Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Gone shopping

June 20, 2014

There is more in store. (Pun intended.) Tammy lines the teams up as we did in Baraga last month. This will be an "outdoor" mall in the yard. The handlers pick up their pay -  a sealed envelope of kibble and treats - grab a plastic shopping bag, select a balloon, marking pen and dog treat, and pay the cashier $1.72. All while managing their puppy.

There are a group of inmates standing in line next to a wood picnic table, with their puppies sitting nearby. From left to right is a German Shepherd, a black lab, a yellow lab, a golden retriever and a chocolate lab. There are other men standing in the background looking on. They are outside in the prison yard and the brick wall of the unit is behind them.
Long line at check out.
Standing in line, juggling pay envelopes and grocery bags, staving off strangers who want to pet their puppies, is a new experience for these puppy-raising teams. The puppies seem more at ease than their handlers, who struggle a bit with how to hold the leash and bag and still count out money, although every puppy is interested in the exchange of edible cash.

A golden retriever is sitting next to a wood picnic table, peering at his handler's hands. The handler, on the left, has a handful of kibble in his right hand and is taking bits out with his left hand. The puppy's leash is around the man's left wrist, as well as the handle of a plastic shopping bag. On the table is a ripped open envelop with kibble spilling out and a silver dog bowl filles with bits of kibble and a milkbone. The "cashier's" arms are hlding the bowl from the right side. In the background are the legs of two men dressd in the prison blue uniforms.
FLD Drummond watches intently, no doubt hoping some "cash" will fall.


The photo is taken from a low position looking up at two men and a black lab around a wood picnic table. Both men are wearing the blue prison uniforms. The man on the left is reaching to the puppy's collar with his right hand. The man on the right is African American and is leaning ove rthe table with an envelop in his right hand.
Abe does a convincing job as cashier. He even supports FLD Sammy's collar while Ro counts his kibble.

Upon completion of the transaction, the teams blow up the balloons and work together to draw faces on them. The puppies are exposed to something new - there are no balloons in prison.

A man dressed in a white t-shirt and blue prison pants is standing on the left facing right and blowing up a big white balloon. His face is straining with the effort. To his right facing the camera is another man dressed in a white t-shirt and blue prison pants. His arems are folded at his chest and he is smiling widely at the other man. A golden retriever with the Futurel Leader Dog bandana is standing on the right looking up at the balloon. There is a man dressed in the blue prison uniform and a blue baseball hat in the background looking to the right. The men are standing on grass and there is the brick wall of the unti behind them.
Cory strains to blow up a balloon. Will it explode? His puppy-raising teammate, Cody, and FLD Bravo look on.

It starts to rain, so we gather in a small classroom to finish up. Tammy puts me on the spot. I have to declare a "best balloon face." I visit each team and take pictures. One drawing is artistic, one is creative and another is funny. Most are smiling faces. Two are puppy faces; one even sports a Future Leader Dog bandana.

I am not happy about having to choose one over the others.

It seems a simple exercise, but I'm learning there is more at stake here than meets the eye.

When selecting inmates to join the puppy-raising program, the prison sets the criteria, not Leader Dogs for the Blind. The prison also assigns the men to teams and selects the primary raiser for each puppy. The men are held to higher standards than other prisoners in the unit and are taken out of the program for any infraction, no matter how slight. We see new faces almost every month.

The men are waiting. I look from team to team. I think about a decision RUM Steve made in Baraga when a German Shepherd puppy joined their ranks. The pup was assigned to a calm, quiet and not-so-arrogant inmate; a different choice had the potential for conflict within the unit.

If I choose that one, I think, his head will swell. If I choose that one, the others will think it is because I am partial to his puppy. If I choose that one, will it cause discouragement among the rest?

Six men are holding up white balloons with faces drawn on them. Four of the men are standing behind a table with four light blue plastic chairs upside down on the top of the table. The fifth man is behind the table too, but is sittin down. He has his left hand on the shoulder of a golden retriever who is sitting in front of him. In the background behind this man is another man holding a ballon up high.There are a few more men behind the group, not very muc in view. The are in a room with white brick walls.
The judging.

Suddenly it comes to me. I choose a "new" guy, who has been quiet and polite, always open to our suggestions and helpful to the other teams.

A man with glasses wearing a white t-shirt is standing on the left holding a white balloon in his right hand. His forearm is full of tatooes. In the background to the right is a man dressed in the blue prison uniform.
Eric holds up the winning balloon.

The room erupts in applause. An inmate standing close to me says to his teammate, "That's great she chose him, instead of someone who would let it go to his head."


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