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Saturday, January 18, 2014

Inmates became friends with homeless dogs- shared fate

The below article was originally published on December 19th 2013 on Marta Dziewulska translated it for you so that you could learn about interesting rehabilitation initiatives from around the globe.

We are in a similar situation, because we live behind bars, too. – said inmates from Olsztyn jail, who had been learning to train dogs from a local animal shelter for three weeks. The authorities of Olsztyn jail took their idea of resocialization through contact with dogs from other facilities. It was not difficult to find volunteers for the project. The enrolment lists were long and out of them, we selected eight people who successfully completed the course. – says Piotr Orzol, coordinator of the action.

And he adds -We had to trust that group, because during the classes in the shelter, they were accompanied by only a trainer and one guardian. In such a situation, we had to be sure that none of them would want to use the opportunity and escape. Nothing like that took place, though, and day by day we could see the bond growing between them and the dogs.

Inmates confirm the understanding between the dogs and them as their guardians. They emphasize that they are experiencing the same fate, looking at the world through bars. – It’s only here where a man sees the misery of these animals. – claims Krzysztof, doing five years for participation in an organized crime group. Those meetings had a great positive impact on us and I think it was a jackpot. We have grown fond of those doggies in the last three weeks. It’s a pity we have to leave them here, but I hope they will find good homes. I have already spoken to my wife, that when I get out, we are adopting a dog, preferably from a shelter. I will enjoy teaching it commands, because now I know how to do it.

Other participants of the program speak in a similar tone- I’d grown up with dogs since I was little, so it was pleasure for me. - says Mariusz who didn’t want to disclose what he was in for.

The dog training course that inmates participated in was short, but intensive. They met every day, Monday to Friday and spent six hours there. They started with a one-hour walk and then they proceeded to exercises and taught dogs basic commands. The men received no special treatment, they had to work as hard as people who come to me with their own dogs.- says Magda Biadon, zoopsychologist and animal trainer. The problem was that these dogs live in slightly different conditions than those I usually deal with. Before we started working with them, we had to help them discharge their energy.

Animals were very eager to work and they easily got accustomed to their temporary guardians. – Even to such an extent that they reacted only when inmates called them. – adds Biadon.

At Thursday’s presentation at the shelter the organizers of the action showed pictures taken during the training. There were tears. – I am a tough gal, but today I couldn’t hold it. – says Anna Baranska, the manager of the shelter. – It’s a great action, because our dogs are mostly troubled with lack of human companions and boredom. We will continue our cooperation with Olsztyn’s jail. – she assures.

Two out of eight dogs that participated in the project have already found their homes. New owners had to wait till the end of the training carried out by inmates. – Such skills are an extra bonus when looking for new guardians for dogs. – Explains Baranska.

The first edition of the project ended with a show of new skills learnt by dogs. Inmates said unanimously  that they all were proud of their students. – And you must write that we will personally ensure the dogs will find good homes. – joked Krzysztof, playing with Reda.

The full text in Polish can be found here. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Counting Costs

Mississippi gets a bad reputation for so many things- obesity, heart disease, poor education, a 20% poverty rate. But sometimes we get things right. Did you know that the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman was the first penal institution in the U.S. to permit conjugal visits? It's true! They also call them "extended family visits," the "three-day house," or -among the prisoners- simply the "tonk house." Mississippi is one of six states that allow them, including California, Connecticut, New Mexico, New York, and Washington. Conjugal visits are acknowledged as a positive thing and are credited with saving marriages, keeping families intact and reducing the rate of sexual assault, as well as reducing the level of violence in general.

The unfortunate thing is that Commissioner Epps is doing away with this program throughout the Mississippi DOC after some legislators started complaining about the cost. Irony of ironies, no dollar amount associated with orchestrating the visits is available. So... Mr. Epps is discontinuing a positive program that has proven to reduce the incidence of sexual violence (57 per 100,000 with, compared to 226 per 100,000 without), and provides incentive for good behavior. And on what factual info is he basing his decision? None. You think he would have learned from his experience with Unit 32.

Epps states, "There are costs associated with the staff's time, having to escort inmates to and from the visitation facility, supervising personal hygiene and keeping the infrastructure of the facility... Then, even though we provide contraception, we have no idea how many women are getting pregnant only for the child to be raised by one parent."

Did you know that 43% of all families with children at all income levels in the state are not married? 80% of all poor families with children in Mississippi aren't married. Married couples with children comprise around only one-fifth of poor families in Mississippi. All MDOC prisoners who are eligible for conjugal visits are married. And if Mr. Epps didn't realize it, being a parent is more than just bringing in a paycheck.

Here's a suggestion from this lowly, uneducated prisoner: Get the facts together. THEN make a decision. Also, a fee to cover all costs of the visit can be charged to the visitor when it is scheduled. MDOC already charges a prisoner for the cost of transport when they request transfer to a particular facility. The cost for soap, condoms, tissue, sheets, pillowcase, face towel and bath towel should not be hard to cover.

Mr. Epps does not address the issue of private prisons or regional facilities that allow conjugal visits within Mississippi. Really, Mr. Epps only addresses "extended family visits" and not just regular conjugal visits. Conjugal visits only last an hour or two, and the expenses are minimal. At private prisons and regional facilities MDOC is not being charged more for these companies to house prisoners receiving conjugal visits, and these companies aren't complaining. So, what are the true reasons for discontinuing conjugal visits?

"The benefits of the programs don't outweigh the cost in the overall budget," said Epps. The general public don't realize that when a DOC staff member has sex with a prisoner, it is considered rape. What is Mr. Epps going to do when the incidence of prison rape (prisoner-on-prisoner, prisoner-on-staff, and staff-on-prisoner) increases? The cost to prosecute one rape case would cover the cost of the 155 prisoners eligible for conjugal visits to participate in the program for a full year. What about the marriages that will suffer? What about the spouses out there that will end up pregnant by another man because they have lost that bond with their incarcerated partner? What about the costs you can't tally on a budget report, Mr. Epps?

If you think conjugal visits are something that should be continued, please follow the link and sign the petition requesting that this program be reinstated.
Prisoners and their loved ones don't have many things they are allowed in order to maintain bonds, so please don't allow this program to become a casualty of political kowtowing. Every signature matters, so let your voice be heard. All of the prisoners in MDOC thank you.

About Steven

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Steven Farris is a prisoner who has been incarcerated since a month after his 16th birthday in 1998. Currently serving a life sentence without the possibility for parole, he is seeking to educate the public about the true nature of prison and the widespread and negative effects of the prison industrial complex. Steven has worked with both the National Prison Project of the ACLU, as well as the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund in furthering this effort.

You can contact him directly at:
Steven Farris #R5580
P.O. Box 1889
Woodville, MS 39669-1889

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