Skip to content

Canine CellMates gives inmates a second chance through its out-of-custody canine training program

Last September, Kelvin Simmons was in Atlanta’s Fulton County Jail awaiting sentencing when he received an offer to train shelter dogs and take life skills classes instead of serving time behind bars. He has been in jail for seven months waiting and was skeptical when he received the offer from the District Attorney’s Office and the non-profit organization Canine CellMates.

Source: HLN/Youtube

Canine CellMates is a non-profit organization that started in 2013 at the Fulton County Jail in Atlanta. The program strives for rehabilitation and recidivism among inmates, but is also dedicated to saving shelter dogs. Shelter dogs are placed with inmates in their cells on the condition that they be trained for adoption.

In 2021, the organization began combating the problem of mass incarceration in the United States through its Out of Custody program, Beyond The Bars.

Simmons’ offer was for the new diversion program, Beyond Bars, where inmates can get out of jail if they agree to stay in the project for a year. If they successfully train a dog and complete the required self-help classes, the charges against them will be dropped. Simmons told the Washington Post,

“I had been polishing floors and doing odd jobs in jail to keep busy so this came out of nowhere and was a nice surprise.”

“I have always loved dogs, and this was an opportunity to make a difference,” he said. “When I found out it was real, I definitely wanted to do it.”

They paired him with an energetic mongrel dog from a local shelter named Blazer, and they formed an instant connection.

“He was locked up and I was locked up,” he said. “We had both been through some tough things in life. And now we both had a second chance.”

Canine CellMates founder Susan Jacobs-Meadows wanted to create a program that would help people not feel so hopeless during their time in jail. The program is currently only available to incarcerated men who are behind bars at much higher rates than women. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2020, 1.2 million men were incarcerated in US prisons, while there were only 83,000 women.

Source: Karmalized Pictures/Youtube

Jacobs-Meadows brought the idea for Beyond the Bars to Fulton County Deputy District Attorney Jill Hollander, who was immediately interested.

“I was happy to help because Canine CellMates was already so successful in jail for both the guys and the dogs,” Hollander told the Washington Post. “There are people who need guidance more than treatment, and Susan’s idea offered a strong relationship between the animal, the program and the participant.”

“A dog doesn’t judge you, a dog just wants love,” he added. “And the dogs are completely dependent on these men being successful.”

Hollander looks for men who have a pattern, be it addiction or theft, who are interested in breaking or ending the cycle. Men who have been convicted of animal abuse or other crimes such as murder, rape, child abuse or armed robbery are not eligible for the program.

The first seven men were selected for the show last fall, including Simmons. They have successfully trained their dogs and are now in the second phase of classes. Five other men have also been accepted into the program.

Simmons says he still missed Blazer, who has since been adopted.

“Saying goodbye was very difficult; She was crying,” she said. “Blazer is a sweet dog who loves to be hugged and snuggled. I told him that he was going to a good home and that he was a lucky dog, and he seemed good about it.”

Once she graduates from the program this summer, she hopes to adopt a dog of her own.

“This has changed my life. I’ve been to prison a couple of times,” Simmons said. “I have three kids and now I’m learning how to be a better parent and a better listener. I’m learning that it’s easier to take deep breaths and relax.”

Related content:

For more content published daily on animals, the earth, life, vegan food, health and recipes, subscribe to the Newsletter of a green planet! Lastly, being publicly funded gives us a greater opportunity to continue to provide you with high-quality content. Please consider supporting when donating!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.