Second Chance gets off to a great start

Seven females inmates at Collier County Jail graduate from program that helped them, four dogs

Seven habits, seven inmates and four dogs, along with a serious backdrop of support professionals, all added up to success for the first Second Chance Cell Dog program at the Collier County Jail.

As the inmate-canine pilot program celebrated its first graduating class earlier this month, emotions ran high. Collier County’s “legacy class,” as Sheriff Kevin Rambosk called them, had inmates who were given the opportunity to participate in the program beaming with pride as they received recognition from the Collier County Sheriff’s Office for a job well done.

The agency’s chief of corrections, Scott Salley, opened the ceremony of about 75 audience members, stating, “Let us be extremely liberal with programs of goodwill.”

Rambosk echoed that sentiment for the program. “We are creating great inroads for the handlers (inmates), and equally important is the dogs.”

Four of the seven inmates delivered tear-filled speeches of gratitude.

“Thank you for giving us this second chance in our lives,” said Melissa Sontoro, pausing several times during her speech to fight back raw emotion. Sontoro, who along with inmate Peggy Garcia and volunteer dog trainers from the Southwest Florida Professional Dog Trainers Alliance, spent eight weeks living with and training a golden retriever named Aimee.

The inmates also received formal training in life, a part of the Second Chance program that unexpectedly came about in the middle of the training at the request of Leo Mediavilla. Mediavilla facilitated a program designed by renowned author Steven Covey, and laid out in Covey’s best-selling book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” and the Franklin Covey Institute facilitator certification.

Mediavilla came to the female inmates for the last four Mondays of the Second Chance program, for two and a half hours each. Mediavilla already teaches the longer program for the male inmates at the jail. A former administrator for adult and community education programs for the Collier County School District, he has taught “The 7 Habits” courses for Collier County Jail male inmates for the past four years, as well as for the school district.

Mediavilla said he believes that inmates, while incarcerated, need to acquire “a new self-image, a new self-paradigm.”

“It was an exciting time,” he said of the program. “We looked at the ladies and how they view the world. They learned about being proactive, making choices, habit No. 1.”

According to graduating inmate Sarah Winters, the entire experience “taught me perseverance and increased my self-esteem. She poignantly thanked Mediavilla, stating that the Seven Habits program “was an incredible investment.” The other inmates who spoke agreed.

Mediavilla said the Seven Habits training will be more extensive next time, now that they have decided to implement it with the inmate-canine training.

Jeannie Bates, owner of the Southwest Florida Professional Dog Trainers Alliance, said the 8-week program received 575 volunteer hours from her organization and staff. She addressed the inmates, saying “I am confident that you will all use the knowledge to make a better community.”

The happy day also marked a time to say goodbye to the dogs, Aimee, Chance, Dexter and Maggie.

The event was open to the public, and gave a face to the promise of rehabilitation for these ladies, one of whom was pregnant, and also made for better adoptability of four very lucky dogs.

All of the dogs have already been adopted, according to program partner, Naples Humane Society Director Michael Simonik.

Officials said the program will continue, starting again in early 2012.

© 2011 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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