A Mission Moment: Teaching in the Jessup Prison Scholars Program

March 2, 2016

During Lent the Rev. Timothy Brown, S.J., assistant to the president for mission integration, will share prayers and other reflections related to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.



prison_2The corporal work of mercy. Visit the imprisoned.

The spiritual work of mercy. Instruct the ignorant.

I am a part of the Jessup Prison Scholars Program. We currently offer non-credit college-level instruction at Jessup Correctional Institution.

I am a volunteer instructor teaching courses in the area of law and business, law and society, law and spirituality, and in the semester ahead sports law.


Dr. Drew Leder, professor of philosophy, introduced me to the program back in 1995.

I have been teaching ever since with a sabbatical during the years I served as provincial of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus.

Here is another piece to reflect on today.

Training Service Dogs While in Prison

By Joshua Cahall

This story is about a great program I am involved in called Canine Partners For Life (CPL). The program has prisoners volunteering to train dogs for people with disabilities.

These dogs are trained for two years—one year in here by us (prisoners) and one year back in Pennsylvania (CPL training facility). Then if they meet the qualifications they will be placed with someone who has a disability. CPL provides an array of service dogs, including seizure alert and diabetic alert dogs. General Service Dogs provide a multitude of tasks for people who are disabled. They can retrieve items from all over the house including food, medicine, and drinks. They can also open and close doors, drawers and refrigerators. They assist people in wheelchairs, help stabilize those with mild walking and balance disorders, and assist those with low energy syndromes. I can only imagine how much these dogs improve someone’s quality of life when they are placed with them.

I would like to give you my perspective on being involved in the program. There is one dog and two people per cell. Both people are dog handlers and share all the responsibilities of the dog. There is a large dog kennel in the cell which makes things pretty cramped. At this time there are four dogs and eight handlers in the program. When we train we try to work together as a group and sometimes switch dogs to ensure the dogs are able to follow the commands given by any of the handlers.

After an interview and evaluation I was accepted into the program on April 11, 2013, so I’m still somewhat new. When I started the dogs were almost a year old and on their way out so they knew all the commands already. Basically I was the one receiving the training by other senior handlers on how to train the dogs. Plus I had a really well trained dog, Savoy, which made it easier to learn. This actually worked out really well because it gave me some training and experience for when the new puppies came. On June 30, 2013, our fully trained dogs left and the puppies (8 weeks old) arrived.

My training with my first dog was a good learning experience. After only one week in the program I was able to start taking him to work with me in the school where I am a tutor and other places as well. I was somewhat nervous at first because I had never walked a dog on the leash with me anywhere, even when I was home. After a few days I got used to it though and after a few weeks I really enjoyed having Savoy with me everywhere I went. It was even to the point that on the days my cellmate wanted to keep him I was a little sad; it just wasn’t the same going to work without Savoy. I even took a few pictures with him. Even though my time with him was short (less than 3 months), it was special and I will never forget him. I hope he makes it to become a service dog and is partnered with someone that loves him and is truly uplifted and benefits from his companionship and assistance.

On the day the new puppy “Hector” came I decided I was going to put on a tough guy facade because I knew he would also be leaving me in a year and I didn’t want to get too attached. So when they came my cell buddy picked out Hector and played with him a few minutes, then he handed him to me and immediately all the toughness melted away. I felt a bond and connection right away. It was something I hadn’t felt in a long, long time.

I’ve only had Hector a short time now and even though I don’t have children this is the only thing I know to compare it with. It is a big responsibility. My sleep has definitely suffered and it takes a lot of patience. Other trainers have been telling me how regarding this training is and I wasn’t really seeing it until a few days ago. That’s the first day we tried to get Hector to walk up the steps, he only walked up two. The next day I was by myself and I got him to walk up the entire flight of steps and walk on the grates (which sometimes the dogs don’t like to do). I was so happy! I could actually see the results. I could also see that Hector trusted me and a real close bond was forming.

Over the past few weeks Hector and I have really bonded and he is progressing very quickly. He has learned all of his Level I commands. The second week we had him, my cell partner left the program and I had to handle all the responsibilities by myself, all the feedings, bathroom excursions, cleaning, etc. It was a lot of work and it took a week before they moved in another handler. So I’m very proud of Hector for his progress and myself for my commitment and dedication to him. Although I haven’t been in this program very long I can see it is producing change in me. Prison has made me feel disconnected in so many ways, but I’m beginning to feel connected again. It’s truly a blessing to be involved in this great program. Being committed to this program will change someone’s life and I thank God I’m able to recognize how it has changing me.

I am really looking forward to this year I will be spending with Hector. I am excited to see what the results of my/our hard work will be. I know at times it won’t be easy, but I must always remember why I’m doing this – to give back to the community and hopefully help someone who needs it and that their lives will be changed and benefited by their Canine Partner For Life.

Find more reflections from Fr. Brown posted throughout Lent here.

Bookmark and Share

No Comments

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment