Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Bunking with cats, inmates learn value of teamwork


YACOLT, Wash. (AP) — When Princess Natalie was still a kitten, before she was prison royalty, she was left in a cage with another cat for months. They were fed, given water and not much else.
Natalie became afraid of people and other cats. When she was adopted, she hissed at her owners, made a mess in their home and bit them at every opportunity. They gave up and handed her over to a shelter.
Natalie was scheduled to be put down. But then a program at a minimum-security prison in Washington state presented another option: Hand her over to a pair of inmates.
The six-year-old, long-haired black cat would live in their cell, get outside time daily and learn manners. For Joey Contreras, 28, Natalie's arrival in March was his ticket out of a 40-man dorm and into a two-person cell with a door.
Contreras and his cellmate, after passing the screening process, are two of the four inmates in the "Cuddly Catz" program at Larch Correctional Facility in Yacolt.
"Nobody was wanting to adopt her," Contreras said. "We got her and it's been awesome ever since."
It wasn't awesome at the outset. She came as advertised, Contreras said — moody, dysfunctional and prone to violence. But the changes in his newest cellmate are evident.

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