Detentos de prisões de segurança máxima no Estado americano de Nova York estão trabalhando no adestramento de filhotes de cachorro atrás das grades. Eles treinam os cães para serem farejadores de bombas, guias para cegos e para ajudarem soldados feridos no Afeganistão e no Iraque.
O programa Puppies Behind Bars, ou Cães Atrás das Grades, já garantiu 400 filhotes para o programa de adestramento nas prisões. A iniciativa também mudou a vida de muitos detentos, fazendo com que os presidiários desenvolvam um sentimento de responsabilidade.
Os presos cuidam dos animais desde filhotes e ficam com eles por até dois anos, até que os cães sejam passados adiante. O projeto foi criado há 12 anos por Gloria Gilbert.
“Eles podem escolher entre cumprir a pena inteira assistindo televisão e sair sem ter adquirido nenhuma habilidade profissional, provavelmente com mais raiva do que tinham quando entraram. Ou podem fazer algo que contribua para a sociedade enquanto estão presos, podendo com isso se sentir mais felizes com eles mesmos”, diz Gloria.
O programa tem recebido elogios de órgãos como o FBI (a Polícia Federal americana) e CIA (Agência de Inteligência dos Estados Unidos). Todos os prisioneiros com quem a BBC conversou disseram que o programa mudou suas vidas.
“Não quero mais ser o cara mau,” diz o prisioneiro William Purnell. “E o filhote me fez ver que eu não preciso ser, que posso ser uma pessoa normal, que posso me expressar, que posso ajudar as pessoas.”
Abaixo um ensaio fotográfico mostra os detentos com seus partners.
Here Come the Pups Founded in 1997, Puppies Behind Bars is the brainchild of Gloria Gilbert Stoga, a New York woman who recognized that prison inmates would make excellent dog raisers. Prisoners have time, of course, but they also don't cost as much as professionals, who routinely charge $25,000 to train one animal.
Group PBB operates at six prisons in the Mid-Atlantic states, including the Fishkill Correctional Facility, above, a medium-security facility in Beacon, N.Y., where 22 prisoners participate in the program.
Together The dogs spend 20 months with their trainers. During the training period, the canines live in the cells of their handlers.
Prisoner / Puppy Portrait Sidney, left, poses with Toni, an 18-month old Labrador retriever. Sidney was sentenced to 15 years for robbery. "I am in prison for thinking crime was the only alternative for success and keeping a tight grip on a destructive, nonproductive lifestyle," he says. "I've learned that I'm not as impatient as I thought I was. I've gained an option to take this skill, further my education and pursue what has given me a sense of purpose."
Lesson The program includes once-a-week classroom sessions.
In Demand At its outset, PBB trained dogs primarily to help the disabled and blind, but after 9/11, an increased demand for bomb-sniffing dogs led it to add that specialty to its curriculum (though not at Fishkill). These days, many of the dogs end up going to disabled veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Prisoner / Puppy Portrait Tyrone sits with Happy, a 4-month-old. Tyrone has served five of 8½ years for threatening someone at gunpoint. "I've learned not to let these walls make me a prisoner of my own emotions," he says. "The program has taught me to be patient, honest with myself, and how to work without ego. My last dog, Yankee, went to a war veteran somewhere in Colorado. Just knowing that I helped to change someone's life makes me feel as if I have a purpose and a destiny. These dogs have a way of touching a person's spirit."
Vocabulary During the course of their training, the dogs are taught almost 80 commands.
Downtime The handlers enjoy the affection of their charges.
Dog Run The Fishkill puppies are given a chance to play.
Distraction Exercise During this drill, the handlers walk their charges around the courtyard while other prisoners throw basketballs in their path. The goal is to teach the dogs to remain focused on the assigned task.
Prisoner / Puppy Portrait Kareem poses with 18-month-old Tucket. Kareem has served 10 of 13 years for armed robbery and attempted murder. "Prior to raising my pup, my life was all about me," he says. "I never carried the responsibility of another person. Having a pup made me situate my life around him, as opposed to me putting myself first. The hardest part of this program is knowing that we will have to separate when his training is up."
Behind Bars? During the training period, the dogs are furloughed two or three weekends each month to "puppy sitters," who take them into their homes and introduce them to things that they are unlikely to encounter in prison, like doorbells, coffee grinders and crowded elevators.
Teamwork Tyrone and Happy shake hands.
Prisoner / Puppy Portrait Jesse hugs Gigi. Jesse has served 10 years of a sentence for manslaughter in the first degree. "I have always loved dogs," he says, "but this is bigger. There is a sense of responsibility, a love, a compassion for living things. It allowed me to reawaken who I am and get me back in touch with my feelings."
Assista alguns vídeos e entenda melhor como funciona esse programa.