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From a Prisoner's Perspective

by Dwight

When prison officials announced that The Greyhound Inmate Experience (T.G.I.E.) program would soon arrive at the Lakeland Correctional Facility many prisoners were ecstatic. Memories of my former dog Sheba (20 years ago) instantly drove my interest in becoming part of the greyhound program. Because playing with Sheba was entertaining; I figured that filling my prison day with a greyhound would also be entertaining. So I applied for .the program. And after much convincing that my past negative, rebellious ways would not affect my performance or other greyhound participants, I was accepted.

Photo of Belle, Dwight's dogOn the very first day I learned having a greyhound was not all entertainment. As soon as the greyhounds arrived at the prison, my partner and I were assigned to a little, fawn-like greyhound named Bella. We were responsible for calming her and starting the intake process. We had to search her entire body for ticks and fleas, both of which were easily found. Then we had to clean her ears and give her a shower. Once the shower was over, we applied flea and tick medicine, and we were given instructions to brush her teeth every other day and keep .her nails trimmed. If this were not enough1 three times that night between 3 and 6 a.m. I found myself standing in the winter cold waiting for Bella to use the bathroom.

My memories of Sheba failed to reflect anything close to my first day with Bella. While a young man In society I apparently let everyone else hold the responsibilities that caring for a dog requires.. Reflecting back 20 years, I come to realize that it was my fiance who bathed Sheba and brushed her teeth: while the veterinarian did the rest. All I did was feed Sheba and play with her, a far cry from really caring for a dog or holding any type of responsibility. This whole greyhound Idea, my experience, was new and caused conflicting thoughts.

At one end of the spectrum, I questioned my person; I remember calling home from the Wayne County Jail. My fiance would put the phone up to Sheba's ear so she could hear my voice. Sheba would jump around and wag her tail in excitement but I would never again come home. Obviously I abandoned Sheba by going to prison. But prior to being jailed, did I really care for her as she deserved? Though Sheba was never abused, I did none of the things required for Bella. At the other end of the spectrum, aglaring point repeatedly popped to mind: why am I now accepting such responsibilities after being sentenced to life in prison? Would not prison be easier without all of these obligations to Bella? And over the first few weeks these questions raced back and forth, from one to another. Then something remarkable happened.

My little, fawn-like greyhound started responding to commands and opening up. Bella started to latch on to me and she occasionally whined when I left her sight. Bella started putting her head on my knee, letting me know that It was I who gave her security and a mean neck rub. Bella began jumping in the universal play gesture (bow) wanting to play with me; She started to paw at my partner and me every morning wanting a belly rub. And this vulnerable, timid little greyhound opened up and showed her faith in me.

Bella’s development and vulnerability was the answer to my racing thoughts of uncertainty. Bella’s development transcended me from a state of uncertainty to daily pride in what I and my partner were giving to her. Instead of skepticism over holding the many responsibilities for Bella, my focus turned to dedication, vowing not to let her down. This gave me purpose and a sense of pride. And then wanting to build upon this sense of something, someone, I started to wonder what else could I do for greyhounds and the T.G.I.E. program.

I also began to wonder whether my thoughts and feelings were unique to only my partner and me, so my attention drifted towards the other handlers. What were they doing? Ironically, like myself, these once irresponsible1 unsympathetic guys were: also embracing their new responsibilities and they were thirsty for more. Other greyhound handlers were making items such as Afghans, key chains, and leashes for the T.G.I.E. program. Some handlers were donating money, though they received very little in prison. Other dog handlers came up with the idea of starting a T.G.I.E. newsletter to help spread the word about saving retired greyhounds, and in particular, finding our little new friends a loving home.

RonnieHaving just lost Belle and received my next greyhound Ronnie, I now sit back as new thoughts capture my mind. How long will I embrace my desire for responsibility? Will caring for my future greyhounds continue to bring a sense of pride and. esteem? What will happen to Bella will she find a loving home? Despite the fact that losing Bella was beyond my control, the pain of her departure still remains. I now wonder if this pain I experience is Karma for my past ways? Is avoiding the pain of broken attachments why I shunned responsibility and acted un-empathetic while a free young man? . .

This is The Greyhound Inmate Experience.

by Dwight

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What are the Experiences Effects?

by David

When word began to spread throughout the Lakeland Correction Facility that the greyhound rescue program was going to be re implemented into the Michigan Dept of Corrections there was a fervid anticipation.  Several hundred men in the facility were excited at the thought of receiving an opportunity to apply for the rescue program.  After the application and screening process was completed and the elite 20 men selected, each were asked to work as a team to formulate a name, logo and mission statement for the program.  Collectively we gathered and decided that the name, logo and mission statement should honestly reflect our views, what the program means to us, and what we feel the public should understand about the potential and rehabilitative effects of men training and developing skills in socializing retired greyhounds.  It was our primary goal that the rescue program be about the canines.

So as the dogs began to enter the facility and the training and socializing process got underway something magical started to take place.  You see, it could never be just about the rescued dogs when the trainers are the ones assigned to instill discipline, respect, obedience, social values, and teach commands (laws) to the canines.  You cannot give or teach another something that you do not already possess yourself.  So the same principles of discipline, respect, obedience and social values that were assigned to train the dogs in became a driving force in our lives also.  Through teaching the greys, we are learning life’s lessons in the process.  Just watching the evolution of trust in humans and the rejuvenation of their spirits develop is a self fulfilling perk the trainer anticipates on the first day a new grey arrives.

CragieAs trainers we experienced a rejuvenation in the program and in many cases a transformation in our lives.  The feeling of belonging and having the compassion and empathy to care for another living being are just a few of the qualities we have regained.  As incarcerated citizens TGIE gives us the opportunity to show we are capable of rising to the challenge.  Also of being responsible without an hourly monitoring of our every move.  We accept the challenge in seeing the growth and development of each canine from entry to exit involved in the TGIE program.  Receiving this chance in and of itself gives us a sense of obligation to improve.  We accept the responsibility to nurture, groom, care, train, address medical needs, and socialize our retired greys.  Not only are we giving them another chance at life, but we are also offered another opportunity to demonstrate life’s redemptive characteristics.  Knowing that someone trusts us to care for a living creature raises our sense of awareness that we are still valued and people do count on us.

The Greyhound Inmate Experience is more than just a rescue dog program.  It is a human restoration opportunity for any qualified incarcerated person who desires to restore their self confidence, self worth, values and show their rehabilitative qualities to the world.  Sure we love and care about each and every greyhound as though they were our very own newborn child.  Just as important, expressing our love and care gives us pride, dignity and confidence in knowing we still can experience the human qualities of compassion, empathy and remorse after the damage and we have caused others.  Our TGIE program breeds the redemptive qualities spoken of in the biblical sense of man making atonement for his misdeeds.  We are able to give back to society in our present circumstance by restoring life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the neglected breed of the greyhounds.  TGIE has become a phenomenal experience that words cannot adequately describe.  The reality of knowing that you played a role in saving a life and giving another creature on this earth a second chance leaves you with a sense to never cause any more pain or discomfort to another of God’s creatures.  You only want to give the joy and spirit of accomplishment through teamwork that you acquired in your newfound experience of reviving life and instructing another in the proper etiquette of a civilized society.  Yes, TGIE is a dog rescue program, but we’ve learned it is a human redemptive program also.

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  • Inmate Handlers Letters

    We are always inspired by the sentiments of the dog handlers. We hope you will take a few minutes (with a box of Kleenex) and be drawn into the heart and soul of our TGIE dog handlers.

    My Greyhound Inmate Experience