Voice of the Leader Dog Community: Troy – Part 2

Part 4: How it Began for Me

A man with a shaved haircut and goatee wearing a blue button down is holding a few week old black Labrador retriever puppy wearing a blue Future Leader Dog bandana.My first encounter with a puppy on the inside occurred after having already served 16 years. I was on a transfer layover in the Upper Peninsula when a guy walked by with a puppy. It blew my mind. Unless you have experienced going so long in a dehumanizing environment, words are probably not going to convey the “vibe” that a person feels when in the presence of a puppy; it is a strong, palpable feeling that is almost spiritual. People become aware of this sense when a stimulus, like a puppy, is reintroduced into the environment after having been removed for a long time. Puppies have a positive effect upon every prison that they are in.

Later, I arrived at The Cotton Correctional Facility in Jackson. I transferred to this facility to attend Jackson College. Anytime you join a program in prison, the trend is to remain at that facility until you are finished with the program. Because I was there for school, I figured that I would have enough time at this facility to participate in the Leader Dog program. So, I applied and was accepted. I joined simply because I loved dogs. I had no idea at the beginning how significant these puppies are to visually impaired people or would become to me. Puppies became my introduction into the world of behavioral science, a paradigm shifting subject that changed the way I view life.

I also didn’t know how much work raising a Future Leader Dog was going to require, but all the work pays off!

Part 5: The Fruits of Our Labor

When a person in prison raises a puppy that goes on to help a visually impaired person gain greater independence, all the hard work is rewarding. As most puppy raisers know, there is a whole lot more to raising a happy, healthy Leader Dog puppy than the average pet owner might realize. It requires discipline, education, the ability to be social and much more. These attributes, practiced during the time we raise our puppies, change us.

First, the discipline that is required to provide a quality life for a Future Leader Dog is intense. From taking our 8-week-old puppies out to “park” several times a night to the patience that is required to crate train puppies to asking people not to pet our puppies in public, all require high levels of discipline.

Inside a cafeteria are several men sitting around tables each wearing the same blue uniform with a orange stripe down the side of the pants. On the right, a golden retriever is lying down under a man's chair facing away from the camera, and on the left a black Labrador retriever is lying down under another man's chair with just its backside and tail in view. 6 Comments Comment as Leader Dogs for the Blind Leader Dogs for the Blind Published by GAIN · atAtplSmpfrillosf nl15t salt gs1cth1:i0ofr0t emdSAM · Post 4 of 12 My first encounter with a puppy on the inside occurred after having already served 16 years. I was on a transfer layover in the Upper Peninsula when a guy walked by with a puppy. It blew my mind. Unless you have experienced going so long in a dehumanizing environment, words are probably not going to convey the “vibe” that a person feels when in the presence of a puppy; it is a strong, palpable feeling that is almost spiritual. People become aware of this sense when a stimulus, like a puppy, is reintroduced into the environment after having been removed for a long time. Puppies have a positive effect upon every prison that they are in. Later, I arrived at The Cotton Correctional Facility in Jackson. I transferred to this facility to attend Jackson College. Anytime you join a program in prison the trend is to remain at that facility until you are finished with the program. Because I was there for school, I figured that I would have enough time at this facility to participate in the Leader Dog program. So, I applied and was accepted. I joined simply because I loved dogs. I had no idea at the beginning how significant these puppies are to visually impaired people or would become to me. Puppies became my introduction into the world of behavioral science, a paradigm shifting subject that changed the way I view life. I also didn’t know how much work raising a Future Leader Dog was going to require, but all the work pays off! Read more about our Voices of the LDB Community initiative at: https://www.leaderdog.org/.../introducing-voices-of-the.../ Photo description: A man with a shaved haircut and goatee wearing a blue button down is holding a few week old black Labrador retriever puppy wearing a blue Future Leader Dog bandana 0 Comments Comment as Leader Dogs for the Blind Leader Dogs for the Blind Published by GAIN · atAtplSmpfrillosf nl15t salt gs1cth0:i0ofr1t emdSAM · Post 3 of 12 As prisoners, when we overcome the initial impact of our crime, get sentenced and sent to prison, we usually begin turning our lives around. As we do, we carry huge chips on our shoulders! By committing crimes, we placed ourselves in a marginalized social group. Because of this, we work extra hard to pull ourselves back up. Though often unspoken, we live like we have something to prove, BECAUSE WE DO! We live to prove our worth to ourselves, to each other, an… See More 27 Comments Comment as Leader Dogs for the Blind Leader Dogs for the Blind Published by GAIN · ApttorlSilfS lh1spn5ln aidolt 9n:0s0m icorSaAgedMS · Post 2 of 12 Those of us who have committed crimes live with that one moment defining us for the rest of our lives. We did something that hurt others and must own it. Once we do, we have to figure out how to move on. In many cases, even though most of us are guilty of committing crimes, overzealous prosecutors and judges have made overcoming our experiences more difficult by stating things on the record that are simply false. … See More 7 Comments Comment as Leader Dogs for the Blind.A lot of raisers use every meal to train their puppies. The time and drive it takes to obedience train a puppy like this develops consistent discipline that carries over into other areas of life. This happens because of Prison Puppies.  No other prison rehabilitation program does this!

Of course, discipline will not bear the fruit that we are looking for from our puppies without education. What good is discipline if what a person does is incorrect or harmful?  Leader Dog has done a wonderful job educating puppy raisers; in my opinion, this is a major strength of the organization. Our Puppy Raiser Manual is a world class collaboration that is just as good, if not better, than any book on the market.

We all know that we aim to use positive reinforcement to train our puppies. Leader Dog introduced me to these methods before I learned about them in a psychology class. Imagine how excited I was to read the section on B.F. Skinner and Operant Conditioning and already know it because of Leader Dog! The educational materials used over long periods of time develop an ability to apply what we learn in real life. It is a hands-on, practical, real life learning experience. No other prison rehabilitation program does this!

Not only is our effort worth it because it can provide a visually impaired person with more independence while creating an environment where discipline and education change the lives of inmates, but there is also one more overlooked benefit. This benefit is huge! When puppy raising goes behind the walls of a prison, a new social environment is created, and it requires social intelligence. More about this in my next post.

Part 6: Social Intelligence

Social intelligence also became a subject I learned because of Prison Puppies. Raising puppies in prison around so many different people is a challenge. We all get to decide how we want to respond to the challenges we face every day – with a victim mindset or a growth mindset. Puppy raisers face common challenges with those in society, but this is one challenge people on the inside must face that raisers in society don’t. It might help to think of it like this:

Let’s say you work in an environment with lots of people (about 100). Then think of how it would be to live with all those people in an industrial setting 24/7. All the ones you like… .and all the ones you don’t like! In this environment there is no getting away from our differences, so social intelligence becomes a necessity. There is no going home after a hard day of work. The people are there, in your environment, all the time.

Prisoners are forced to live together in close proximity. They do everything together: eat, sleep, shower, watch television, walk outside, etc. Then think about introducing puppies into this environment and trying to achieve Leader Dog’s goal with them! Pretty tough, right? This is what prisoners raising puppies face every day.

Inside a gymnasium are there are five men in a line each wearing a blue uniform with a orange stripe down the pants and across the back of the shoulders of the shirt. The man on the left is bending at the waist and his head is off camera. The man second to the left is bent over with his right hand in front of a black Labrador retriever wearing a blue Future Leader Dog bandana and lying down on a blue mat. The man in the middle is standing and has a light-colored yellow Labrador retriever lying down on his left wearing the same bandana on a blue mat. The man second from the right is standing with his left hand behind his back with a golden retriever wearing the same bandana and lying on a blue mat. The man all the way on the right has a black Labrador retriever wearing the bandana and lying on a blue mat on his left. There are six more men sitting in the bleachers in the background.The challenge of living with so many different people in a crowded environment while trying to raise well-mannered, obedient puppies caused me to discover the subject of social intelligence. Without being a part of Prison Puppies, social intelligence wouldn’t have been a practical necessity for living because many successful prisoners limit the people they interact with on the inside. They have changed so much that their social circle shrinks. Or, successful prisoners limit their interactions simply because it’s easier to stick to themselves.  A common compliment in prison is “That guy sticks to himself.” Books, movies, games or working out are ways successful prisoners check out of the prison social life.

But being in Prison Puppies doesn’t allow that! We are forced to engage, so learning social intelligence becomes the answer to a very difficult problem. Reengaging in the prison environment becomes a huge adjustment for those of us who checked out of it to change ourselves. Raising a puppy in this environment forces us to impress our changes upon the social environment – which isn’t an easy thing to do.

It is easy for people to see the negative aspects of living in prison. But I taught myself to look for the positive. Seeing the positive became habitual because of raising puppies THE LEADER DOG WAY. I was trained to ignore the behavior I don’t want and to redirect it into something I do want, then to reinforce the behaviors I want to happen again. It became a way of life that promotes rehabilitation in ways that other programs are not able to. Puppy raising is a practical, hands-on experience that is integrated into our social lives, whereas other types of rehabilitation programs are usually only a few hours per week and not easily integrated. No other prison rehabilitation program does this!

Find out more about Troy and read part 1 of his story. You can also read the next installment in his story here. Thank you for joining us today to listen to a Voice of the Leader Dog Community!

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