January 9, 2014
We entered Housing Unit 8 at the Baraga Correctional Facility, the celebrity feeling disappearing with a metallic CHA-CHINK. This was real life. Steve, several prison officials and a couple of correction officers escorted Deb and Tammy and I, and Dr. Donna LeClaire (the local veterinarian who is volunteering with the program) through dim narrow hallways filled with men hanging around waiting for something to happen.
We came into an area more open, an intersection of hallways. Men filed in behind and around us. One man approached me; he clasped his hands behind his back as if he were taking an afternoon stroll. "What kind of camera is that?" he asked, leaning over my shoulder. "A Nikon," I said and turned away to capture a shot of FLD Bear. The little guy was straining against his leash toward a large entry way that led obviously into a restroom.
The inmate shadowed me. "You know," he said, "you can point your flash to the ceiling and get more light that way."
"Yes," I said. He wasn't telling me anything I didn't already know. I had taken a quick look at the shots from the other building and my camera settings didn't seem right. Most of the exposures were a little dark, and the flash was pointing up, so I thought a direct flash might work better. It wasn't until we were driving home the next day that I realized I neglected to synch the shutter speed with the flash.
I felt clumsy, and very small in the midst of tall men.
Deb had been talking with Steve about how she wanted to present the puppies to their new raisers. In Iowa prisons (where this program began), the raiser faces away when the puppy is brought in. Everyone else oohhhs and aahhhs while the puppy counselor lifts the bundle of fur over the inmate's shoulder. This elicits puppy-ear-licks and the bond begins.
Suddenly, Tammy and I realized our entourage was gone and she and I were alone amongst the inmates. I never saw where they went, but Tammy thought she knew which hall to take. I glanced around and spotted Dr. Donna standing against a wall, a group of men between us.
"Come on Donna," I motioned. "They went this way."
By the time we caught up to the group in the west side lunchroom, FLD Axel was busy washing the faces of his new team. Axel will live in this wing with his raisers; FLD Bear will live in the east wing. We ended up retreating to the east side lunchroom where "regular" inmates were hustled out so we could use the space. Deb had paperwork to complete and intended to conduct an initial training session with the three-person-teams of inmate raisers.
Steve instructed me that I was not to take photographs of any of the inmates that are not in the program. I erased the shots I snapped of FLD Bear near the bathroom, even though I felt sure that none of the inmates were identifiable. I didn't want to risk losing the privilege of documenting this program. Steve then asked the inmate raisers if they would sign waivers agreeing to allow me to take their pictures. A hearty "YES!" and a show of hands left no doubt that they were eager to appear in this blog.
"We can't see it," one of the men said to me when he asked for the blog's web address. "But we have families that can."
The Baraga puppy raisers have been patient in waiting for their story to be shown. Here is a start...
|FLD Bear and his raisers mug for the camera. Do they look happy or what?|
|FLD Axel with his raisers. They kind of look happy too, eh?|
|FLD Harper is handled by another team of Baraga raisers. Harper looks as excited as they do!|
|Another team of inmate raisers handle Deb's current Leader Dog puppy, FLD Jedi.|
|FLD Jedi holds still for a meet & greet, compliments of a Baraga Correction Officer.|
|FLD Axel finds an opportune place to sit. A true Lab.|
|FLD Bear and his handler pay attention to Deb's lecture.|
|Deb instructs one of FLD Bear's raisers how to teach "touch." The other inmate raisers look on.|
|FLD Bear stretches forward to "touch."|
|Learning is hard work! FLD Axel takes a snooze.|