Finding Purpose through NEADS

May 13, 2024

by Sage, Former NEADS Prison PUP Handler

You would have had to have known the person I was before prison to fully grasp the impact the NEADS program has had on my overall development and transformation into who I am now.

Abandoned as a baby, shuffled between orphanages, foster homes, group homes – I never felt valued. Anger and emptiness fueled my choices and caused ripple effects throughout my community that I couldn’t even see. This is who I used to be.

I ended up in prison. While there, the programs I took part in were easy for me, and most of the time I “faked it to make it.” [That is, until, ten years into my incarceration, when] I was accepted to the NEADS program. The program liaison at the prison saw something in me and gave me the chance I didn’t know I needed.

It was clear when meeting the NEADS trainer that there would be no shortcuts in this program. She saw right through me, and I could not fake anything.

My first puppy was a beautiful yellow Lab named Ricky. Though he was adorable, he had developed a few habits that needed “fixing.”

So I applied myself, working hard to learn from [the trainer] to train Ricky. Funny thing was, before I knew it, he was the one that “fixed” me.

I quickly learned responsibility by being in charge of every aspect of Ricky’s life, from feeding him, exercising him, and caring for him, to making sure he learned everything in a timely manner. This also taught me the importance of a routine and structure. Being in tune with Ricky’s needs forced me to learn to empathize with others, forced me to come to terms with how my actions affected those around me, including my loved ones.

The NEADS program pushed me to mature and helped me develop life skills I hope to translate in the chapter after my incarceration. Even on a smaller scale, I should note that this program helped me come out of my shell. I’ve gained confidence, self-esteem, courage, patience, and even an (often annoying) sense of humor.

In an environment which lacks kindness and humility, the NEADS staff has always mixed professionalism with open mindedness to teach us as if we were working in society. Most importantly, they show us how our actions today, directly and indirectly, impact others. How we can productively give back to the same community we have taken so much from.

In a lot of ways Ricky was me, and I him. We both needed guidance, consistency, and understanding. Unfortunately, Ricky was found to have bad allergies so couldn’t be placed with a NEADS client, but NEADS still found him an incredible new home. I can only hope to follow in his footsteps (pawsteps?) and show the world who I am now.