7/28/2014 - Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women
I'm finally in New Orleans for good—settled to the point where I'm able to volunteer at the local animal shelter and get back to my prison photos. I realize I never posted after my January trip when I was supposed to shoot the dog grads I met on my first trip. Turns out that they close roads in New Orleans if it gets too cold. Actually, much of the city shut down, which I found funny having lived through Philly winters and residing in Denver for 8 years. So, the photo shoot I was so excited for was cancelled because, in the words of the Warden to Bill, "Prison is closed". Bill joked that if there was ever a day to commit a crime, that was it. I thought that was hilarious. The Warden did not. All was not lost though, because I got to look at more real estate.
Fast forward to now...I'm done setting up our house, work is back to normal, and I'm getting back into the swing of helping animals where I can. I had another photo shoot, at the ladies' prison this time. The classroom environment there wasn't as conducive to intimate photos like the guy's classroom was, and it was boiling hot outside, so there wasn't much opportunity for natural light shooting. We were in the Entomology classroom, which I thought was really interesting. Overall the women's prison seemed to have more educational facilities with atriums and community gardens, where the guys' were more mechanical, technical and labor-focused.
I was able to see the dog's training in action this time, which was really cool. Some of the dogs were quicker learners and more obedient than others. There was one dog who was supposed to continue training to be a service dog, but his C.A.T. said he probably isn't disciplined enough for that route. This gal had been training dogs for over a year and I could tell just by observing that she really knew her stuff. On the ride back I asked Bill about her, and he said she's going to be released in the coming months and he would hire her immediately. I can definitely see her being a huge asset to the program, and I think the fact that she has the same experience as the other offenders will be to all of our advantage.
Another difference is that the women train the dogs in pairs vs. solo like the men. Some of the ladies commented that they didn't necessarily like the person they were paired with, but they had to work out how to get along for the good of the dog and its training. I didn't think about it at the time, but I will have to ask Bill about the turnover between men and women. He told me that most of the guys that I shot that first time weren't in the program due to infractions, including my favorite guy posted on this blog. I'm wondering if the women stay in the program longer because they have more support from each other to do right by the dog. Some words they used to describe what the program contributed to them: patience, compromise, communication, discipline, responsibility, purpose, unconditional love.
Bill showed them a slide show depicting some of the dogs they had training with their new owners. One was an autistic child and the other was a veteran. There wasn't a dry eye in the house.
I'm not sure when my next shoot will be, but an artistic expression of the experience is starting to come together in my mind. In the meantime, I'm working on getting marketing materials set up as well as a website for DGE so we can start hustling some donations. We have more prisons to occupy and we need to get the wounded warriors' and kid's programs moving forward. I'm hoping my efforts will position Bill and the organization to get more volunteers to help with all of these efforts.
One interesting fact I learned while developing content for our marketing: service dogs for the blind cannot be trained in a prison. I assumed the opposite, but when you consider the fact that service dogs for blind need to lead their owner throughout their environment and community, a prison isn't an ideal place for teaching a dog how to get to the library, post office or grocery store. I suggested that we use the veterans or kids for that training. so hopefully that will be another community we can serve in the future.