FISHKILL, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Puppies are transforming prisoners and military veterans.
A New York woman is re-thinking the way inmates spend their time behind bars.
As CBS2’s Jessica Moore reported, puppies are giving convicts a chance to help America’s heroes.
“Skye’s growth. She’s my growth,” John Rivera said.
Rivera spent 15-and-a-half years in prison for second degree murder. He described his time behind bars as gray — until Skye bounced into his life as a 10-month-old puppy.
“She helped me see my potential. Just to be able to focus on getting something done, stay on time, stay on track,” he said.
John and Skye’s 2 year journey was captured in the documentary ‘Prison Dogs’ which explores the ‘puppies behind bars’ program at Fishkill State Correctional Facility.
The program was the brainchild of Gloria Gilbert Stoga.
“I really believe in second chances. I believe people can change,” she said.
Nineteen years ago, Stoga saw an opportunity to empower inmates through the painstaking task of training service dogs.
The positive changes are impossible to miss.
“When the families come to visit and the dogs go with the inmates to the visiting room, the families see the progression of the dogs, the families see they’re doing something right,” she said.
You might think the benefits end there, but the powerful puppies are breathing new life into another group of people who weren’t sure they’d ever fit into society again.
“Like having a new heart is the best way to put it,” Mark Beam said.
Beam served in the Army for 18 years. His most recent deployment to Afghanistan left him with PTSD and a chasm in his life that he said nothing else could fill.
“Not only did I get Skye, but I got part of him through her and that’s probably the greatest gift you could ever give a person,” Beam said.
The gift of love found inside of a 50-lbs package of slobbering affection who gave both men in her life a second chance at theirs.
The entire ‘Prison Dogs’ documentary can be watched on Amazon, Google Play, or iTunes.
The puppies behind bars program currently operates in six Tri-State area prisons. Once trained every dog goes to live with a veteran in need.