Dogs walk into a place where darkness dwells to shed some light on the lives of a dozen men who spend every single day the same, looking at the same four walls.
“The dog doesn’t judge you. You love him, he loves you back,” said John Jackson, prisoner.
For Jackson, the dog makes a difference.
There are six dogs that went from the Saginaw County Shelter to Freeland Correctional Facility.
It will be their temporary home for the next six weeks.
Jackson is serving time for armed robbery.
“It gives me a point of view that I didn’t have before, about how my actions really affect something. And, with the dog, your actions are what teaches the dog," Jackson said.
It’s called “Iron Paws.” A program that pairs dogs with prisoners. Dogs that typically would have a harder time finding a forever home.
Officer Joaquin Guerrero is the man behind the mission.
“These guys can relate to these animals, they’re no different. These pit bulls are incarcerated. They’re looking to get out. They’re trying to find a home. These guys are incarcerated too. So, they know what it’s like to be kind of an outcast,” said Guerrero, a Saginaw County Animal Control officer.
Inmates are lining up to be part of Iron Paws, but it isn’t easy.
“There’s a big process that goes through it. There’s interviews, they have their counselors and psychiatrists that have to evaluate the prisoners that are in there," Guerrero said.
Each dog is paired with two inmates, a newly-found life-changing partnership.
“You can see it in their eyes. You see it in their facial expressions, their body language. Now they’re seeing something that they care for, that they like,” Guerrero said.
The dogs live right in the cell, but not for canine companionship; they have a job to do.
Guerrero visits once a week, teaching inmates how to teach the dog.
That obedience makes the dogs much more desirable for people looking for a four-legged family member.
“Some of ‘em probably did do something, stole something, destroyed something, and now the dog has taught them what it’s like for responsibility,” Guerrero said.
Behavior for inmates has improved, probably because one slip-up means the privilege gets pulled.
“I was involved in a lot of things inside the prison that are definitely against the rules. And I stopped all that behavior, because I don’t wanna lose the dog,” Jackson said.
Leonard Stewart is locked up for a drug conviction. He’s been married for nearly 30 years and has spent 22 of them behind bars.
“Some days it’s better than others. If that’s what you’re asking me. By being in the dog program and stuff, it kinda helps me out. Brightens up my day sometimes," Stewart said.
River is the shelter dog Stewart is paired with. You can just tell when they’re working together how eager she is to learn.
After all, Guerrero said this end of the leash is just as important.
“Some are more stubborn than others, but you stay with it and they’ll catch on. It’s good to see your improvement and your training,” Stewart said.
What may appear to be rough, rugged and intimidating men are often caught showing lots of love to their four-legged friends.
“In reality, what you’re seeing is the dogs are training the prisoners,” Guerrero said.
The best part is the dogs don’t know the difference between a cold steel cell or a comfortable couch.
They give their love to all people, all the same.
“That’s one thing they have is time, they have all the time in the world,” Guerrero said. “So what do they do? They’re putting it into the dog.”
Click here to see raw video from behind the scenes.
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