Often times there is a very negative stigma attached to criminals that have been incarcerated, but a criminal record doesn't always mean that a person is dangerous, malicious, or violent. In the video below, you will see inmates at a low security prison interact with and learn from rescue dogs. These inmates show incredibly compassionate, caring, and patient behavior in the presence of these dogs, and this shows their amazing ability to transcend the negative circumstances of their lives.
Dogs on the Inside is a 2013 documentary that follows inmates at a Massachusetts prison who participate in a program that brings rescued stray dogs inside the prison. The goal of the program is to give the dogs a second chance at life while also helping the prisoners feel a sense of responsibility for and dedication to the betterment of someone other than themselves. This goal-oriented program teaches many of the inmates valuable lessons in areas such as patience and compassion that will help them succeed in the outside world after their term of incarceration is over. At the same time, the rescue dogs find a temporary home amongst people who are highly devoted to caring for them and training them to be incredible companion animals. This mutually beneficial relationship between inmate and rescue dog has immeasurable value to both parties involved. As one of the inmates points out in the video below, the strays have all too much in common with the inmates. The men can relate to the dogs in the sense that they all came from a difficult past of adversity and struggle, and all of them are searching for companionship, friendship, and most importantly, love. When considered from this perspective, it seems like these strays and inmates are the perfect partners to embark on a journey of recuperation and rehabilitation together.
According to a report published by the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) in March of 2014, the United States incarcerates more people per capita than any other nation in the world. The exact number of prisoners is hard to pinpoint because there are so many different types of confinement facilities ranging from state prisons to federal prisons to juvenile correctional facilities, and that's just to name a few. At the time the study was published, PPI claimed that there were more than 2.4 million people confined to "1,719 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 2,259 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,283 local jails, and 79 Indian Country jails as well as in military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, and prisons in the U.S. territories." With this many people in the U.S.'s jail/prison systems, it's easy to see why productive and positive programs that help the incarcerated heal and prepare for a return to outside world are so crucially important. For inmates like the men in the video below who have committed minor crimes, spending time caring for a dog could be the one thing that helps them develop the kind of self-worth, sense of responsibility, and positive outlook that puts them on the fast track to thriving and succeeding once outside of prison.
According to the ASPCA, approximately 3.9 million dogs enter animal shelters across the nation each year. Sadly, about 1.2 million of those dogs are euthanized for a variety of reasons including overpopulation of shelters and lack of time and resources to rehabilitate difficult or ill-natured animals. Programs that bring strays into prisons provide the perfect solution; the dogs are offered a second lease on life. Dogs that have lost all trust in humans because of abusive or neglectful pasts have the opportunity to regain that trust because of the incredible amount of positive attention and training they receive from inmates; this is an opportunity that they would likely not have in an over-crowded shelter.
I was deeply touched to see the beautiful relationships that the inmates have with their canine companions, and I hope that by sharing this story, we can spread awareness of how incredibly beneficial the implementation of more programs like this could be. What are your thoughts on 'Dogs on the Inside'? Have you ever seen anything like this before? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below, and be sure to share this story if you believe programs like this should be more widely used!