Bender in Prison

On April 14, 2016 by mattywater

I recently wrote an essay for an MBA program answering the following prompt:  How does your intellectual curiosity drive your professional and personal growth? I half completed about a dozen essays in a week. Finally I read an article about writing good MBA essays that said “don’t impress me, move me” and “write about what you love”. So I decided to throw caution to the wind and write about Bender. Yikes.

I’ve adapted the essay for the blog here:

Shortly after college I had an embarrassing realization: I had no idea how the internet worked. Of course I could use it like any self-respecting millennial college graduate can, but the inner workings were a mystery.

I was eager to learn, so when Nate bought me a domain for my birthday I googled “how to build a website,” and I was off! After about a week of learning to hard-code HTML and CSS, I contributed a fully functional (very mediocre-looking) site to the world wide web. This experience built confidence and taught me some of the fundamental skills I needed to eventually get a job as Website Manager in Boulder CO. 

I have a few more examples of curiosity leading to professional growth, however, instead of expanding on how my ambition to learn makes me an increasingly better employee, I’m going write about personal growth and my dog. Cliché, I know.

I got Bender as a bright-eyed, sharp-toothed, puppy, and in my eyes he was perfect. However, despite months of training, he still took commands as suggestions, and I knew I’d gone horribly wrong somewhere along the way. Naturally, I took to the internet.

I came across a mention of a Denver prison where inmates train dogs, and an image of my dog yelping amidst an inmate brawl immediately came to mind. I quickly moved on to other forums.

Not quite the vacation spot you imagine for your puppy.

Not quite the vacation spot you imagine for your puppy.

Later I found myself absentmindedly researching the program. I learned that they take in rescue dogs and train them as companions or service animals. I watched a few documentaries and began to chastise myself for forgetting that people who have committed crimes are still people. Dogs adore people despite their past, their looks, and their location. Through the program inmates feel loved, worthy, and capable, regardless of the fact that society has told them they are not.

I was inspired, and months later we were on the steps of Denver Women’s Correctional Facility. Anxiously, I walked Bender through the remotely operated chain link fence and thick metal doors to the recreation room full of women in green. I had flashes of the imaginary mob scene with my dog in the middle, but the women instantly eased my apprehension. They were genial, they cracked jokes, and my dog, void of judgement, wagged his tail happily as they scratched his ears. I felt strangely calm as they walked him away.

When I picked him up five weeks later he showed effusive joy, but his handler was teary-eyed. In that moment we shared a humbling and profound connection. We were strangers living very different lives, who completely loved and were loved completely by the same dog. Now his tail wags vigorously when he sees that barbed wire building, and I am proud to leave him safe in the inmates’ care.

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It is easy write off the unknown as confusing and intimidating. I certainly never thought I’d trust prisoners with my dog’s well being, but an initial curiosity set me on a path towards leaving my judgement behind. Now the prison is my favorite place to leave him.

If you have any questions about the prison program let me know! I’m a huge supporter and advocate of it now. And you can adopt dogs they’ve trained!

Practicing.

Practicing.

One Response to “Bender in Prison”

  • Michelle

    This is so awesome, thank you for sharing your experience and spreading awareness about this beautiful initiative!

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