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Hardeman County Correctional Facility Inmates train service animals for people in need

“You get that bond. In here, that’s something that we all need. We’re human. We’re emotional creatures as well,” said Gary Robinson, Hardeman County inmate.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — When someone gets incarcerated, in many cases, the hope is rehabilitation. One organization is ensuring just that. 

Opportunity knows no barriers, especially when it is up against love and loyalty.

Gary Robinson is an inmate at Hardeman County Correctional Facility. “I came to prison probably about 12 years ago,” said Robinson. He is a Knoxville native, but has been at Hardeman County Correctional Facility for six years.

“I’m far from home. I haven’t had a visit in years and years,” said Robinson. 

That has changed since Robinson met Pepper, a dog. 

Pepper isn’t just a visitor. Robinson said he's his second chance. Robinson and other inmates work with Canine Companions.

“We keep dogs, litters of dogs, and we help train them and give them commands, so that they can help disabled adults, veterans, and children with mental disabilities to be able to become independent again for themselves,” said Robinson. 

“You get that bond. In here, that’s something that we all need. We’re human. We’re emotional creatures as well,” said Robinson. “It gives me a sense of purpose, number one, but great gratitude that I can help someone else other than self…It also helps me to have characteristics like responsibility, patience, and love.”

Each day, the residents at the jail take care of the puppies starting at two months old. When the pups reach about 10 months, they go to their fur-ever home.

“Every time I’m teaching him a new command or I’m training them a new procedure, I’m constantly thinking about how this command and procedure can help the next person,” said Robinson.

It is a selfless responsibility unleashing new worth. “Awesome, it’s a great feeling to see the inmates grow as a person, as an adult, as a father, and things of that nature,” said Cassie Graham, Correctional Officer and Canine Companion Instructor. “They learn to love. They love to something other than themselves.”

Robinson also said the responsibility gives the inmates a purpose. 

“After many failures and heartache through life in here, a lot of these inmates just want the opportunity to have a successful life and to serve a good purpose. When they see people like us, they want that change. They see we can function, and we can act in a way that betters the world,” said Robinson.

It is a second chance bred by opportunity. “It gives you a sense of the free world and society. Even just being able to love somebody, just that alone is worth it in here. Just being able to give and receive it is the greatest opportunity that I’ve ever been given in incarceration,” said Robinson.

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