March 6, 2014
We meet, as usual, in the visitor's entrance of the Chippewa Correctional Facility to get signed in. We trade our driver's licenses for our Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOT) visitor IDs. Tammy is given a locker key to stash the Leader Dogs for the Blind van keys; we emptied our pockets before we arrived. What we are able to bring in is documented on a manifest. My camera and flash. Tammy's bag of training tricks. Both of our treat bags.
FLDs Harper and Dax enter ike they are in charge of everything.
Paula and Dave are waiting for us. They have been visiting with Amy, an MDOT employee from a prsion in Jackson who wants to observe the program.
ARUS Rob brings FLD Nell with us on the long walk to check out the level 2 unit. Here we are subjected to another check in. Ironically, Amy is the only one who sets off the metal detector. A pat down clears her thick-soled metal-shank boots.
ARUS Don leads the tour through the unit. Tammy and I are impressed with a large conference room - we could really do some training with that much space. Pike Unit raisers will be able to come inside, but the guys here cannot get out to the Pike Unit. The big yard is a huge area with a pavilion, many sidewalks and a basefall field. If winter ever ends, this will be a wonderful training area.
The mens' living area is set up much like those we've seen at the Baraga Correctional Facility. Half walls separate spaces crowded with bunks, lockers and desks. As we walk down the dim, narrow aisle of one wing, men on lock down pay us no mind. At the far end Don tells us about the warden's plans to convert these eight-man "pods" to six-man in order to accommodate two dog kennels.
FLD Dax decides to put his two cents in and lets loose with a loud rendition of his nighttime singing. "Hey, there are dogs in here!" someone calls out.
Our group is subject to the scrutiny of men who are now sitting up on top of their bunks or hanging over the half walls of the pods. We navigate through reaching hands of those who squat at the entryways, eager to pet the puppies. Tammy lets them touch Harper, who calmly accepts the celebrity attention.
One young man sporting a full round beard asks about the dogs. I give a quick rundown of the puppy-raising program and ask him what he thinks. I am surprised with the thoughtfulness of his answer. "It will be really good for the guys," he says. "We have a lot of old timers."
We pause our tour in an area between wings. It feels like an intersection during rush hour when a buzzer blares and the men exit their quarters. Don points out where they plan to park puppies during the night, just beyond a set of double glass doors and in view of a correctional officer on duty. A grassy area alongside the building is edged with a chain link fence. Well, we assume that what is under the lingering snow drifts is a grassy area. It would make a nice run if the ends were closed off.
FLDs Harper, Nell and Dax are magnets. One man stops a few feet away and asks politely, "Can I pet your dogs?" Of course! Another man wants to know how he can get a dog. That would be up to ARUS Don, when the time comes.
We drop the pups off at Pike Unit so we can grab a quick lunch at the pizza and sub joint down the road. Our training session with the guys is scheduled for 12:30 and it's after noon already. At one o'clock we are still eating and chatting. I say to Rob, "We're late."
"Naw," he replies. "It's no big deal."
No worries. Rob is on "yooper" time. Things happen when they happen.
|By the time we start our training session with the Pike Unit raisers, FLD Dax is tired out from his vocal night and morning tour.|