Orphaned kittens. Mother cats with new litters. Adult cats recovering from injuries. These are among the felines who stand to benefit from a Washington state program in which female inmates foster felines until the cats are ready for adoption. The inmates benefit too as part of the Pawsitive Prison Program. It’s backed by the Kitsap Humane Society in Silverdale, Washington, which sends cats to a nearby minimum-security women’s state prison.
“We’re rehabilitating the lives of these little kittens and rehabilitating our lives too,” Cydney Berthel, an inmate at the Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women, told KING-TV, an NBC affiliate in Seattle.
Added Shauna Teagle, “We definitely made mistakes. I feel this is my little bit of payback I can do.”
Teagle is serving a three-year sentence after a drug-dealing conviction; she said caring for the cats will help her develop skills to be a better mother after her release.
I love this program for a number of reasons. First, it helps the cats. Shelters almost always need people to foster kittens and certain adult cats to help with socialization or rehabilitation to prepare the cats for adoption. This program is a clever way to make this happen.
Second, the inmates will benefit. The Kitsap Humane Society reports the inmates will be carefully screened and will go through “an intense training” that covers kitten development, cat behavior, handling and socialization, and cleaning and disinfection. This helps develop not only skills but also compassion — the ability to care for another living thing.
I find this aspect the most significant. American society is feverishly obsessed with punishment and vengeance when it comes to breaking the law. Sentencing laws in the 1980s and 1990s were made staggeringly strict, and other laws make it extremely difficult for a person to become a productive member of society after a conviction. Felons, for example, are disqualified from receiving certain student loans, they cannot receive certain housing assistance, they cannot vote in some states, and they cannot hold certain government jobs — and that doesn’t include many private employers’ reluctance to hire anyone with a criminal record. It’s no wonder that the United States has a ridiculously high recidivism rate, and that the nation has 5 percent of the world’s population but more than 20 percent of its prisoners.
The Pawsitive Prison Program (which has created a Wish List on Amazon.com) takes a compassionate approach and recognizes that helping cats helps people too. Not every inmate will be allowed to participate — those with violent histories or animal abuse convictions will be excluded — but it gives certain women a chance. The Humane Society anticipates that some of the inmates will end up adopting cats who they foster, to which I say, “Of course they will.” Again, good for people and good for cats.
Third, society at large will benefit from this effort. Giving these women a chance to show compassion is a compassionate act in itself, and caring for other living things is a powerful tool in changing one’s attitude and perspective. Every inmate whose turnaround is helped by fostering cats is one more person who’s more likely to be a good employee, a good sister or mother or daughter, a good friend — and maybe a good cat owner who’ll eventually take a permanent role in animal rescue.
These women will have a chance to help cats, and in doing so they might aid in their own rescue. That’s a cycle I like.
What are your thoughts about this program? Do you believe that compassion breeds more compassion?
About Keith Bowers: This broad-shouldered, bald-headed, leather-clad motorcyclist also has passions for sharp clothing, silver accessories, great writing, the arts, and cats. This career journalist loves painting, sculpting, photographing, and getting on stage. He once was called “a high-powered mutant,” which also describes his cat, Thomas. He is senior editor at Catster.