An Inmate’s Exit Story
Exit Story by Scott Webb
The following is the exit story by a Pen Pals inmate who will be released next week. Mr. Webb trained almost 40 dogs in his eight and a half years with the Pen Pals program. Thank you so much for taking your time to write about Pen Pals, Mr. Webb, and for serving so many dogs who needed your guidance and patience. You will be missed in the PenPals program, but congratulations on your release.
I’ve been incarcerated for over sixteen years. When I was first sent to prison if you would have told me that somewhere along the line I would be working with dogs I would have looked at you like you were crazy. If you had told me that working with dogs would change my life dramatically I would have said “yeah, right,” but that’s exactly what happened.
The last eight and a half years of my incarceration, I have been working with, caring for and training rescued dogs in the prison Pen Pals program. I can honestly say that I have never hard a more rewarding, more fulfilling job that has touched my life so much. And I’ve enjoyed every moment of it despite the gloom of being in prison daily.
Most of the dogs I’ve had the privilege of working with are often abused, abandoned, or neglected, simply left in our local shelters much of the time to be needlessly euthanized, only to make more room for more incoming dogs. They are often just housed, overlooked and/or forgotten about, and I seem to share a common bond with them. The dogs and I were both in prison much of the time because of minor behavioral issues. Who would have ever thought that this unlikely pair [would] band together and have a chance at a new life?
When I first got this job, I had no experience and no clue of what it truly entailed. I had a dog or two growing up but I never trained it or anything. But how hard could it be, right? Quickly I learned that I was now responsible for another living being. No longer did I just have to worry about just myself and simply surviving day to day in prison. It was now my responsibility to not just feed or take out a dog, but I also had to care for it, totally, train it and help modify any behavioral issues it may have. The dog(s) would rely on me for everything. At times I was unsure if I could really do it. Again, I knew nothing about dog training. As a child if a dog pooped in the house we would rub its nose in it, paddle it with a rolled up newspaper, and hopefully it never did it again. I grew up this same way. If I did something wrong I would get beat and life went on. I never knew just how wrong those philosophies are until I got into this program.
See, we didn’t use punishment as a way of training in this great program. We use what’s known as positive reinforcement training or reward based training, and let me tell you. Not only does it work (and quite well I might add) but it’s a game changer for me. I mean, I couldn’t expect a dog in my care to trust me, to guide it through training or anything else if I was mean to it in any way. So I had to learn an entirely different way of approaching dog training. I learned so much from it and I’m forever grateful to have been a part of this program.
It is through this program, through positive reinforcement training, that, not only did I learn a valuable skill to take with me [to] one day hopefully give more back to society, but valuable life skills as well. I learned how to love, how to trust, how to be responsible, how to communicate effectively, how to be a team player, how to see things through. [I received] the benefits of all that and so much, much more. Words can’t describe how grateful I truly am and how much I owe to this program and the dogs I’ve worked with.
I have had the unique advantage of working with close to forty different dogs. Each one of them is unique and each one with its own problems, strengths, characteristics, etc. I remember each and every one of them and they all hold a special place in my heart. It is because of what the dogs have taught me that today I am a better person. That today I can truly live, have hopes, dreams and goals, and that today I can carry it all through.
For the first time in my life, I know that I can make it out there in society when my release comes. I’m far from perfect, but I have a chance now, just like all the dogs I have helped who have gone on to be adopted and have happy lives. They got a second chance, and now, so do I.
I would like to extend a special thanks to Pixie’s Pen Pals for taking a chance on me and giving me a second chance. I would also like to thank all the dogs I have encountered in this program and all the other guys I have worked with in this program who, like me, need a second chance. And I would also like to thank Katie Locks and Virginia Broitman (the trainers) who taught me everything I know today and for taking a chance on someone like me.