In prison, inmates are expected to work and be rehabilitated. Inmates at the Jackson Correctional Institution at Black River Falls feel they don't get many chances to do so, but a new program is changing that.
The program is a partnership with Can Do Canines where prisoners help train dogs to go on and be service dogs for those with disabilities. In the prison system for the last 15 years, Michael says the canine prison program brought out a new side of him.
"It shocked me and my family that I could actually become a human being instead of a criminal," He said.
He never trained a dog before, actually feared hurting the dog when they arrived as puppies. The feeling changed when he held her.
"When she looked me in the face it was just like, I fell in love with her right away you know," Michael explained.
That's the impact Warden Lizzie Tegels hoped would happen as she partnered with Can Do Canines for the program.
"Once we connected with them, this program hit the ground running," Tegels said. "It's been a controlled chaos ever since and we've enjoyed every bit of it."
Wisconsin area Coordinator Dyan Larson says the organization has a large waiting list for those needing a service dogs, making it a perfect fit to partner with correctional facilities.
"People who are waiting for the dogs mean they're going to get a dog sooner," She said. "The difference that it makes in so many people's lives along the way is amazing."
Impacting those like Chris, who handled Peggy. He says watching the dog taught him patience that he never had before. It's sad to know he's losing his best friend, but finds comfort in giving back to the community.
"I know she's going to a great place and going to help somebody in need," He explained. "That's why I really got into this to begin with."
Those dogs help people like Terri Krake, who's dog Brody, helps her when she suffers seizures from an injury she had during her days as a police officer.
"Without a doubt, this dog saves my life periodically throughout the week," Krake said. "The work that they do with these puppies is awe-inspiring."
For Michael, it's given him a new drive in life when he gets out.
"I'm coming from this program with all these tools, why not put them to good use instead of holding them in my back pocket," he added.
Trainers from Can Do Canine teach the inmates how to train the dogs and they immediately apply it to the dogs they're handling. Eleven dogs graduated from the program Monday night. Each now going off to be trained in the specific disability they will be helping out with.
The next step the correctional institution needs is more foster families to take dogs on the weekends. They say it helps the dogs get out in the community and not become institutionalized. if you'd like to be a foster family for the next set of dogs go to their website for more information.