May 2019 marked the five-year anniversary of DOC’s monthly visits with inmates and staff at Columbia Correctional Institution in Portage. The appreciative inmates presented us with a poster-size card (18” x 24”), illustrated by one of the men with pictures and names of the dogs that have visited. Inside, nearly 30 inmates signed the card, offering words of appreciation for our visits.
Visiting in a prison sounds a little intimidating, and when we started doing these visits five years ago, we didn’t know what to expect either. There are rules and a routine we have to follow, but when you are focusing on your one-on-one visit, I don’t think you could tell the difference from any other visit you’ve been on, with the exception that all the men are wearing the same outfit!
The program was started for the inmates as a reward for good behavior, meeting goals, improve their emotional and physical health, reduce their anxiety, and bring more humanity into the prison. All the men are screened for appropriateness with animals. Several Dogs on Call teams have been in the program from day one. That’s how much of a positive impression it has made on us.
As is the nature of the facility, we often visit with the same men over the years. Others are first-time visitors. But everyone, including staff, is happy to see the dogs. And it’s not just the interaction with the dogs that is a treat; the men get value by interacting with the dog handlers, too. Conversation with a human other than a prison employee is welcome.
The men love collecting the dogs’ trading cards and keep them to use as bookmarks or even models for pictures they draw. These visits are very meaningful to everyone.
We can see the positive results on every visit we do.
Article by: Karen & Pete - More: Visiting CCI