By John Zhou, LL.M. ’17
“Woof, Woof… ” A black Labrador barked desperately to give out alarm that someone was knocking at the door. She ran back and forth, gently rubbing the thigh of her human friend, until the man slowly approached the door and opened it. Everything was comforting, as a service dog training facility should be. The bars on the window, however, reminded me that it was nothing close to a routine one.
In fact, we, the 20-some students in the Judicial Process at Trial Court Clinic, and Judge Cratsley, our Clinic Director, were at the Massachusetts Correction Institution (MCI) in Concord, a state prison with medium-level security. These lovely and capable service dogs are the products of the Prison PUP partnership initiated by the National Education for Assistance Dog Services (NEADS). For nearly 20 years, NEADS has worked with correctional facilities and their inmates around New England to train service puppies for those in urgent need. In the training room of MCI Concord, training inmates kindly showed us what their puppies could do, e.g. searching and fetching, turning lights on and off, waking up and alarming, etc. The trainers meticulously and skillfully presented their achievements with the dogs, and everyone present was impressed.
But MCI Concord is not supposed to be impressive in this way: each section of the facility is strictly segregated and inmates, who are generally felony convicted, are placed into confined spaces, almost identical to the settings of prisons pictured on TV. If inmates violate prison regulations, they can be punished by solitary confinement for 23 hours a day. In other words, they will only have one hour of access to another human being. It seems here, a man can be an island, entirely of its own.
However, the presence of the Prison PUP partnership can provide inmates with a semblance of normalcy. The trainers who demonstrated for us had served almost 20 years in the prison and they claimed that living with and training the dogs was simply the best thing that had ever happened to them. Before we left, we commended the inmates for their presentation with their canine friends, and wished them every success in the future. Rehabilitation is probably the hardest part of the entire criminal justice system, and these inmates will face hardship when they become free again after years of imprisonment. However, companionship with their dogs and the chance to contribute to the society will definitely be a good start.