the maximum security prison in Charleston I began to really focus on the root of my problems. I had a lot of help from people who looked beyond my past and began to teach me new ways of thinking, to rid myself of selfish behaviors, to believe in something greater than myself, and to learn how to face my fears and insecurities and deal with life head on without covering situations with alcohol and/or drugs.
In November 2015 I was transferred here to MECC. My first day on the yard I noticed a couple of guys with dogs. I inquired, and they explained to me how to sign up. With little knowledge of the P4P program I signed up and was interviewed and moved to the “dog house” a few weeks later. What I have found after being in the program over a year now is that many of these dogs were struggling like I was.
Most of the dogs we receive are pitbull terriers. Like myself with a criminal record, people are leary of me, they do not trust me, some are not willing to give me a second chance. Pitbulls are similar if you only listen to the news or other means of bad publicity they receive. Many of the dogs we get have been abused, some are aggressive, or were forced to fight or used as bait dogs. But underneath all the scars and heartache these dogs have been through you find the most loving and brilliant companions known to man. These dogs have taught me a great deal. The most profound is empathy and patience. They taught me how to smile again and feel good about myself. Most importantly it was no longer about my needs and wants or selfish means, I now had to take care of my dog 24 hours a day.
As far as the community on the outside, some of these dogs would never have a chance of finding a loving home. Many of them have been in shelters for weeks or found on the streets in St. Louis beaten and starving and want no human contact.
The Puppies for Parole program has pretty much reinvented me. When you begin to see these dogs transform, it’s nothing short of awesome!! They start to gain weight, become playful, and build trust and a bond with you. I have to say when you are dealing with prison and the stress of being away from your loved ones and you come back to the cell and your dog is wagging his tail, and so happy to see me, overwhelming. Then to see first-hand him or her pass their CGC test and get adopted….It is a feeling and an experience not of this world…
Puppies and me for parole, with a loving home and success, that’s what it’s all about.
Being a dog handler in the MECC Puppies for Parole program for nearly two years has been more than rehabilitating dogs for me. It has been a very therapeutic experience that has allowed me to remain in-sync with my feelings and emotions as well as aiding if not enhancing, my ability to remain level headed despite being incarcerated. People don’t often realize the elevated probability that exists within these walls to lose your personal identity and become a product of your environment, so I have the privilege to participate in this program has been life altering to say the least.
What others view as us training these dogs and giving them a second chance at life, in essence, works both ways. I personally feel that being in this program has had a major impact on my rehabilitation because it has not only encouraged me to remain humane in an extremely inhumane environment, but has also encouraged me to be mindful of my choices and actions because not only will I suffer consequences, but my dog as well.
When we have broken that initial barrier with our dog and he or she begins to display signs of trust and a willingness to accept our help, it is absolutely critical that we do what is necessary to strengthen that bond. Most of the dogs that we receive in the Puppies for Parole program come to us broken: spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and in a few cases, physically. Life has beaten them down and we were graced with the opportunity to build them back up. Although each cycle provides us with a new batch dogs, the stories that accompany them are the ones we’ve heard time and time again. The vast majority have been rescued from the streets and display obvious signs of abuse and mistreatment by not only other dogs, but humans as well. These dogs have become products of their environment to ensure their survival. Simply put, their lives depended on it. As a result we end up with a wide array of dogs: some dog aggressive, some human aggressive, some shy and timid and some that are scared of everything around them and want nothing more than to be left alone. But very few are unreceptive to the help once they realize we’re here to provide the love and compassion they desire.
A lot of work goes into rebuilding these dogs’ spirits and transforming their characters to reflect an image of having always been loved and only wanting to reciprocate that same love. In most cases we must teach these dogs that everything they have become accustomed to in order to stay alive, is wrong and to trust and rely on us to provide their needs. When you have been given a dog that has been predestined to fail by society and you begin to observe the changes and progress that are a direct result of the time and work that you’ve invested, it leaves you with a feeling that’s indescribable. A sense of being successful. I want to thank all who have made this program possible for allowing us to be part of such a wonderful organization. Our lives depend on it as well.
Interested in sponsoring a dog in the next session of the Puppies for Parole Program? The cost is $2,000 per dog per session. Sponsors will receive recognition on social media as well as be invited to the graduation, where you will get to meet the graduating dogs as well as the parolees at MECC. Click here.
Or, donate to the Puppies for Parole Program to keep it going! Click here: