Dog training

Wisconsin inmates earn redemption through prison dog training program

Inside a facility at Oshkosh Correctional Facility is a group of inmates working for a higher purpose. “I was sentenced to 20 years in prison, so I have about 12 years left,” said Jafari Mahonie, who is behind bars for heroin trafficking. Seated next to Mahonie is Aaron Smith, 15 years after a 20-year sentence for armed robbery. “I was 18, I made a bunch of really bad decisions,” Smith said. The two inmates have become friends in prison, not because of their past, but because of what they are working towards for their future. “I love being able to give back to the community something that we’ve taken,” Smith said. “That we’ve all done these bad things in the past, being able to do something positive about it.” Smith and Mahonie are volunteers with the Journey Together Service Dog program. It’s a program that trains dogs to be service dogs for people with PTSD. “I could never have imagined being in jail with dogs, to have the opportunity,” Mahonie said. There are about a dozen paired dogs with just over 40 inmates, rotating every few months. Each of the inmates trains the dogs to different commands over the course of approximately two years, before the dogs graduate and are placed with clients. Some of the program’s clients are veterans and some of them are victims of crime. When not placed with individual clients, many dogs are placed in facilities, such as police departments, domestic violence centers, and schools. One of the service dogs to graduate from the program is Sergeant Pepper, who now works at the Waukesha District Attorney’s Office. . More recently, Pepper assisted the victims of the Waukesha Christmas Parade tragedy, during the legal proceedings. While service dogs work to give people a chance at a normal life, the program works to give inmates a second chance at life. “How do you survive in a prison? You do what you’re told, exactly what you’re told, no more, no less. This whole idea of ​​working together is totally cutting edge and we absolutely approached that from ‘a huge way under this program,” said Brad Cirricione, treasurer of Journey. “These guys work really well together and, you know, they help each other. They encourage each other.” Cirricione said their clients with PTSD always say they sleep better with the dogs by their side and go out in public more than they ever could handle before. He said that the inmates are growing up too.”Yes, they work with dogs, but they do a lot of other things that may or may not be apparent to them,” Cirricione said. “We’ve done things like giving and receiving feedback. We’ve done a whole variety of things around building teams, working together. Help them grow as people and work towards a future outside of prison walls. have to take care of, you have another being to take care of. You kind of have to put yourself aside, the different things that you may be dealing with, and focus on them and their well-being,” Smith says. Mahonie agreed. “No one person in the program is responsible for the dog growth. It’s a team effort,” Mahonie said. “We all lean on each other. If I don’t know something, I’ll just ask. Everyone is ready to help each other grow, to give their experience to others.” “We teach them, but they also help us,” Mahonie said.

Inside a facility at Oshkosh Correctional Facility is a group of inmates working for a higher purpose.

“I was sentenced to 20 years in prison, so I have about 12 years left,” said Jafari Mahonie, who is behind bars for heroin trafficking.

Seated next to Mahonie is Aaron Smith, 15 years after a 20-year sentence for armed robbery.

“I was 18, I made a bunch of really bad decisions,” Smith said.

The two inmates have become friends in prison, not because of their past, but because of what they are working towards for their future.

“I love being able to give back to the community something that we’ve taken,” Smith said. “That we’ve all done these bad things in the past, being able to do some good for it.”

Smith and Mahonie are volunteers with the Journey Together Service Dog program. It’s a program that trains dogs to be service dogs for people with PTSD.

“I could never have imagined being in jail with dogs, to have the opportunity,” Mahonie said.

There are about a dozen paired dogs with just over 40 inmates, rotating every few months. Each of the inmates trains the dogs to different commands over the course of approximately two years, before the dogs graduate and are placed with clients.

Some of the program’s clients are veterans and some of them are victims of crime.

When not placed with individual clients, many dogs are placed in institutions, such as police departments, domestic violence centers and schools.

One of the service dogs to graduate from the program is Sergeant Pepper, who now works at the Waukesha District Attorney’s Office. More recently, Pepper assisted the victims of the Waukesha Christmas Parade tragedy, during the legal proceedings.

While service dogs work to give people a chance at a normal life, the program works to give inmates a second chance at life.

“How do you survive in a prison? You do what you’re told, exactly what you’re told, no more, no less. This whole idea of ​​working together is totally cutting edge and we absolutely approached that from ‘a huge way under this program,” said Brad Cirricione, treasurer of Journey. “These guys work really well together and, you know, they help each other. They encourage each other.”

Cirricione said their clients with PTSD always say they sleep better with the dogs by their side and go out in public more than they ever could handle before.

He said inmates grow too.

“Yes, they work with dogs, but they do a lot of other things that may or may not be apparent to them,” Cirricione said. “We did things like give and receive feedback. We did a whole variety of things around building teams, working together.”

Smith, who wants to work training or grooming dogs when released, chimed in, saying the dogs help them grow as people and work for a future outside prison walls.

“You have a dog to take care of, you have another being to take care of. You have to kind of put yourself aside, the different things that you may be dealing with, and focus on them and their well-being. be,” Smith says.

Mahonie accepted.

“No one person in the program is responsible for the dog’s growth. It’s a team effort,” Mahonie said. “We all lean on each other. If I don’t know something, I’ll just ask. Everyone is ready to help each other grow, to give their experience to others.”

“We teach them, but they also help us,” Mahonie said.