Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Idea Factory - K-9 Corrections

People are always asking me where my story ideas come from. Since I live on the coast of Maine, where people understand fishing analogies, I tell them that I'm always casting my net out. When I read a magazine or news story or when I watch news on TV or when I go out to dinner at a restaurant, I imagine how this person's conversation or that news event might work in a story.
Often I bring in small fish that I have to throw back, that is, ideas or characters that don't work out into plots. Sometimes, though, I pull in keepers. I'll find the perfect hero for a story, then perhaps a situation to put him in, and I'm off.
Here's an example of what may be a keeper.
The other night I attended the kick-off gala for a new program sponsored by the local Humane Society. I'd heard about programs with prisoners training dogs before, but this is the first time we've had one in Maine. At the gala they presented a video of successful programs in other prisons around the country. As a dog lover, I couldn't resist, and as a writer, I was fascinated by the tough inmates and their reactions and growth along with their canine charges. A vicious murderer who'd been on death row and a tattoo-covered career criminal turned to mush with puppy kisses and tail wags. Their dogs learned to come, to heel, to sit, and other canine good manners. The men learned to show positive emotions, to praise, and to care. Officials at the prisons in the films reported that because of the Prison Dogs programs, their facilities had less violence and guards and inmates interacted in more positive ways.
K-9 Corrections, as this Humane Society program is dubbed, aims at teaching at-risk prison inmates in a medium-security facility and at-risk homeless dogs from the shelter the skills to become safe members of society. A local trainer with extensive experience and expertise in positive reinforcement methods will train the prisoner-trainers. The dogs, as in other programs, should learn faster because of the intensity of the program, living with their trainers 24/7.
A successful outcome will have dogs and their trainers graduating in ten weeks. The prisoner-trainers will have learned responsibility for another being, compassion, patience and dog training skills. The dogs will become adoptable by learning obedience and house manners and by passing the AKC's Canine Good Citizen test. Then lucky families will be able to adopt well-trained, socialized dogs, and prisoner-trainers will receive another dog to train.
So I'm thinking of a possible story. An intrepid and beautiful dog training expert helps redeem shelter dogs and hard-case inmates. I write romantic suspense, but I don't want to derail the training program by having one of her prisoner-trainers stalk her. Perhaps there's another prisoner who was wrongly convicted (Think Harrison Ford in The Fugitive.) and who hides in her van as she leaves the prison grounds. At first he forces her to help him, but then…well, you know what happens. ;-)
Think this one's a keeper? Or should I throw it back?
In any case, while I'm creating, I'm getting out my checkbook to help support this admirable program. If anyone is interested in learning more about K-9 Corrections, you can visit http://www.humanesocietyofknoxcounty.org.

8 comments:

Kalen Hughes said...

Is it just me or are you all picturing the prison fan mail . . .

Some prisons do this same kind of thing with Mustangs. The guys learn empathy and compassion (and useful skills if they ever get out) and the horses get a chance to be something other than dog food.

Cheryl Bolen said...

Sounds to me you've got a keeper there. In fact, it borders on high concept. Go for it!

romblogreader said...

Sounds great. :)

And if you're itching for more prison plot fishies, you should perhaps indulge in a marathon of the first season of "Prison Break." It's not quite as relentlessly stomach-turning/grim as Oz, but for extra inspiration (especially w/ the lovely lead, Wentworth Miller) it might be just the thing to spawn more ideas.

Does spawn count as a fishing metaphor? ;)

Susan Vaughan said...

Thanks for the further story ideas, guys.
Susan Vaughan

Trish Ryan said...

I used to take students on tours through a maximum security prison in VA. One of the strangest things about it was that in the middle of all the cement and barbed wire, there were dozens - possibly even hundreds - of cats. They were wild, and reproduced accordingly, but the prison left them alone because they kept the rat population down and the interaction made some of the prisoners calmer. Good stuff.

And what a great program - I'm from Maine, too, so it's always nice to see good programs originate there (although I'm not sure the prisoners would agree with the "Maine: The Way Life Should Be" theme???)

Jan said...

Not too long back, the person in charge of teaching prisoners how to handle the dogs helped a convicted murderer in KS escape in a dog kennel. They were on the lam for a month or so. If he'd been innocent, this could work into your idea. :)

Jan in Louisville said...

In Kentucky they have similar programs with retired horses. Then the convict can get a job in the horse industry once he's released.

Madison Chase said...

Sounds like a great idea. I've heard of those programs before. They covered them in some canine mag that i read a year or so ago.

I'd definitely make sure that we know the guy is innocent, otherwise, that'd be a turnoff for some... like me. ;)