Inmates, vets find new hope through service dog program

Inmates' work spurs special bond for vets, service dogs

GATESVILLE, Texas -- Inside this women's prison North of Gatesville, two people with very different lives will forever be connected by a dog named Stan.

Inmate Nicole Windham's five DUIs got her a sentence of 13 years.

"If you don't take responsibility for it and say, 'I got myself here,' and humble yourself - that's been the biggest thing, humbling yourself from wherever you came from," Windham said.

%INLINE%

Behind barbed wire, she found sobriety, and thanks to the Rockwall based non-profit Patriot Paws, she found purpose. 

"Waking up in the morning and not having any control; they tell you when you're going to go eat; they tell you when you can shower," Windham said. "That's OK because we did something today."

She and dozens of inmates have worked to train service dogs that will eventually go home with disabled veterans, like Michael Lammey.

"Recruiter came to my high school, started filling me with sea stories and stuff and I was like, 'I'm in,'" Lammey said.

Lammey was a teenager from Minnesota who joined the Navy because he wanted to see the world. He enlisted, was stationed in Guam and in 2006 he was nearly killed when a boiler tank on his ship exploded.

"The steam that I had to run through was so super hot that it just burns all the way through, third degree," he said.

%INLINE%

Two fellow sailors died in the blast. Fifty surgeries later, he's disabled and disfigured.

"But after everything healed up physically is when I started noticing all the mental ramifications from going through something like that - the PTSD, depression and all that kind of stuff," Lammey said.

And for the past two-and-a-half years, the father of three girls has waited for this moment. The gift of a companion that will help him be a better husband and father.

There wasn't a dry eye in the Sycamore Unit. Inside the prison, the training for the dogs is extensive.
Rec rooms are transformed into environments the dogs may encounter in the civilian world. The canvas backdrops are hand painted by the women themselves -- perhaps a dream of a view they may have in reality someday.

%INLINE%

"We all work on all the dogs in some way, shape or form, so seeing a dog that you've had something to do with move forward with their life and help somebody else takes away any sadness there might be," Windham said.

Stan will go home to San Antonio with Lammey. It's truly the start of a new life.

"The gratitude that goes with all the work people had to put in to get to this point and give you something that's as great as Stan, trying to emotionally handle all that stuff, I guess," Lammey said. 

A sailor and an inmate may represent the extremes of society. Today, the work of this prisoner is helping set a veteran free. 

© 2017 WFAA-TV


JOIN THE CONVERSATION

To find out more about Facebook commenting please read the
Conversation Guidelines and FAQs

Leave a Comment