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“I shot and killed a man. No matter how much I’d like to change the past, I cannot. But I can strive to be better.”

Incarcerated: 26 years
Housed: Thumb Correctional Facility, Lapeer, Michigan

I shot and killed a man. No matter how much I’d like to change the past, I cannot. But I can strive to be better. My first ten years of incarceration, I refused to accept responsibility. I blamed others. I was a drunk idiot. I began to attend AA. A volunteer asked me, “Do you feel you have a drinking problem, young man?” “I guess,” I replied with a shrug. “What do you mean, you guess?” I shrugged again. “Have a seat, we’ll do our best to figure it out.”

Now I train service dogs for Paws with a Cause. Today, it hit me how much these service dogs’ lives parallel our own. The incoming dogs come in young and wild while the outgoing dogs are well trained and mature. Like Digit, a new dog, as soon as my youth was over, I was caged. Convicts are yanked away from their loved ones, loaded onto transfer buses and shipped to strange places. Both groups are rewarded for good behavior. “Good boy, Digit, you’re doing a great job!” “Good job, inmate Jerry, your cell looks so clean!” We are punished for bad behavior “Bad dog, Digit. Down. No jumping. Go to bed!” “Damn it, inmate Jerry. Get out of my f***ing face and go to your cell!” We learn how to follow commands without question no matter how ridiculous. We come to rely on our masters for our health and happiness.

In prisons across America people slave away for pennies per hour, cooking, scrubbing toilets, cutting grass, farming, working in factories, building roads, digging ditches, the list is endless. Unlike the dogs, we are not loved and nurtured. Though in the end, many of us do leave prison better than when we entered. I can’t imagine how much better our system would work if the US treated its prisoners with respect and dignity. If we started with giving a little love, nurture, and the chance at hard work, how many of us would leave prison rehabilitated, the way the dogs do?

Read Jerry’s Poetry

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