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Pen Pals Giving inmates and shelter dogs a chance

Posted: Wednesday, Mar 26th, 2014

Three of the students in the Pen Pal Program at W.W.C. The program gives the women and the animals an opportunity to bond, trust and give back to society. Courtesy Photo

LUSK - The Pen Pals program at the Wyoming Women’s Center (WWC) isn’t about writing letters to inmates, it’s about teaching incarcerated women responsibility and helping to prepare unwanted shelter dogs for forever homes - dogs that may otherwise have never had a chance.

“Pen Pals is a program we put together that is another way for inmates to learn some responsibility as well as learn to care for something or someone,” said Stacie Smith, Wyoming Women’s Center Pen Pals Program Manager and Corrections Officer. “It also gives these women an opportunity to bond and learn to trust again.

“For a lot of the women, and inmates in general, trust isn’t something they’ve had much of in their lives. Pen Pals gives them an opportunity to bond with something and to give back to society. Once they’ve really gotten into the program and start understanding what it’s about, they realize they’re giving back to society, and that’s something they’ve never done before.”

For the women in the Pen Pals program, working with these dogs from an animal shelter in Newcastle can help break the cycle of the type of behavior that led to their incarceration, according to Smith.

“When they’ve been the dog program, it does give them the opportunity to see something they hadn’t seen before,” she said. “They’ve built a connection with the animal and they realize there’s something more important out there than what they had before.

“I’ve had inmates who’ve been in the program who decided to begin volunteering at animal shelters and clinics after their release from the facility due to their experiences with this program.”

The program, which began in 2011, also helps bring the stress level down inside the prison. “Dogs just have a way of getting people to calm down,” Smith noted.

Inmates who participate in the program must have earned their General Equivalency Diploma (GED), be up to day with all of their case planning with their case workers and remain free of any disciplinary action while in the program.

For the complete article see the 03-26-2014 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 03-26-2014 paper.

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