A Pocket of Hope
by ICAN Handler, Rheann, Indiana Women's Prison
(The following testimonial was read by Rheann when she spoke on the ''Handler's Perspective'' at our December, 2018 graduation.)
In 2002, when I was 19 years old, I was incarcerated for a very lengthy prison sentence. I began doing everything I could to be seen as a model inmate, carrying with me an imagined observer that would realize there’d been a mistake and somehow my sentence would be reduced. I worked day and night to get my education and do everything I could to instill the perception of my value and worthiness to this imagined observer. This continual striving went on for years. At the age of 22, I was hired as an ICAN handler. I was elated at the opportunity to have a “pet” in prison and the opportunity to help others while I’m here. Then when I was almost completely through my 20’s, turning the corner to 30, I realized there was no observer and that I was living only to prove myself to an entity that never existed. I began to make poor decisions and those decisions inevitably led to disciplinary action that caused my removal from the program. I was devastated and yet Sally Irvin comforted me with her calm concern. She came here that day, albeit to pick up my dog, and she held me accountable in a non-judgmental and caring way. She waited while I cried and then told me I could come back when I was ready. Behind that painful moment was a remarkable truth. I was already valuable and worthy; I just couldn’t see it. It took me 5 years to make it back. I continued to make poor decisions, trying to create some semblance of a “real” life as I grew up inside this prison. Then I got it together. I finally realized that I can’t live my life for an imagined observer. I began to live my life for me, without the selfish ambition. I now live my life in a way that fuels and fulfills me, in service to others.
Rheann & Keli
During the time I was out of ICAN I learned many things about myself and developed a plethora of skills such as electrical work, carpentry and plumbing that will be helpful when I go home.
The ''Crooner'' Puppy Litter (Left to right: Alkeia, Nan, Michelle, Edie, Mary & Rheann)
Last year I returned to ICAN. It is through ICAN that I’ve learned what it entails to be a part of a team and to be responsible for a being other than myself. ICAN has helped to create in me a strong follow through because with service dogs, the proof is in the pudding. I now live more structured and disciplined because I need to provide structure and consistency to the dog. I’ve become more patient because I have to work at the dogs pace for learning, and not my own. This program is a pocket of hope in an environment of sorrow and despair.
Rheann speaking at the December, 2018 graduation
After experiencing what it is to do time without ICAN, gratitude comes easy to me. Each dog that I have is a friend that walks with me daily, brightening my day and those around me as well. Over the years ICAN has greatly increased. There are now 21 handlers, all my co-workers and also my support base. Through our interactions they are my barometer for character development. They are individuals that can relate to me through the experience of similar circumstances, being unified by a common objective, to train these amazing dogs to be of service to others. You don’t choose your family, you’re born into it and to the best of your ability you love, respect, and support it. Unknowingly, these women have become something like family. ICAN is our job but we also live together, united in purpose. We comfort each other through our discouragements, help each other achieve goals and like tonight, celebrate together each other’s successes. I am so proud of all these women (and men) and I am continuously grateful for the opportunity to spend my time increasing the quality of life of others. Thank you. – Rheann