Rescued Dogs, Rescuing Lives Behind Bars

In prison, where kindness is considered a weakness ... dogs make tough men tender.

Inmates and dogs are doing time together in nine Colorado prisons, CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann reports.

One inmate said his dog is the "best cellmate I ever had."

In two months' time dogs -- mostly shelter rescues found beaten, starved and abandoned -- are made adoptable again by inmate trainers.

Inmate Marion Crawford said his charges have taught him "responsibility. Patience."

Repeat offender Crawford is also a repeat trainer. Porter is his 54th dog here.

"He brightens my day," he said. "Every day."

It's really about second chances. For the dogs and the inmates.

Debi Stevens started the program six years ago. To qualify, inmates must be trouble-free for six months.

"It gives them new life skills," she said.

Skills Cynthia Gonzalez had never learned. She's doing life for murder.

"It gives me comfort," Gonzalez said. "Just hearing her breathe; hearing her move at night. It's helped teach me love and care. Something I didn't always notice on the streets."

Many of these dogs, like many of their inmate handlers, were considered throwaways. But outside these walls, the success of this program is in its rescued lives - both of dogs and of people.

Robert Gerle credits his successful family life after prison to four years inside training dogs.

"I sent a little bit of myself home with every one of them," Gerle said, tearing up.

More than 3,000 dogs have left prison life for new homes.

Inmate Crystal Terry compares giving up each dog to giving up a child.

"So this brings out the maternal side in you?" Strassmann asked. "And you like that side?"

"I do, especially if you didn't get to appreciate it when you were out there," Terry said.

In a prison, of all places, they found it in each other.

The chance to feel again.

  • Mark Strassmann

    Mark Strassmann was named CBS News Transportation correspondent in August 2011. He has been a CBS News correspondent since January 2001, and is based in the Atlanta bureau.