(in the grand order of blog posts......this actually should be sandwiched between Prison 101 (our first visit when the storm hit) & Graduation Day ..... It just took me awhile to gather my thoughts and write.....)
The day had finally arrived. And thankfully the day dawned calm and clear on California's Central Coast. ~~no storm or thunder or lightening, just bright blue sky, with a few whispy clouds of white. Chester's kind of day. It was time for our second visit to the Men's Colony, and hopefully a day we would meet the 15 men in the Paws for Life training program, the inmates who had been chosen to train & rehabilitate rescue dogs.
Before leaving home, I took some time to sit quietly, and pray....asking God to help us bring His love and kindness to the lives we would touch on this Sunday. My Bible literally fell open to Matthew, and these words jumped off the page... Whatever you do for the least of these, you do for Me. I knew that I knew, I was not alone. And so, with my pockets packed with pupperonis, Chester and I drove to the California Men's Colony ~~ and I assured my buddy that the day would unfold better than our last scary-thunder-visit.
I don't know how to describe the morning at the prison. It's like trying to capture a sunset with a black and white photo. Or measure the ocean with a thimble. Impossible to tell you. But I will try to share a glimpse.
....After being escorted through security and numerous clanging gates we arrived at our destination. Picture 15 men in blue scrubs, sitting on folding chairs in a semi circle in an old gymnasium. Armed guards standing at every corner. A handful of people from the PAWS program and my friend Lisa, the trusted trainer, seated alongside the men. As the inmates settled in, Chester and I greeted each one, I with a handshake and encouraging word, Chester with warmth and wags. He thoroughly sniffed each one ~~ obviously picking up & enjoying the scent of canine of their uniforms. Since the men did not have their pups with them, Chester had their undivided attention, and he poured on the doggie love.
After being introduced by Lisa, I stood in the center of the gym with Chester sitting at my side. I talked with them about Chester, myself, pet therapy. We did a few demonstrations with enthusiastic audience participation ~ then I began sharing Chester 'tails' with the men. All were attentive and engaged. Nodding. Asking appropriate questions. However, as time went on, it was clear one individual was not engaged. ....Chester. He was totally bored. My visual aide was droopy and pathetic. Seriously? Seriously.
As I've said so many times, I've learned to listen to my furry friend. And so, rather than stand in the middle, speaking eloquent & dazzling tails with my "visual aide" bored out of his furry mind, I decided to stroll around the edge of the circle while I spoke, closer to the men.
As soon as the men could reach out and touch my friend, or I should say, as soon as Chester could reach out and touch the men, he transformed from pathetic pup to dazzling dog, wagging and smiling. I stopped mid sentence and said to them, "Whoa, did you see what just happened with Chester? THIS is pet therapy! He doesn't want to listen to me say blah blah blah, he wants to be with you! You." Laughter erupted. ...."And you want to be with him, don't you?"
And so I changed my PLAN A, and shifted to something else. I don't even know what I shifted to. I just let it unfold. I walked the edge of the circle and talked story, letting Chester and the men have their time. Chester gave nuzzles, some slobbery smooches, a calming gentleness, and a swishing- waggy tail that just seemed to bring a life-giving breeze. The men responded with gentle touches. Soft, kind whispers. Stories of their own dogs from long ago. Ear rubs and back massages. When Chester waited. I waited. When Chester moved forward, I moved with him. And so went our morning.
This was Chester's job. His delight. And he knew this was why we had come. Not to be out-of-reach. But within touch. I could bring words of encouragement and hope, and tell pet therapy stories til the cows come home, but that was only a piece of the puzzle. Chester could bring physical touch. And unconditional love to the mix. Touching Lives Warming Hearts it's what he does best.
As I drove home. The morning replayed over and over in my mind. These men. Many of them lifers. They would not get out of prison. But we had the privilege of going in. And what a privilege it was.
I often wonder if Chester is getting ready to retire. And then we have days like today. And I know we're not done yet. Good job buddy. I'm so proud of you. You walked back into thunder alley....and hit it out of the ballpark. Ice cream for you tonight!