Over the course of 20 years, I’ve had more than my share of infamous cellmates. Small world. Airline and decorated fighter pilots, ship’s captains, bank executives, corporate CEOs, KKK Wizards, sports figures, singers & musicians, art thieves, doctors, lawyers, judges, and politicians.The latter category includes the father of Chelsea Clinton’s husband, the former Congressman Edward M. Mezvinsky (D-IA). Federal prison #55040-066.
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One of the first sights that greeted me as the bus rolled into the federal prison camp at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, was a couple of green-uniformed inmates walking a pair of black Labs on the grass.
When I showed surprise, my seatmate told me, “The camp here has a dog-training program.”
“Really?” I said. “Well, that’s exactly what I’m gonna do.”
“I doubt it,” he replied. “I hear there’s around a thousand prisoners here and only 8 dogs.”
I was fortunate. Within three weeks, I had one of those black Labs. My prior dog-training experience and the fact that I had a doctorate in psychology (PsyD) didn’t hurt.
FPC Montgomery, AL, was definitely a more pleasant experience after living behind the walls and razor-wire for 16 years (khaki uniforms). A lot of Mickey Mouse in the camps, but—what the hey!—in the circumstances, who could complain?
(Besides, one of the first things you learn in prison is that complaining is just another hard row to hoe; staff eat that shit up…hell, they live for it!)
Everyone in prison has a job. It doesn’t matter if you’re a quadriplegic (counting spiders on the wall, whatever)…you have a job. Part of the retribution-punitive mentality, laughingly referred to as: “rehabilitation.” To add to the joke, the guards are referred to as “corrections officers.”
One of my cell-mates during that period was ex-Congressman Ed Mezvinsky. His son, Marc later married Chelsea Clinton. Before his Congressional election he was an investigator during the Watergate Hearings. A lot of interesting conversations…
Most prisoners at Maxwell are bused out each day to grounds-keeping and other base assignments. Even so, riding a mower over a golf course ain’t so bad, eh? (The reader will find another article on this subject by selecting Prison Jobs in the Index.)
The dog I got, Kaley, was already partly-trained. The original inmate-trainer got caught with a private commissary stash (stuff you won’t normally find in the prison commissary) buried under some straw in the kennel, so he was shipped out.
The Labradors are supplied under a contract with SEGDI, and live 24/7 with their prisoner-trainers. A pallet is set on the floor at the end of one’s bunk with a short lead. The dogs go everywhere we do, except the visiting room.
Nice to walk into the chow-hall practically anytime you want and park the animal under the table. They live and train with prisoners under supervision of SEGDI personnel until they’re 14 months old. They’re then shipped out to the main SEGDI facility in Palmetto, FL. The best ones become seeing-eye dogs for the blind.
Probably the best part of the gig for an Old Head like me, was all the relative freedom. Most campers surrender off the street with short sentences. Camp is all they know. A lot of them have rarely even, if ever, been handcuffed!
Basically, whenever the rare cop, military officer, gov’t official, politician or CEO gets convicted, the federal BOP needs a “Camp Cupcake” to send them to.
We would drive to different places around the base, housing barracks, bars, restaurants and malls, for example, to socialize the animals to people and public spaces. Once a week-or-so we’d drive to downtown Montgomery for more exposure/training.
Once, shortly after I took the job, we were bused over to Auburn University to give a couple of shows at their Veterinarian Fair of the dog’s training.
I’d guess that easily 75% of the grad-student vet-school were young females. We spent the day relatively free to roam around with the dogs (“Be back at such-and-such…”). Pretty strong stuff to have spent 16-yrs behind the Walls and have a group of nubile goddesses walk up to you and ask, “Can I pet your dog?”
A typical day was the usual dawn wake-up, chow, and down to the kennel to let the dogs have some run and play time (otherwise, they’re always on-leash under discipline). Maybe a walk over to the river and let the ducks go nuts for a minute.
A training class with SEGDI and a possible walk-about on base comes later in the morning and early afternoon. Mostly, the dogs get only basic obedience training with a lot of socialization. Seeing-eye dogs require extensive experience of coping in social situations. And therein lies the best part of the job…where they go, we go.
Like I said, there’s jobs, and then there’s jobs…
Dr. Publico (Nick Medvecky, PsyD), July 2010…