One can only imagine the sorry life of a prison inmate (assuming we haven’t been there ourselves!) and sympathize that prison must seem like a hopeless, dreary place. Yet, rays of hope are offered in certain prison programs that aim to rehabilitate and redeem life. There is a prison in Anderson, Indiana, that uses cats to teach trouble inmates how to love.
The state of Indiana partnered with Animal Protection League at Pendleton Correctional Facility in a program called Offenders Rehabilitation with Affection, Reformation and Dedication (FORWARD) in 2015. The program, which is supported entirely by donations, puts around a dozen cats from the shelter in an old office at the facility, where inmates can take care of them.
These cats, usually coming from horrendous backgrounds, have difficulty trusting others. Hence, they’re not on top of the desirable list to be adopted. At the shelter, they’re kept in cages most of the time, but at the prison office, the cats are given a chance to be freed from their cages and to roam about with human care from the inmates.
The whole room is their playground, where they can stay freely until they find their forever homes. They’re able to enjoy many fun toys and climb cat furniture made by the inmates themselves.
As prisoners feed, groom, and clean after them, the felines begin to grow attached to their caregivers, learning to trust them. Not only for the cats, the inmates are also given another chance at love as well.
“I’ve had offenders tell me when they got an animal, it was the first time they can remember they were allowing themselves to care about something, to love something,” Director of Animal Protection League Maleah Stringer told WISH-TV. “That’s a pretty powerful statement.”
Princess Dorthy is waiting on her Prince Charming to come rescue her and take her home.
Posted by Pendleton Correctional Facility_FORWARD on Friday, February 23, 2018
Animal Protection League also states on their website that spending time with the cats teaches the men responsibility and how to interact with others using non-violent methods to solve problems. To the inmates, time in the cat room may be the only colorful piece in their black-and-white solitary life in the cells.
“I always look forward to coming here for those nine hours,” inmate Lamar Hal told WISH-TV. “It takes a lot of stress away. It keeps my mind on good things, positive things, rather than just sitting in a cell for the majority of the time … Love will change characteristics from anybody’s tortured past. That goes for animals and humans, really.”
Barry Matlock, another inmate, added, “[The program] gives me a reason to strive to do better than I did yesterday.”
Some people claim that the prisoners, some who are convicted of horrific crimes, do not possess the sense of responsibility required to take care of cats. In addition, some are opposed to giving the men the privilege of having cats as company, since the inmates are in prison as punishment.
Stringer thinks the men are just fine to be with the cats. She told The Anderson Herald Bulletin that “cat duty” is entirely voluntary. She even personally interviews each applicant to make sure they are a good fit for the job.
Similar programs are spreading to other areas of the United States, such as the partnership between the Monroe Correctional Complex-Special Offender Unit and Purrfect Pals. Purrfect Pals states on their website that the program helps to reduce “offender idleness” and to motivate them to work harder and obey unit rules. The programs provide a second chance at social improvement for both the shelter cats and the inmates.
The sanctuary within the prison walls serves as a great environment for the cats to become more socialized, increasing their desirability for adoption, possibly even by prison staff or families of inmates. It’s also a great source for inmates to learn compassion, love, and responsibility. “It instills a little bit of humanity back into me, because I’ve been locked up for over seven years,” Matlock said. “These animals, they help bring that [humanity] back out.”