Colorado Cell Dogs
Driving to Sterling Prison, I was a little nervous thinking about teaching the male inmates a Canine Massage and "Tapping" (Thought Field Therapy energy work) class. I had already taught the female inmates three classes, and it was an amazing experience. What the dog program has done to change their lives is something to be witnessed. But today I would be working with the guys! Some of these guys are in for life. As I thought about it, a feeling came over me that it would be even easier to teach the guys and they would be more receptive than the gals.
The prison dog training program or, Colorado Cell Dogs, is a self funded program to teach inmates how to train dogs while they are incarcerated. This is a paid position and not only gives them a skill, but they have to qualify for this program, and it is very coveted. The dogs, in return, are teaching them how to control themselves emotionally, how to be consistent, and learn gentleness. Usually dogs in shelters are identified as good candidates, or a family may have the prison train their unruly pet. The trained canines then go up to be adopted, or back to a private home as a well trained pet, or to a higher calling as a service dog.
I met up part way with Darlene, the dog trainer, and we rode together the rest of the way to Sterling. I figured she must know I am qualified to do this class because she chose me to do it. There were two classes. The first was for the guys that will get out of prison and hopefully go into a dog training job. The second class was for the inmates that are in for life.
I walked into a room with sixteen men and sixteen dogs. Just seeing those wonderful dogs put me at ease immediately. To get a baseline for my audience I asked, "How many of you have felt a personal shift since working with these dogs?" Almost everyone raised their hands. They were very interactive, asking questions like, "When I have my doggie day care on the outside, I want a canine massage therapist to come. What should I charge?" And another question was, "Why did you get into this?" I was very surprised at their insightfulness and curiosity. Moving into the class we learned some basic canine massage techniques and some "Tapping" sequences for trauma and anger and rage. Tapping, or Thought Field Therapy, is a modality whereby acupuncture points are tapped in particular sequences to relieve stress, trauma, anger, etc. I explained that before you put your hands on the dogs, it is important to be calm yourself. You can calm the dogs with massage and "tapping", but you can also calm yourself. The "tapping" point for rage was a highlight for some inmates. I said, "As you work on the dog, check in to see how you feel. Chances are, after doing this massage meditation for ten minutes, you will be in a more relaxed space within." At the end they thanked me for teaching and some even shook my hand. I asked them to write down questions and said that I would return so we could go a bit deeper.
The next class was with the men that will be incarcerated for the rest of their lives. I definitely "tapped" myself for stress! As soon as I walked in the door, those beautiful dogs looked at me and I felt at ease...pure potential. Sixteen men and sixteen dogs ranging from a six month old Mastiff to a tiny Bichon Frise, all with these "hardened" criminals. I asked again, "How many of you have experienced a personal or emotional shift since working with these dogs?" Once again, most raised their hands. We were on the same page. I told them that sometimes I feel anxiety or anger, or am just physically tired, then I do massage and energy work on a dog and everything shifts. One big old inmate said he used to be really mean until he started working with dogs. The story goes that a litter of pups came to the prison and had to be named. This man who admittedly committed a very heinous act on the outside had to name a pup. Overwhelmed with the task, he pondered the situation. He had trained a dog that previously went to a children's hospital as a therapy dog for emotional support. A young child named Laura, only four years old, had survived twenty operations. He said she was the happiest person he had ever met. He told me this with a thickness in his voice. He named his pup Laura. As I was teaching the class, I said, "I was supposed to be here last May but I broke my heel in a bad horseback riding accident." The "lifers" said, "Oh, we heard about that! We are so sorry! How are you doing now?"
The class felt smooth and seamless. The guys got on the floor with me and worked on their dogs, asking questions along the way. As we were "tapping" the dogs, some of them calmed right away and laid down on their side. In complete amazement, the prisoners understood the demonstration on a personal level. If it does this for the dog, what can it do for me? At the end of class, the dog trainer, Darlene, brings in Doggie News for them to read out loud. This is correspondence from the new owners or the follow up on a trained dog. She says that sometimes their voices crack or they well up at reading special news. Some of their dogs go to disabled veterans or will actually go overseas to a war zone. Before I left the men filed by me, shaking my hand, looked me in the eye, and thanked me deeply for teaching. One guy told me how inspired he was and that all he wants to do is learn more. They will keep a journal of questions to ask for the next class.
I do not know what these people have done outside the prison to be incarcerated. I really do not want to know. What I see is the effect that unconditional love and trust in the form of four legs and a tail has upon people...people that we would rather not see. Now as I am driving home with a huge lump in my throat, I am hoping I can make a difference again at the Canon City Prison. To accomplish even a fraction of the work those dogs have begun would be amazing.
To find out more about Colorado Cell Dogs, please visit https://www.coloradoci.com/serviceproviders/puppy/index.html?p=aboutDogsDiv