Puppies Behind Bars (PBB) is a program in New York State Prisons that puts prisoners with dogs being trained for various “careers” – e.g., Guide Dogs, Service Dogs, Bomb Sniffing Dogs, etc. At the time I posted the thread below, PBB was collaborating with Guiding Eyes for the Blind (GEB) in that we would swap from time to time – meaning one of the PBB dogs would come live with us (puppy raisers) for a couple weeks while our GEB puppy would go to prison for training. One of the dogs we swapped with, Josh, was being raised by Roz. And while we never met, I was very impressed by her heart as you can read in one of her essay’s below – enjoy!
The Following Essay Was Written by Roz:
When we think of the imprisoned “people who have committed crimes” we conjure up visions of hard-looking individuals, vile in nature, locked in cells surrounded by prison guards. Yet, there are other prisons that we all create for ourselves. Like the prison guard who oversees the captive, our consciousness is the gatekeeper of our soul. Thoughts of inadequacy, fear, hate, low self-esteem, self-pity, racism, addiction, loneliness, grief, and anger keep us in prison as much as the inmate in a jail cell.
I know about both kinds of prison. I have been physically imprisoned for the past twenty-four years in a maximum-security facility for women. For the first ten years I was also in an emotional prison that kept me in a constant state of denial, depression, guilt, hatred, self-loathing, shame, anger, bitterness. These ever-present thoughts defined me, and were just as confining, tormenting and frightening as the steel and barbed wire that enclosed my physical body.
Those first ten years in prison, I was very angry. I felt that an injustice had been done to me because although I was found guilty of two counts of murder in the second degree for the stabbing of an elderly couple, I actually did not stab anyone. I did not feel fully responsible for their deaths, even though I was part of the crime that led to their murder. My anger was expressed in many self-destructive ways I used drugs (readily available inside these walls), had a sexual relationship with a guard (which led to the birth of my daughter, now nine), and let my feelings of self-loathing define me. A state of gloom not only penetrated my essence, but also filtered out into the lives of those I encountered.
I knew that deep within me there was an exit from this prison that I myself sealed off and nailed shut. I knew this door was the key to my freedom and serenity that it would open the floodgates of understanding and compassion that would bring me peace but fear kept me from ever attempting to break all the way through. Abhorrence at the crime I had committed, self-pity and shame shackled my judgment and dealings and weighed me down as much as any ball and chain. I detested myself and couldn’t believe that I could ever find anything resembling inner harmony. My pessimistic beliefs, habitual patterns of interaction and the circumstances of my environment told me I would never break away from what I was, who I had become.
Nevertheless a tiny voice deep within me was at all times calling me to look through that barred door saying seek me, come closer, break through, take a risk. My longing for transformation started progressively, that weak inner-voice slowly gained strength. Hope peeked out at me through a fracture in the barricade. Gradually, I chiseled away at it, bit by bit, and as each fragment fell I learned more of what I desired in my life and my soul cried out for more. I began to see that I had a choice to continue being the way I was emotionally or to seek something better.
First I had to face the enormity of my crime. I looked inside myself and hated what I saw. I went into therapy and with the help of others I began to take responsibility for what I had done. My actions had caused the death of two people and the pain of many more. I vowed in my heart to never perpetrate violence again in any form or fashion on another being. This is something I live by, something I teach my daughter. Mostly I saw that I had to change from who I was to who I was intended to be the person God had wanted from the start, a person who loved and respected life.
I began to appreciate that I had to do the correct things with my thoughts and actions and reactions. I didn’t want to be a “statistic”, I wanted to change and grow. I began to read everything I could get my hands on. I enrolled in college and got a B.A. I took, and then taught, parenting classes, helping myself and others understand the impact parents have on their children and the positive influence they can have even while incarcerated. I became a tutor and mentor to other inmates with long sentences, telling them the story of my struggles, helping them to take responsibility for their lives and to find a way to use their time in prison in positive ways. It became important to me to greet people with a smile and kind gesture, to do what was right, make constructive choices, and love others because love was within me.
I stepped all the way through the entrance of my self-made prison. I knocked down the door through honesty, education, self-knowledge and service to others. I crossed over and basked in the warmth and love I found on the other side to comfort, conduct and instruct me.
I have been wronged in my life and I have done tremendous wrong, not only in actions but also in thought, in the world and on a spiritual level. God has enabled me to actually look at myself and work on my faults, to turn my shortcomings into tools I can use to enhance others lives. God showed me how to love and how to forgive others and myself. I don’t see my life as a botched mission any longer, I don’t let strife linger in my heart anymore. I have found peace in the most unholy place, prison, and I know this peace is a blessing from God.
I have been transformed by the renewing of my mind and that gift is free to all. Once I believed I was no good and that I would not amount to anything, but now my mind is renewed and I know otherwise. What you think and believe is what you will become. Loving others brings love into your life, allowing goodness to flourish, transforming pain and anger into luminosity, overflowing joy, happiness and love. If God can redeem me he can do the same for you. I am liberated and at peace and giving my life over to good, in thoughts and actions. Praise God for his mercy and love that lies within you. Unlock the door and watch the prison walls disintegrate into pieces. God bless you all. Let freedom ring.
Bedford Hills Correctional Facility
Bedford Hills, New York.
Note About Dog Pictured
The pictures above are of VanDyke – at the time of these pictures he was a guide dog in training and these pictures were taken at the kennels at Guiding Eyes for the Blind.
VanDyke has since gone on and graduated and is working with his new partner in the Greater Boston area. Chuck and Katie Scott were his puppy raisers and Katie has a wonderful song in his memory that has been played at several guide dog graduations.