Posted: Friday, December 25, 2015 7:15 am
Editor’s note: This is Part 2 of an ongoing series looking at women in Oklahoma prisons. Follow at norman-transcript.com.
Women at Mabel Bassett Correctional Center are giving back to society and finding healing along the way. Norman veterinarian Dr. John Otto started the Friends for Folks dog training program at the maximum security prison in Lexington in 1990.
Twenty-four years later, the program opened at Mabel Bassett, a multi-function facility for female offenders. Program supporters say working with dogs touches inmates at a deep, emotional level for a positive change.
“The unconditional love of the dog opens the door, but what keeps the door open is the knowledge and education that occurs through the training,” Otto said. “That’s where the self esteem goes up. That’s where (inmate trainers) change permanently because they know they can do something. In healing that dog, they heal themselves.”
The first class of dogs at Bassett started in January 2014, and organizers soon learned that running a dog training program in a women’s facility was nothing like running one in a men’s prison. Some of the women at Mabel Bassett had lost children and many came from abusive relationships, making them emotionally vulnerable, Otto said.
“The program opens up feelings that have been suppressed,” Otto said. “This is where the maternal instincts are reawakened and they can care for something.”
The Friends for Folks program provides prisoners with a meaningful way to give back by rehabilitating dogs with behavior problems, making them adoptable. When the training is complete, the inmate trainer must relinquish the dog to a new adoptive owner.
The selection process for inmates to participate in the dog training program has strict criteria. To be eligible for selection as a dog trainer, an inmate must have had no escape attempts, no drug or alcohol violations in a year and no misconducts outstanding.
Otto said out of 1,100 women at Mabel Bassett about 400 qualified for the program.