I started my life like a normal kid. Playing soccer, riding horses, and going to school. But everything changed for me when I was going into high school. I was raped.
I did not know how to cope with the emotional distress and the thoughts that went through my head. I believed that it was my fault and instead of telling anyone, I held the secret inside where it slowly ate away at my soul. I started doing things to try to numb the pain and I isolated myself from my friends and family and this ultimately led me down a path of addiction.
This addiction took me down an ugly road that made me do things I would never do sober. It drove me away from my family and destroyed many friendships. It didn’t take long for me to get arrested. It took me a while to get over my resentment and actually accept responsibility for the things I did, but once I did I was finally able to move forward with my life. I finally realized that it was time for a change and that I really needed to do something different with my life. I was sent to Folsom Women’s Facility and it was the best thing that could have happened to me.
I was able to rediscover who I was as a person. I had time to reflect on the person that I had become and decide who I want to be. I decided to get sober and start doing positive things for myself. I first started taking college classes. I didn’t actually believe that I could do well in these classes, but I was hoping to at least pass. I wanted to do something productive with my time instead of just sitting around wasting it. When I got my first grades back I was shocked! I got all A’s! I enrolled for another quarter and continued this success with college. I left prison with an AA degree and a 4.0 GPA.
After being at Folsom Women’s Facility for about 6 months, they started the Canine Companions for Independence puppy program. They started off with 2 dogs and 4 women. I was not part of the original group, but I joined shortly after when they expanded the program to 6 women. To be a part of this program you have to be disciplinary free, you can’t have certain crimes and you are approved by the warden. So it was an honor to qualify and be selected to work with these dogs. I applied for this job first because I love dogs. So what better way to do your time then spending everyday with one? The next reason was because I thought it would be a great way to give back to society for everything I had taken from it for so many years. We don’t have very many opportunities to do that while in prison, so I was really excited at this possibility. When I was accepted into the program I was still finding myself. I had very low confidence due to the fact that I had be ridiculed, judged and labeled a worthless drug addict for so many years due to my poor choices. So when I was first greeted by Carly Farmer, the contract trainer and Cris Gerard, who helped get the prison program up and running, I was very nervous. However, I was pleasantly surprised at their kindness and acceptance. They treated me like a human being with respect. This was a new experience for me. They helped me to see that there are still genuine people in the world today and that maybe I should give people another chance, that I can trust others. But most of all they made me realize that maybe I needed to give myself another chance, that I hadn’t been giving myself the kindness and respect that I deserved.
Canine companions helped me rediscover the woman that I had inside me that had buried deep within. They took a broken and weak woman and helped build her up. After a year of being a part of Canine Companions I felt a growing passion to do as much as I could for this amazing program that was dramatically helping me change my life around. I began to immerse myself in the program and take on leadership roles. I started training all the new girls that entered the program and was a person that the other girls could come and ask questions if the needed help. I began learning tools that would help me upon my release. I was able to learn patience and compassion. I learned how to communicate with many different types of personalities but most importantly I learned that the world does not revolve around me. I stopped being a selfish taker and put others needs before mine. Having Canine Companions in the prison not only benefited the girls that were in the program, but all the women in the prison. The dogs are like a ray of light in a world where you are isolated from everyone you love, surrounded by strangers that you never get to know, and where you are only known by your inmate number not the person that you are. They give unreserved love to everyone regardless of their past. Unfortunately, many women lose a loved one while they are incarcerated. The first thing we would do is bring the pups over to them so they could feel the unconditional love of these amazing dogs. It would always make the girls feel better for at least the time that they were with them. It felt amazing to bring comfort to another human being during such an awful time in their life.
Upon my release my relationship with Canine Companions has continued to flourish. They asked me to finish raising Ticha ll, the puppy I was raising in the prison immediately after my release! I was honored. I was so excited that they believed in me enough and my transformation as a person to trust me with one of their dogs! Of course I said yes! So I will be raising her until May when she will turn into Professional Training in Santa Rosa, Ca. If that wasn’t good enough, I got another puppy, which is the 5th puppy I’ve raised, in January. His name is Dern. He is named after our puppy program manager James Dern, so it was again an honor to be given the responsibility to raise this puppy! I have also been given the opportunity of being a contract trainer for Canine Companions in San Francisco. This means that I now train the puppy raisers how to train their puppies! Canine Companions has done so much for me that I felt I needed to give back to them. I was the first person in the country to form a community supporter partnership with a company for the Give A Dog A Job program. I was able to get 2 of my local Starbucks to participate in this program, and we now have fundraising stations set up inside the stores to help raise money for this amazing organization! Canine Companions has been a huge part of my life. They helped pull me and keep me out of the terrible life of addiction. I can honestly say that without them I would still be stuck in that stagnant life doing nothing positive for society, entering and exiting through the revolving prison door. But instead I am a proud and strong woman that has goals and ambition. I have determination to make not only my life better, but others as well. I now have the confidence in myself that I am able to be vulnerable and share my story with you in the hopes that it inspires or gives hope to others. I am so blessed to have had Canine Companions enter my life. They help change everyone’s life that they touch not just the graduates that receive their dogs. The people that are associated with Canine Companions are absolutely amazing.
I am so proud to say that I am apart of this amazing organization and family.
Respectfully, Erin Boetzer
This post taken for our 2018 Spring Newsletter