Jeremy Banks did not at first hit it off with his assigned cellmate Trey Palmer, but somehow the two manage to form a bond that develops into something special, something beyond anything Jeremy could have ever hoped or dreamed. He begins to really settle into his new life behind bars and volunteers as a trainer of rescued greyhound dogs. He and Trey grow closer and their relationship becomes physical, until unexpected tragedy strikes.
An eclectic gathering of inmates waited in the yard outside the bay for the garage-style doors to open. Jeremy tried to remember a time since his arrival in which he’d seen such a diverse group come together without the interaction involving some sort of conflict. Even in the mess hall, inmates segregated themselves from others unlike themselves.
The twenty-something African American standing beside him appeared rail-thin, his one-piece orange jumper hanging loosely over his slight frame. What he lacked in bulk he made up for in height, standing a good eight to ten inches taller than Jeremy. They made eye contact briefly right before the young man crossed his arms obstinately over his chest and turned his gaze to the opposite direction.
Latinos, elderly inmates, and even one of the skinheads were among the group. Only one force could bring together such a range of people and bridge the chasm of acrimony. Only one thing was powerful enough to transcend the deep-seated mistrust and hatred.
And as the doors began to rise, a burst of optimism and pure joy blossomed in his chest. The anticipation nearly overwhelmed him. “Shadow!” Not bothering to wait for permission, he rushed forward, instantly sliding to his knees before his canine friend, wrapping his arms around the wiggling, hyper-energetic body and allowing himself to be lapped repeatedly in the face by a sloppy, wet tongue. “Did you miss me? Did you miss me, boy?”
The handler, a middle-aged chunky sort of woman, smiled as she looked down at Jeremy and his best non-human friend exchanging kisses. “I’d definitely say yes, he’s missed you. Look at him.”
Shadow wagged his tail and squirmed around in Jeremy’s arms as he pranced excitedly, tapping his paws rapidly on the cement floor of the bay. The black and white greyhound recognized Jeremy and didn’t attempt to be in any way subtle about expressing his excitement.
“I love you, too, Shadow. Yes! Yeeees! I missed you, too, boy!”
All around them, other inmates greeted their dogs with an equally generous outpouring of affection. Jeremy had been working with his rescued canine for over three weeks, and they’d already formed what Jeremy perceived to be an unbreakable bond. Today was special, though—a milestone for them. For the first time, he’d be allowed to keep Shadow overnight. The dog would stay with him and even sleep in his cell.
He’d heard about the Second Chances program the day after he and Trey shared their first kiss. One of the animal-rescue charities had teamed up with the Department of Corrections to develop a program designed to pair retired greyhounds with inmates. The purpose was to socialize the dogs who’d been held in captivity—imprisoned their entire lives—in order to prepare them for eventual, permanent adoption. Essentially, the animals were afforded a second chance at life. After being locked up, used up, and finally washed-up, Second Chances provided hope—new life, a future that included freedom, happiness, and a welcoming home.
Jeremy, as well as the other participating inmates, related to the dogs. He, too, was imprisoned. He, too, was used up, and he dreamed of, but dared not hope for an eventual happy life outside of the Pit. As despairing as his own reality was, a reality in which he’d never live a single day of his remaining lifetime as a free man, at least he could be part of the process for these beautiful animals. These affectionate, loyal, easy-going canines did not look at Jeremy and see a murderer. They did not judge humans by their past records or by the labels that had been assigned to them. They merely trusted. They simply loved. Unconditionally.
After greeting their dogs, the inmates each stood and took the leashes from the dog handlers. The woman who’d been with Shadow was none other than Peggy, the group leader. She’d been a key organizer, the person ultimately responsible for the inception and implementation of the program. She embodied Second Chances vision, and every bit of her personality conveyed her sincerity and unequivocal dedication to the belief that these dogs deserved love and could in turn provide purpose and hope for inmates such as Jeremy. He loved Peggy almost as much as Shadow, even though he barely knew her.
“Well, this is it! Today is your first full day with your trusted greyhound companion, and by the looks of it, the pups are as excited as y’all are.”
Cheerful mumbling erupted behind Jeremy. He smiled as he reached down to pet the top of Shadow’s head, who had heeled beside him.
“I know, I know. They’re technically not pups, but in many ways you’ll find they’re going to act as if they are. Remember, these dogs were raised from infancy in captivity. For the most part they were caged in isolation.”
“In the hole their whole life!”
Jeremy turned to the voice. It was the African American inmate who’d waited beside him outside the bay doors—Wendell, if Jeremy remembered correctly.