“What Does it Say if Dogs Get Better Treatment than Inmates?”
The dogs marched under the barb wired razor and electric fencing across the prison yard into the cell block five. Paws for Life, a program of [inaudible] rescue in the State Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation had arrived at California State Prison, Lancaster to train inmates to care for once condemned hounds.
I’d known the dogs were coming, as I helped clean out the 24 pens on the back of the cell block—each pen two to three times the size of my cell. We polished the bars, and the door handles of the pens, and revitalized the dead grass in front of the buildings. By the time the dogs arrived, the cell block—which had been used as the hole—had freshly scrubbed floors and freshly painted walls and doors. Although I helped transform the space and knew that the dogs had been days away from being euthanized when they were rescued and sent to prison, I’d been a bit recalcitrant. Not wanting to see them locked up in cages.
Still, waking up to the smell, sound and sight of dogs and their wagging tails, was like holding hands with a longti- longtime friend, walking down the drying Mojave river and being licked by the sunshine on my face, after a long stay in solitary confinement. I grew up with dogs in the free world and raised greyhounds for rabbit hunting. Growing up in the high desert, some semi-wild dogs were my best friends. I ran with a pack of them up and down the dry river. We greeted each other like wolves at dawn, and we howled at the moon at dusk. The dogs nurtured the poet and the beast inside me. Before I knew I was a poet, they gave me the purpose, when I had none.
You should have seen Campy, Buddy, and Big Sister rundown jackrabbits. They were no less elegant than cheetahs running down gazelles on the African Plains; tragically beautiful. Sometimes a rabbits ran back towards me with their sweaty long ears, and fur soaked as if they had just hopped out of a foamy pool. I see the fear in the jackrabbits marble eyes. The catch was like when two stars clashed and melted it into one, becoming a black hole, sorrowful and lovely at the same time.
A few weeks before the dogs arrive at the prison, I asked prospective trainers if the dog beds I’ve been making, would be kept in the cells. No, he told me that animal rights groups had insisted that the cells were too small for dogs. Wow. Don’t get me wrong I am not hating on the dogs. I agree they must have their proper space to be a dog. To bark, wag, and howl. And I know the hound hadn’t broken any laws or are not lifers. Still these cells, just too small for a single dog, house two human beings. Animal rights activists would have a fit, and picket, governors, wardens, or even God, if the dogs were forced to live in a cell-sized space with other dogs they didn’t get along with. The conditions we prisoners live in.
I’m not hating, but some folks here are. They notice all the love and pampering the hounds receive. They are jealous of the cotton blankets and soft throw rugs. The dogs have their own exercise yards, huge play- huge playpens, and large chiller fans. We don’t. Each dog has his own water through next to a sleeping cot, and their own igloo and a little swimming pool. They bath in a tub big enough for a human. It’s difficult not to be envious of the high price meat and vegetable logs, the high-grade macro and cheese, jerky, and peanut butter treats the hounds get.
I play my flute for hounds- for the hounds, Randall, Shelby, Eddie, and Chewy. They look peaceful. Heads rested on paw. If allowed, I would be the official flute player and pull it for the house. Couple of them rest and sleep. The first batch of dogs have already graduated and been adopted out of prison. Stay free, my friends.
(Sound of a cell door closing.) These commentaries are recorded by Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio.