Treat ‘em Like Dogs (Please)

Canine Cellmates

By Kate Boccia
Photo credit: Canine Cellmates

When my son was first convicted, I was thrust into an arena that was beyond my wildest fears. The chaos and destruction of my world was devastating. My son was suicidal and in a system that could not and would not help me help him. I knew in my heart that I would fight every day for his life.

And that’s exactly what I did.

It began simply. A mother’s love. I say it all the time. But it quickly morphed into an awareness of what I was seeing and learning. I became keenly aware of the corruption. I began to understand how the mass incarceration crisis was touching all of us. I became profoundly disturbed by the ‘lack of’ compassion, concern, care or support I had as a family member.

I also saw the men who were tossed into a dangerous situation that only exasperated their own mental health issues. I was frightened by all of it.

I saw men become animals. We caged them and tortured them. And no one cared.

I read this on Facebook and it made me more adamant than ever to help fix this system:

‘Just picked up our furry friends from Cottonwood Ranch. I am so grateful that we found this doggy paradise—500+ acres with ponds, little creeks, huge lawns, beautiful kennels, all set against the Colorado peaks. A place where every dog is known and special and accommodated, where positive training is the norm, and every dog trains at his own pace, with amazing and sustainable results when you get home.’

There were more thumbs up, comments and shares than I can count.

As a mother, this hurt me. My son has been locked in a cage without any ponds, creeks or views of the Colorado peaks. He has never been able to be ‘known and accommodated, where positive training is the norm” so that he could work at his own pace to become sustainable.

Think about this. If we can get a bad dog to become sustainable when we put them in paradise, I think we can do that with a human too. 95% of these men and women will be coming home one day, and I want them to be good dogs.

Back to my story. What I did was what we all need to do. I opened my eyes, I listened, I learned. I became the voice for the voiceless.

I met men and women in prison who are more honest and giving than some I’ve worked with in the free world. These guys are a lot like a dog we rescue from the Humane Society.

They are humbled and grateful for any help or support. They feel hope when I tell them I care. They do better when they know I am watching them and believing in them. How about we rescue of few of these?

I ate at a restaurant in Cleveland, Ohio called Edwin’s. What an incredible experience. This is a 501c3 that trains formerly incarcerated men and women the art of cooking. The service and food were beyond impeccable.

Oh, I could tell they weren’t your average high-end servers in a swanky restaurant like Edwin’s is, but they treated me better than most of the places I eat at now. Humble, grateful servers. Proud to be a part of this program.

I was once again thrust into that place that drives me to bring these ideas to Georgia.

So how do we take a simple story like mine and make it work for the millions of people that are locked up? We simply start.

My organization, The National Incarceration Association, will build prototype models of success for those who are returning. We will partner with those who are experts in ‘fixing’ the complex needs of human beings.

We will create evidenced based data to support this work so that we can get funding. We will teach families and loved ones of the incarcerated how to navigate and work with the system for positive changes. We will educate the business leaders and communities of the importance of taking the men and women we incarcerate and teaching them to be sustainable, productive citizens and family members.

And we will do all of this because of the undying love a mother has for her son.