Dog training gives East St. Louis prisoners sense of purpose

EAST ST LOUIS, IL (KPLR)-  It’s a place you may not expect to see puppies at play…in prison. But don’t cry for these pups.  They’re not bad dogs.  They’re support dogs, whose journey begins at the Southwestern Illinois Correctional Center.

The Labradors have just arrived and are getting to know their cellmates, all of whom have been carefully screened and trained for the twenty month training program.

Inmate and trainer Paul Mitchell says, “The first six months is really intense. There’s a lot of work. The first six weeks is 24 hours a day.  We barely get any sleep.”

Damone Stewart, another inmate and trainer, says, “I got to take ‘em out early in the morning.  As soon as they cry, I gotta take ‘em out.  And then they cry I gotta take ‘em out again.  And turn around in my sleep and feed them again."

The prisoners are mostly in for drug-related offenses.  Their work with Support Dogs, Inc.,  gives them a sense of purpose.

Inmate trainer William Waller explains, “I don’t know, if I’m having a bad day, I just grab that dog.  I take that dog out.  I play with that dog and it all goes away.  It does. “

Mitchell adds, “Instead of counting every day, you make every day count. The bond that we create between the dogs and us, I can’t even explain it to you.  When my first dog Harry left, I almost cried.  If you want to see a grown man cry here at Support Dogs, take one of our dogs away.”

The dogs will eventually go on to help people with PTSD, disabilities, or work with prosecutors in the courtroom.  The prisoners say working with support dogs motivates them to leave and become productive members of society.

Waller says, “It teaches me patience.  It teaches me tolerance.  It teaches me to have responsibility.”

Stewart says, “It builds your character. It gives you so much to have you thinking about what do you want to do when you get to the world.  And do you want to keep coming to this place or do you just want to stay free and take care of your family like you’re supposed to be and be a man.”

Website: Support Dogs, Inc.