Monday, November 24, 2014

Baraga testimonials

The Leader Dogs for the Blind award-winning prison puppy-raising program has a positive effect no matter where the puppies are being raised. The program started 12 years ago at the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility in Iowa. According to Warden James McKinney, the recidivism rate at his facility is significantly lower than at prisons nationwide. He attributes this to the puppy-raising program.

Inmate raisers at the Chippewa Correctional Facility read personal testimonials at their Puppy Days celebration in July. (Read Scott's speech here, Ro's speech here, and Doug's speech here.)

Two raisers at the Baraga Correctional Facility agreed to share their personal stories. Here are their words... 

My name is Richard Dean Hetherington, but most people call me Ricky. I am 37 years old and from the Oakland County area. Right now, I am currently serving time at the Baraga Correctional Facility where I have been blessed in being part of the Leader Dog Program.
I am so grateful, and thankful for this program and the people involved. Even more, I am blessed to have my little buddy Bear come into my life. Bear, and this program, have taught me more about my life, and life in general, than any program in 15 years of prison. This little guy has given me more than I’ll ever be able to teach him.
A man dressed in the blue prison uniform and brown boots is sitting on a carpeted floor and leaning against a wall. He is reaching with his left hand to a young black lab, which is lying on the floor on the right. The man's right hand is resting on his right knee. The man is looking at the dog with a smile on his face and love in his eyes. The dog is facing the camera and is wearing a blue bandana. There is a blue chair behind the dog.
Ricky and FLD Bear.
When I wake up in the morning I am waking up for someone other than myself. When situations happen here in prison, or even in the world, I have to stop, and think how my reaction will affect me, my team and Bear. Everyday, I learn love, patience, responsibility and being able to think things through.
Teamwork has been something new. Teamwork, and getting along can be a problem in prison. I’ve watched my team evolve, and change as men. All of us have worked through and reacted differently in situations. People don’t realize that we’re not just training puppies. We are trying to change ourselves. This program has not only given us the tools, but has given us hands on training. Dealing with people, and problems in and out of prison.
The best thing for me personally, is a sense of pride. A sense of purpose. For once in my life I am proud of myself. I feel like I have found something I love, and I’m good at. To be ale to give back, and be part of something bigger than myself or my problems. Seeing, and hearing my family proud. To have them hear and see the change in me.
I started this program in a dark, ugly place in my life. My whole life revolved around selfishness, impulse and hopelessness. Inside and out of prison I felt lost with no purpose. Today, I know what it feels like to wake up with a purpose. To have hope that today will be a good day. To be proud of what I’m part of, that I will be responsible, patient, and think things through. To love and be loved.
Bear, and the people in this program make the day, and this place, not so dark and ugly. Pretty crazy, what a convict can teach a puppy. What’s even crazier is what a little puppy can teach a convict.
Thank you, 
Ricky D. and Bear 

My name is Steven Williams and I am a prisoner at Baraga Correctional Facility for the crime of larceny from a building, serving a term of 2-15 years. I am 51 years old.
The Leader Dog program recently introduced at this facility has helped me change my ways of thinking – acting – and responding to people in more positive ways than numerous rehabs and incarcerations combined.
I started doing drugs at nine years old – sneaking beer and smoking pot. I have been addicted to drugs my whole life. I have had many devastating and negative responses to my lifestyle. And the feelings of uselessness, shame, embarrassment and hopelessness I believed that drugs could make it all go away. My dad was an alcoholic. My mom is a saint. Dysfunction and poverty was a way of life, thought normal. I started dealing drugs then became my best customer. I lied, cheated, stole and showed no respect. I made myself believe I raised four children – I had myself believing I was a hard worker – all lies of a drug addict.
Truth is I am 51 years old with too many incarcerations and rehabs – but the love I have for a FLD puppy is melting my layers of lies and irresponsibility, and helping me challenge my patience and persistence. I am a caring puppy handler who is finding a pride in a puppy I co-raised named Axel – and through my diligence and, hopefully, responsible actions I am now the raiser of my second puppy, Farley. This simple program has built more positive pride and sense of achievement in me than all my wasted years combined. To be able to know that my work will personally make the life of a handicapped person better is a blessing that I have never known.
A close up shot of a man's face pressed next to the head of a small yellow lab puppy. The man is wearing a blue prison shirt, he is smiling and holding the puppy with his left hand. The puppy is facing forward.
Steve and FLD Farley.
The vision of the Warden, RUM and ARUSs at Baraga are not only changing our lives one puppy at a time – but the lives of the prison atmosphere.
After years of negativity – and lies – it’s more than a gift of Leader Dog to allow us this opportunity – it’s a gift of life that allows us this opportunity to change who we are and who I am.
Thank you


  1. This is such a wonderful program, and the benefits have the potential to be far reaching through the years for many.

    1. Pam, thanks for commenting. It is indeed an amazing thing what puppies can do!