Symbiotic cell mates.
Dogs have always played a big role in Susan Jacobs-Meadows’ life, so the idea of starting a program that paired rescue dogs with prisoners intrigued her. “When an employee at the Fulton County Jail asked if I would help find small business owners interested in hiring former prisoners, I used my favor [he offered me in return] to ask for help setting up a program.”
Canine CellMates, created to help break the cycle of reincarceration, became a reality in 2013. Both the dogs and the inmates are carefully vetted to make sure they are compatible living together in jail. Support for the prisoners continues once they are released.
In May 2021, the organization launched Beyond the Bars, a preindictment diversion program offering a sentencing alternative. Instead of spending time in jail awaiting sentencing, those approved can attend the one-year program, learning how to train dogs, as well as life skills. Their charges are reassigned or adopted once they complete the program. “As far as we know, it is one of the first of its kind in the U.S.,” Jacobs-Meadows says.
A volunteer since inception, Joan Holladay of Dunwoody has participated in every aspect of both programs. “The dogs are wonderful,” she says, “but I stay to help affect change in the men.” Participants in both programs study conflict resolution, parenting, financial literacy, “staying out of jail 101” and more. “During the year, we search for permanent homes for the dogs,” says Jacobs-Meadows. Adopters can meet their dogs and the prisoners at graduation, often the first time in a prisoner’s life he has been recognized for doing something positive.”
For more information, visit caninecellmates.org.
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