A program at the Pendleton Correctional Facility called FORWARD, which stands for Felines and Offenders Rehabilitation with Affection, Reformation and Dedication, is giving shelter cats a new home, while teaching inmates some responsibility and perhaps sensitivity.
A dozen cats live in a revamped office space within prison walls. Several screened prisoners feed, groom and care for the cats that come from the Animal Protection League in Anderson, Indiana.
According to Maleah Stringer, director of the Animal Protection League, it’s a way to get some of the cats out of the organization’s no-kill cat sanctuary and into an open room where they can socialize and get affectionate attention which makes them more adoptable, and the prisoners feel the cats calming nature.
“I’ve had offenders tell me when they got an animal, it was the first time they can remember they were allowing themselves to care about something, to love something. That’s a pretty powerful statement,” said Stringer.
“No matter what your stress is, I always look forward to coming here for those nine hours. It takes a lot of stress away. It keeps my mind on good things, positive things, rather than just sitting in a cell for the majority of the time, pondering on things that may have happened to you. It’s definitely a stress reliever,” said offender Lamar Hall, who works with the cats. “Love will change characteristics from anybody’s tortured past. That goes for animals and humans, really.”
“In Indiana alone over 16,000 offenders are released back into our society a year. So we certainly want them to be different coming out than they were coming in. I think with the animals, this can be part of their rehabilitation program,” said Stringer.
“This program means a lot. It helps me to calm down, to relax,“ said offender Barry Matlock. “It gives me something to look forward to each and every day. It gives me a reason to strive to do better than I did yesterday, and to stay out of trouble.”
Even the prison staff are enjoying the cat room calling it one of the highlights of their day and have noticed a change in the cat’s behavior.
“The cats are getting lots of interaction with people. Lots of them have come from a bad situation, and so this makes them better with people, better in a home,” said Kara McEntire, Internal Affairs Secretary for the Pendleton Correctional Facility.
The Animal Protection League also has three animal programs at the Correctional Institutional Facility next door, including a cat program. There also is a cat ownership program at the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City, where offenders have to earn the right to keep their cat and pay to feed and care for it.
More information on donating or adopting a cat or dog from the Animal Protection League is available from their web site