For the lucky inmates who qualify, the Retrieving Independence program allows them a luxury that most prisoners don’t get to enjoy: the love and company of a beautiful dog, if briefly.
Retrieving Independence is a Tenn.-based nonprofit that breeds, trains and places service dogs with children and adults living with physical and mental disabilities. And in partnership with the Turney Center, nearly 50 inmates have become certified trainers, recently graduating their fourth class of dogs.
The dogs are placed with their trainers as pups, leaving the prison occasionally for socialization purposes. Otherwise, they live with the inmates 24/7, steadily training to perform a tasks for potential owners with a host of different conditions, from diabetes to epilepsy to multiple sclerosis.
Inmates are carefully screened before qualifying, going through an interview process.
“When they said it was helping people … and it was mostly kids we’d be helping, I knew I wanted to be a part of it,” inmate Mike Jones told Tennesee ABC affiliate WKRN. “I wanted to give back as much as I possibly could since I came to prison.”
Prison officials say the dogs have a calming effect on their inmate handlers, inspiring more confidence in them, as well.
“The difference in them after this program is just amazing,” Associate Warden of Treatment Jeff Butler said.