The “It Saved Me” Program allows incarcerated adults in Oregon to train working service dogs

PENDLETON, Ore. – Decades tend to blend together when you’re in prison.

For Fred Pyke, he wonders what life will be like if and when he is released.

She envisions the positive impact dogs can have on society through their unconditional love.

“I’m happy, who would have thought you could be happy in prison,” said Pyke, who has been at the Eastern Oregon Correctional Facility for 23 years.

Happiness hardly covers the 180 degree difference in Pyke’s life.

He said that EOCI has changed the lives of the dogs inside for the better.

“I was adopted at a young age, I grew up in a gang war,” said Pyke, who previously believed he was a product of his surroundings; a life of crime by upbringing.

Years ago, he learned about a program that allows incarcerated adults to train service dogs while serving time. Pyke applied to the program hoping to be accepted.

“So this was his chance to tackle me, if you could sum yourself up in one word, what would it be? I also changed, I said; turn all negative, all negative thoughts into pro-communicative, pro-social thoughts,” he said.

The person Pike was referring to was Joy St. It’s Peter.

He founded Joys of Living Assistance Dogs as a way to get service dogs to those in need, mostly veterans and first responders. Inmates who apply to the program go through an interview process before being selected to be a part of JLAD.

JLAD was implemented in EOCI in 2016.

Dogs are trained from 18 months to two years. They spend two weeks with inmate trainers at EOCI sites and another two weeks with socializers in the community.

“To me it’s amazing, absolutely amazing. When I started to see how it changed their lives — to see one of the big hardcore, to sit with a puppy and just cry — I was amazing, and I thought, oh my god, we can offer so much more to a whole new population,” Joy recalled the first. prisoners communicate with dogs years ago.

During Monday’s graduation ceremony, a group of JLAD trainers demonstrated what their loyal dogs are capable of and how they will help their new owners. They demonstrated the ability to respond to a PTSD episode, help their handler check out in the store, balance, and pick up their own rope.

“So they open doors, turn on lights, wake them up from nightmares, get them out of buildings if they start to shut down and can’t work in crowds,” Joy said, “I take great pleasure or honor in giving someone a greater freedom and independence in a depth that I will never understand. to offer a life and that is my motivation.

It is a love some of these men have never known; and requires a discipline that demands all his efforts.

Before JLAD, Patrick Morris said, “I had too much on my mind and I chose to hang out with people I shouldn’t have and I shot up and took my life and I’m 25 when I’m 18.” set off on a destructive path within the prison.

Former gang member spent half his life in prison; he spent a large part of his sentence in solitary confinement.

He said JLAD brought him the joy of giving back.

“I’ve never done anything like this in my life and I’m sorry it took prison to really wake up, but sometimes that’s what it takes. Instead of destroying a life, I saved a life. Very helpful, wow, I really helped you. Are you serious?” he said.

This is a common consensus among men: dogs have taught them invaluable life lessons.

“It taught me to think about others, it taught me empathy, it taught me compassion, it taught me patience, it taught me to love something other than myself,” Morris said.

“I’ve learned to take responsibility for my actions, to be sorry for everything I’ve done, and only I can define who I am,” Pyke said.

This is a program that has benefits beyond providing a service dog to someone in need.

“Twenty-five years in, this is one of the most beneficial programs I’ve seen in terms of change. It’s an all-round benefit, it’s a benefit to the institution because it reduces stress, it’s a benefit to the buyers because they’re getting an animal that’s going to change their life and it’s really changing, it’s a benefit to AISH. give their lives and give them an opportunity to give back,” said Capt. Jeff Frazier.

Some of these men are not sure what the future holds.

They don’t know if their appeals will be heard or if they will be denied parole.

But they know love, the love that lifts people up and makes them become better people.

Patrick and Fred were asked what they wanted to say to their youth.

“Try to learn to love yourself, understand what it is, because once you love yourself, you begin to understand everything, because no one in this world is going to do it for you,” Morris said.

“Someone wants you, and if you feel love from someone, someone will love you,” Pyke said.

The men hope the program’s positivity can shine a new light on incarcerated adults, allowing people to see them as rehabilitated and changed.

“All these years we have been trapped in a place without color – we see colors, we see life, we breathe again.”

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