I went to prison on Thursday.
Yes, really to prison. A close friend of mine (Hi Tivka!) and her awesome guide-dog connected me with an awesome program that supports future service dogs for returning and injured military veterans with significant needs that can be supported by these dogs.
Which is where prison comes in to play.
Certain inmates, largely those who are incarcerated for life raise these puppies. WTF I'm sure most are thinking. But the business model is a smart one. The human service model perhaps is smarter.
In this prison, the inmates are all women. Based on a number of the stats, most have suffered some pretty horrific events early on in their lives: survivors of child abuse, sexual abuse, or domestic violence; one or both parents have a mental illness, they themselves have a mental illness. They've committed crimes (many have anyway). Some made criminal mistakes. Some don't know what they've done in that I can think and process it kind of way.
And some were undergoing severe detoxification during our time in the prison. We didn't get to see them for obvious reasons.
But there were dogs. Little black puppy dogs. Medium size golden labs. Tivka's lab/poodle mix. Me. Others interested in this program. Hope was present too. Eager and hungry hope.
So we sat in on this program. Were served cookies. Cried a little. Listened to survivors who are also lifers talk about how their lives were changed by being able to give back. To raise the puppies.
We walked the campus of the prison on the tour. I met and shielded my eyes from women; some who wanted to be ignored (I think), some who were oblivious to me (I think), some who were so vulnerable due to their diagnoses that the prison was both the safest place for them and the most dangerous of all.
I tried not to hyperventilate. I over-thought my foolish outfit of shiny beige heels and knee-length skirt. My posture was nearing defeat. I was aware of eyes. Of closed in spaces. Of TVs, everywhere. I've never (ever) seen so much plexiglass.
But there were dogs. And women. And some smiled. And some women had pallor return to their cheeks. One testified smilingly "That dog, she's my old lady." And some didn't say shit. And why should they?
And before I turn you loose reader, friend, auntie-cousin someone residing somewhere... before you wonder at the audacity of confining a dog to a prison, or worse, a team of dogs who'll learn to lead and to help and to aid a person injured in combat, or on base, or pre-deployment, scroll up. Look at that list of atrocities these women have faced, have endured, have suffered themselves to. And ask yourself, really ask yourself, how many have you faced? Homelessness. Assault? Go ahead, scroll up. I myself have counted at least three out of six.
But I the one in the silly tan heels. The one working at the health department. The one blogging about it on a Mac. The one with the space to think it through, to wonder at my privilege. To think how close I am to being in, than out.
A close friend calls it survivors guilt. Some may read it otherwise. I don't know.