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Inmates Learn Life Lessons From Animals



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Inmates from the South Dakota State Penitentiary are learning life lessons from man’s best friend. Several minimum security inmates volunteer their time at places like the Sioux Falls Area Humane Society. And what they learn from the animals is changing their lives.

“I have a 13 year sentence, with a five year suspension, so I've got another two years left,” said William Watkins, an inmate at Unit C.

An orange shirt, khaki pants and the word ‘inmate,’ may be all that people see, but the man wearing these clothes is working on becoming more than that. Meet 36-year-old William Watkins. He’s an inmate in ‘Unit C,’ at the South Dakota State Penitentiary. But seven days a week you’ll find him volunteering at the Sioux Falls Area Humane Society.
    
“You don't have to see so much orange throughout the day, it’s nice to work with the animals and it's something different,” said Watkins.
    
Taking care of animals who like him at the moment, don’t have a place to call home.

“Eleven hours here is a lot different,” explained Watkins. “You get to walk dogs; we have trails and everything, so you can walk up there with your own animal. You just get to take care of them like you're at your own house.”

Giving him freedoms he wouldn’t otherwise have.

“Then if you're at the penitentiary, you could be getting up for count every two hours and then go and have to eat lunch with everybody else, it's a big difference actually,” Watkins said.

But volunteering here means more than getting some fresh air outside of prison walls. Unit Coordinator Jeremy Wendling said it’s about helping Watkins learn how to live outside those walls.

“A lot of the inmates, you see a big change in them for the positive. They are caring lovable, they love coming to work out here, they love the animals and they do a great job out here,” said Wendling.

Monique Mixell, the Kennel Manager at the Humane Society, agrees.
    
“With the animals here, they bond with them and get a real love connection with the animals. And we really couldn't operate the shelter without them,” said Mixell.

 “Oh puppy breathe, puppy breathe,” said Watkins.   

And it’s clear Watkins needs the animals too.      

“You know you get a little upset or something, and it's amazing how much an animal can sense that and just come right up to you and give you a little nudge and it helps you out,” Watkins said.

He said the lessons learned from these little guys have enriched his life.
 
“Patience, patience has been a big one, and I guess a lot of humility,” said Watkins.

When he’s not cleaning up after the animals, Watkins is perhaps folding laundry. And even after load 12 he remembers it’s all about helping others, even if they are four legged and furry.

As Watkins continues to take care of little guys like Rylee, he learns how to persevere through his own struggles.

“Take it all, take it all like that,” said Watkins. “You just don't have to rush through everything. It’s not a race.”

Watkins said once he’s released he plans to continue to volunteer at the humane society. He said he would also like to go study animal medicine and pursue a career in it.
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