ATLANTA, Ga. -- To look at the Fulton County Jail, one would never think this is the place people come to change. More likely, they would say that this is the place peolple wind up because they wouldn't change.
Susan Jacobs Meadows, the Executive Director of Canine Cellmates says, "You can see they start to change how they feel about themselves. The goal is to open their eyes to possibilities that they never conceived of for themselves."
In a large room, a few inmates are busy working with dogs. Vandez McCloudy is one of those inmates. At 18 years old, this is his fourth stint in jail. He works with a dog named Bentley.
"I trained him to give me his paw, crawl, roll, stay, sit down," he told 11Alive's Jaye Watson.
Jacobs Meadows says, "We pull dogs off the euthanasia list. We bring them over here and we pair them up with an inmate handler. The dogs actually become therapy dogs in this program we just don't tell them that."
Twenty-six year old Teddy Teshone is paired with Heidi.
"I never had a dog. It's a first for me. Heidi is laid back. Very patient. Smart. Loving. Mature. She's everything. She's just great," he said.
The dogs live with the inmates for months, their crates at the foot of the bunk. Schedules stress training and discipline. The dogs go from discarded -- to desirable. Transformation is mutual.Teddy now wants to be a dog trainer.
"She teaches me about responsibility, taking care of dogs, instead of committing crimes, so she's changed me in a lot of ways," he said.
Vandez wants to work too: "I want to be a barber, a tattoo artist."
Until now, Vandez's recognition has been for serial burglary, Teddy for drug and weapons charges. But on this day they're getting a new recognition, a diploma. It's graduation day.
As Jacobs Meadows hands Vandez his diploma, he says, "I want to thank God and all the trainers that helped me change my thinking and help me become a better man".
Bentley is being considered as a scent dog at the airport. Heidi will go to a wheelchair bound person. Behind these dogs --proud, heartbroken young men.
Teddy says of Heidi, "She don't judge me, like people does. I know she loves me. All day. Every day."
It's the last place you'd look, to find soul shifting transformation, to find abiding love. But inside the jail, for every life saved, is a life changed. Jacobs Meadows says, "The unconditional love of a dog can change a person."