October 15, 2015
This is my story of how one program changed my life after being sentenced to life in prison. I have been in prison since 2000, trying to make sense of my life and I couldn't figure out how staying out of trouble all these years would help me. Well, that all changed in 2014. I've been a dog trainer for two years in the Love-A-Pup program ran by [the ODRC]. We train un-wanted dogs who are abandoned or abused by their previous owners, or given up by families not able to take care of them. It's a great program but I did not know what the lord had in mind for me until my friend brought me an article in the Cleveland Magazine about a high school student named Nick Walczak. It was about how he was shot several times at his high school in Chardon, and how a W.A.G.S. 4 Kids service dog came into his life.
I tell you - I started reading the article and only got to page two and the magazine was wet in tears. My hands were shaking. Somehow that day I knew my life would never be the same. The next day, [my friend] wrote a proposal and handed it to [ODRC staff] to see if they could contact North Central Correctional and see if Mrs. Wendy Crann, the founder of W.A.G.S. 4 Kids, could come here [to Grafton Correctional Institution]. I prayed and prayed that this would happen. It seemed like forever - no response. Until one day we found out she was scheduled to come visit the prison. I saw her walking with the [ODRC staff], twice but never got the chance to personally talk with her, or even to say hello. I thought, "I need to let this woman know I truly want this program here!"
Later we found out Wendy, Nick, and other families that had W.A.G.S. 4 Kids dogs were coming here to meet us. [ODRC staff] said anyone that wanted to attend and thinks this program is what they wanted to do, should come and attend. That night - I couldn't sleep at all. The next day there was Nick, and his service dog Turner (a golden retriever). We heard his entire story and there was not a dry eye in the room when he finished. I looked around the room and there were 36 of us who wanted to be W.A.G.S. 4 Kids trainers. Before Nick left, I was able to shake his hand and I told him this is what I wanted to do!
Finally, Wendy's husband and co-founder, Ed Crann got up to speak. He told us "There are 36 guys. Do the math - only 10 will make it. Out of those 10, maybe half or so will make W.A.G.S. 4 Kids trainers." I did not think that I had a chance. As I was looking around the room there were guys with a lot more training experience than I had. I called home and told my family to please pray for me. I sent my kite [message] in anyway, and I was told Wendy and [ODRC staff] were conducting interviews.
I waited for my turn, watching other dog trainers going in and coming out saying they were accepted. I was thinking I will be wasting Wendy's time, but they called me in on my turn. [ODRC staff] told Wendy that I ran ten miles a day and ran the Luv-A-Pup dogs. Wendy said, "not my dogs". I thought here is one strike against me.
Wendy asked me "Bob, tell me why you want to join this program and don't tell me it's because you love dogs and/or kids." I was lost for words. I had nothing. So I just told her what was in my heart. I told her how I was arrested when my son was 11 and it was hard for him. I let him down. I was not there for him. I was blessed he was healthy and graduated and enlisted in the Marines and is currently serving in Afghanistan. I told her how I thought this program would help take my mind off worrying so much about him and slo I did not want to let these children down. We talked about why I was in prison and what I had done so far. At the end, Wendy said "Well Bob if we decide you made it we will let you know." That was it.
A few weeks went by and nothing! So I was at a family night event and I ran into [the same ODRC staff that had interviewed me].
My mom said, "Let's ask him if you made it into the W.A.G.S. program!"
My sister asked him, and he just smiled..."You had to ask, eh, Hermann?" and just walked away.
I asked my sister Dorothy what he meant and she said "You made it. See, all our prayers were answered." I knew somehow in my heart this was what I was supposed to do here in prison. I had so many doors open for me while in prison because of this program and of course I want to share them in this story.
First of all, it gave me a sense of pride - something you lose being completely shut out from the outside world. Remember, I've been in prison for 14 years already doing life in prison. To be trusted enough with a $2,000 puppy and have these people trust me to train this puppy for a child, it also gives you a standard in this place to be better at dealing with people too. You have to show your efforts on Tuesdays [at class]. The instructors drive here take time out of their days to help us, and we need to respect this too. Show them we are not what the public believes us to be.
I was given my first first puppy on September 1, 2014. Rockford, a black golden doodle. I was his trainer for a month. Then, Rodney asked me if I wanted to cell in with him and learn to train an advanced dog, Annie, an 18-month-old poodle that was going to a little girl with seizures. Kaitlyn had seizures and Rodney and myself had to teach the dog to go use her nose to push a button and wake up the girls parents, just awesome!! Annie did not work out for Kaitlyn, but I must tell you Annie's story because she helped my life as much as I helped hers. Annie at one point was not going to any child becuase she had too much energy, I was told.
The visiting room here has a reading playroom for children and I applied to work as a volunteer reader. I wanted to take Annie up there and see how she would act for me around children. I did this about 41 times with not one probem between Annie and any child - so that was step one. Plus there is another door open due to being in the W.A.G.S. program. I really wanted Annie to make it as a service dog for a child. Being a reader in the visiting room and interacting with children and the dogs is something I truly missed from the streets. I used to help coach little league baseball and football in my city before I came to prison.
Taking Annie all those times to the visiting room with kids between the ages of two and sixteen - she thrived! I told Rodney next time he was on a visit to check out how Annie acted; I was making great progress with her. Turned out Annie did it herself and was a great hit with the children and parents as well. I was so proud of her when she went to Lauren - a little girl who really needed Annie.
When Wendy came and said Annie was doing really great I was truly happy. Rodney said "Bob you helped in this." To think I helped Annie becoming a service dog and helping Lauren having an easier life. I just would like to say that I have been a W.A.G.S. trainer for a little over a year and the great things I have seen and been a part of are so fulfilling!!
Which brings me to another great service dog, "Georgie", a 2-year-old golden retriever. I have been blessed to have had her for a year now along with my cellie, Rodney. Rodney and I have totally worked with this dog on everything. To think all she has been through, first being promised to Susie, a child who passed away before she received her service dog. The family was at our Christmas party last year and I met them. The program is truly blessed to have them in our family, which is what we call ourselves, "The W.A.G.S. Family here in the prison". Georgie is a task dog. She knows about 50 commands and loves everyone. Maybe she loves people too much! It has been great helping to teach her so many new tasks and when she [is placed] she will be a perfect match made in heaven.
I have been blessed to have Rodney teach me in behavior modifications on her and other dogs in the program Now I am teaching Georgie "hug", "place", and toys commands to go with all her other commands. She has come a long way since last year. I would like to point out something as well - having a dog in your cell for a year is unheard of. Wendy knows that trainers will become attached to a dog or the dog gets attached to the trainer and it could effect the dogs when they leave the prison. But Georgie doesn't care what trainer in the program works with her; she aims to please and does not favor one trainer over any other. I pray when Georgie leaves the [person] who receives her sends pictures in and stays in contact with the W.A.G.S. program.
There are more great things that have happened to me by joining this great program in just the little time I have been in. It is truly unbelieveable! It's simple. The good things and the positive things outweigh the bad things and/or the negative things. Just seeing the kids faces when they are with their service dogs is unbelievable!!! I keep striving to be the best trainer I can be and never treat any other trainer or staff badly or mean. I was truly amazed when the other trainer honored me by naming me as one of the top 4 trainers for who other trainers can come to for help or instructions and to help teach classes. It just goes to show - don't let other people make choices for you. Their actions should not change the person you truly are! In yet another great thing that has happened to me I took it upon myself to never bring any probem to Wendy or the other program supervisors or even [ODRC staff] because it is unprofessional to go to them and complain like we are a bunch of little kids and not responsible men. Going and complaining about the little things is not what responsible adults would do. In fact, I never talk to Wendy about any of my problems because she is here as a teacher, not a babysitter.
I never even knew how Wendy felt about me until I asked her to write a letter to my attorney. When I received the letter I was amazed of the things Wendy said about me. She stated I showed "exceptional skills in fostering a positive demeanor and resistance to conflict among the training group members." As I stated before, I cannot believe Wendy was 100% right. I will not let the negative outweigh the positive things this program has going. In closing, I am a better person becuase of W.A.G.S. and this sums up my first year in the W.A.G.S. 4 Kids program.
UPDATE: As of the date of this posting, Mr. Hermann has been paroled and was released to his family in North Carolina in April 2021 where he has now found both stability and happiness. After having helped to train nearly 50 service dogs over the course of his 7 years with W.A.G.S. 4 Kids, Hermann is repurposing the skills he learned in the ODRC to start a new life with his loving fiancee.
When asking him permission to publish the above, he said simply, "Absolutely. I am forever grateful for what W.A.G.S. has done for me. I hope to continue to work for my WAGS family somehow. It is my passion. I miss these dogs and all of you. This program was the biggest part of my life while incarcerated. God Bless, Bob"
We miss you too Bob. Forever grateful for you and all of our trainers within the ODRC.
It is a very Thankful Thanksgiving for Bob, the entire family, and all of our trainers thanks to your ongoing support of W.A.G.S. 4 Kids’ programs and children - you are the reason we can continue giving these men within the ODRC a new purpose and build new skills to re-enter the world with, while helping grant the wish of children with special needs.
Check in next Thursday for the final chapter of our 2021 “A Thankful Thanksgiving” blog series.
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