Courtesy Bureau of Prisons

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By Randall Morris

FCI-Seagoville is a low security federal prison of 1,600 male inmates located 15 miles southeast of downtown Dallas, Texas. I arrived here in March, 2023, and have eleven years still to serve on a 19.5 year federal sentence. Because of the time I have left to serve, the details in this story are paramount to me and other inmates as they can greatly impact and alter the quality of the time we will serve.

In May, 2023, the associate warden announced that a new inmate housing unit for military veterans would be created at FCI-Seagoville as an honor unit that would have an elevated expectation and standard of conduct, special veterans programming and community re-entry emphasis/assistance, and veterans only benefits and amenities. Most of these benefits and amenities are token but, in a prison environment, they are substantial. It was also emphasized that this new veterans unit and program is local (meaning not BOP-wide), a prototype and voluntary.

As I am a military veteran, I was among the first wave of inmates to move into this new veterans housing unit (with no air conditioning) in June, and I was quickly appointed by Associate Warden Aaron Greenfield to be the editor of a new veterans newsletter that is now called “The Bars & Stripes,” which is a play on the name of the old military newspaper, The Stars & Stripes (Edition No. 6 of the Bars & Stripes is attached). And to clarify the parody, think “bars” as in prison bars and “stripes” as in prison stripes.

As the editor of this small prison newsletter, I am the only inmate at this facility that is authorized to have a typewriter in my room, and I am making maximum use of this luxury as evidenced by my letters to you and other organizations regarding the positive things that are happening here, and despite that I have to pay $20 for typewriter ribbons, $4.00 for correction ribbons, 13¢ per photocopy and postage.

The last inmate newsletter produced at this facility was eighty years ago according to the Texas Historical Society and it was produced by German internees who were interned here with Japanese and Italian internees during WWII. The German newsletter was called the Saegedorfer Fliegende Blaetter [umlauts substituted] which translates to the Seagoville Flying Leaves (or pages). This translation came easy for me as I, coincidentally, speak German.

As you will read in the attached edition of the Bars & Stripes, the Federal Bureau of Prisons currently has a “dog program” at 22 minimum camps and at one of the low security Federal Correctional Institutions (FCI) like FCI-Seagoville. It should be noted that FCI-Seagoville is currently the only BOP facility that has a veterans unit/program, but it does not have a dog program.

The BOP Dog program is actually two programs. One is a training program for young dogs destined to become handicap assistance service animals. These dogs enter the BOP program for a preliminary time to be trained and cared for by inmates before graduating back to the provider for advanced training. The other program involves rescue dogs that have experienced abuse and traumas. These dogs acclimate and rehabilitate with inmates who will care for and love them for a time until they are collected by the provider and adopted out.

As veterans are statistically a high-risk group for suicides (much higher than the national average), and incarcerated veterans are at an even higher risk, it would make perfect sense for the BOP to take notice of the new veterans unit at FCI-Seagoville and to consider expanding it BOP-wide. It would make further sense for the BOP Regional Director to authorize the dog program for FCI-Seagoville and to give the veterans at this facility the exclusive responsibility for it with an eye toward forever connecting the BOP dog program to the veterans units at every BOP facility.

The potential therapeutic and rehabilitative benefits to the veterans and the dogs are ridiculously obvious. With the dogs matched with the veterans at this facility, I can imagine authorized weekly walks of the dogs through the general inmate population and also to the isolated inmates in the Special Housing Units (SHUS), which is a sanitized term for solitary confinement, to allow all inmates regular and healthy access and interaction with the animals. Some of these inmates have been incarcerated for years, and many have lost family members without being able to properly grieve and to attend funerals. Those that are in the most need of the dogs tear up when talking about the possibility of getting the dog program. In short, there is an incredible amount of pent-up love and empathy for animals that need it and especially for those that have suffered mistreatment.

The associate warden has acknowledged the soundness of this logic, and he has communicated that both he and the warden fully support getting the BOP dog program for the veterans at this facility. However, this will need approvals from regional and perhaps even Washington, which can be dreadfully slow and fraught with bureaucratic difficulties in the absence of motivation to proceed more urgently.

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