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Unwanted dogs and inmates earn a second chance inside prison

Monday, July 15, 2019

LEXINGTON, Okla. -- In Lexington, Oklahoma, redemption comes with a spirited bounce and enthusiastic tail. 

This rescue is one of many, being trained by Department of Corrections inmates. The “Friends for Folks” program began in 1989 and has become a model for the restoration of criminal offenders. Inmate Todd Saunders said, “It’s definitely helped me become a man. It’s giving me that second chance like you said, and it’s an amazing feeling that even within these fences we do have that unconditional love.” 

James Millhollin has been in prison more than two decades. He’s now the kennel master here. According to Millhollin, “On the street this is what I done was train dogs. When I got locked up, I’ve been locked up 21 years now and I wasn’t expected to ever be with a dog again.” 

The dogs arrive through generous donations and area animal shelters. Millhollin said, “Most have been abused, abandoned. They’ve got issues like a lot of guys who get in the dog program. So these guys show them unconditional love.”

Some of the unwanted animals even become service and therapy animals. 

Last year alone -- nearly 150 dogs learned basic obedience and were placed in forever homes. DOC Sgt. Roger Shultz said, “We get some really hard dogs in here. And if we need to keep them longer we will just to give them that chance. Most likely they are adopted before they even leave here because they’ve heard about the program.” 

Trevor Armstrong will be released from LARC in a few years. Thanks to ‘Friends for Folks” – he has a more hopeful future. He said, “It’s also opened doors where I can open kennels. Once I get out I’ve got people who can help me do that once I get out.” 

These ODOC inmates won’t let their geography dictate their destiny. According to Millhollin, “It’s not only changing the dog’s life, it’s changing our lives in here. It’s been a Godsend. God has blessed me. Seriously.” 

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