Dog Program Offers Opportunity to Female Inmates

Guest Posts

Oct 02
[guestpost]Saige is currently an inmate at the Federal Prison Camp in Danbury, CT. She learned valuable skills and life lessons in several BOP-sponsored dog programs.  Saige is scheduled for release in August 2021.[/guestpost]

There is one thing that I have done since I started my time in the Bureau of Prisons over four years ago, train dogs. I was lucky to get into the dog program at my first facility, Waseca FCI in Minnesota. I spent 15 months in Waseca before I became camp-eligible and moved closer to home in Texas.

Utah State Prison inmate Reggie Peck is training Jet, a rescued shelter dog, to be a therapy dog for war veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. (Photo: Derek Petersen/KSL TV)

The dog program gave me purpose.  It gave me comfort, and it offered an opportunity to do something amazing and rare. Through this program I realized I could heal not only myself, but someone else out there in the world who needed the independence and the strength that a service dog could offer. This program gave an amazing feeling of accomplishment to me and the other women in it.

I continued in a similar program at FPC Carswell in Ft. Worth Texas for two years.  I was transferred to Danbury and was happy to become a part of the dog program here.

Instead of training service dogs, we were socializing shelter dogs who had a tough time getting adopted. Giving them a lot of love and a few manners made all the difference. Every shelter dog that came here was adopted into a loving and forever home.

In July 2016, a local NBC affiliate news program did a story about the second chances the dogs were given and how that translated into second chances for the women in the program.  After the segment aired, many of the officers and staff members told me how it brought tears to their eyes.  It really made them appreciate the dog program and how it worked in the best interest of all parties involved. I was so happy and so proud of myself. I was also proud of the dogs who left here and went on to make someone else happy.

My Dog Days End

We suddenly found ourselves dog-less one day after a Clear the Shelters event in town 15 months ago.  All of our dogs were adopted and no dog has stepped foot in here since. Why, you might wonder, would the BOP take away such a wonderful program that did so much not only for inmate and staff morale, but for the community as well?

The answer is one I do not truly know. It is hard to get a straight answer out of the powers that be.  The one thing I can say is that it is heartbreaking. This program was something that taught me, and many others, valuable lessons that are needed in life and skills to use upon re-entry.

For a few months, I was given the chance to go on unescorted furloughs three days a week to the Tails of Courage dog shelter. A shelter volunteer picked me up at 8 am on those days. I worked there taking care of the animals, helping with the adoption process and learning some vet tech skills. This was an amazing and wonderful opportunity … and it was taken away from me. The BOP said that there was too much time left on my sentence to be in the community doing volunteer work.

Female Inmates Seek Opportunities to Improve Ourselves

My point to the above is this: we need more inmate programs to change ourselves for the better. Many of the women here have college educations and had very successful careers before whatever it was that brought them here. Sadly, I feel that many women in prison who are uneducated are unprepared to go back home into the world that they failed in before.

I feel every time something good happens for us, there is a setback or a let-down. We are thirsty for something fulfilling and worthwhile, something that will make a difference in our lives now as well as later.

The dog program is just one example of something good that was pulled from us.  Sadly, it will not be the last. As women, we need more programs to keep us busy.  These programs keep us on the right track for when we get out. I want to go home and prosper. Most women here want the same thing for themselves. I am serving a ten-year sentence.  All I ask is for opportunities to enhance my skill set, and the chance to change.