With nothing to hide, it was still a relief when an email confirmed that my background check was okay. I was clear to enter the Chippewa Correctional Facility. Kind of ironic, eh, that one needs a clean background to enter a prison? Well, I suppose if one wants to exit said prison, a good check is imperative.
On July 16, I accompanied Deb Donnelly from Leader Dogs for the Blind and volunteer puppy-counselor Tammy Bartz to the prison. Deb was to make a final determination if the facility would be a good candidate for an inmate puppy-raising program. (See the Chippewa Correctional Facility page on this blog for the back-story.)
During Leader Dogs' annual "Puppy Days" (a day of celebration and learning for volunteer puppy raisers and breed stock hosts) a couple of summers ago, Warden James McKinney from the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility in Iowa was the featured speaker. His description of how the puppy-raising program at his prison, which started in 2002, had changed the atmosphere inside brought tears to my eyes then. The memory of his words brought a sense of anticipation now; I had no idea of what to expect at Chippewa.
In the visitors' entrance we were asked to remove everything from our pockets and leave them in a locker. No pens, no change, no keys, no wallets. We signed in. We gave up our driver's licenses to the guard behind the desk, who made a mark on the back of our right hands with some kind of invisible ink. Rob Batho, manager of Pike Unit where the program puppies would reside, met us, along with some other prison officials, and the Bardsleys, who where the ones who originally got things rolling.
None of our Future Leader Dog puppies needed a background check, nor where they searched or questioned.
Rob led us to a conference room where we met with Warden Jeff Woods, and some others. FLD Strider, cc'd Tripp, FLD Harper and FLD Dutch took their places under the long wooden table. The pups fell asleep as Deb discussed details about the Leader Dogs for the Blind inmate puppy-raising program. Warden Woods was definitely on board.
It was time for a tour. We exited the building and walked a short distance to a locked gate in a fence that stretched to the clouds and around the minimum security Pike Unit. Our contingent entered what appeared to be a "garden" yard. The gate swung closed behind us, locking with an emphatic CLICK.
We were inside.