Temporary Confinement Incarcerated Citizen Transitions for Re-entry with Work at Atlanta Animal Hospital

Atlanta, Ga. - At Belle Isle Animal Hospital in Atlanta, Ga., Nolan Chauvin works to facilitate his transition from life behind bars to life as he chooses.

Set by a Technical Certificate of Credit (TCC) from the Animal Healthcare Assistant program from Central Georgia Technical College (CGTC), while serving time at Burruss Correctional Training Facility, Chauvin now works under the direction of his former instructor, Dr. Carrie Unger. Unger, an associate veterinarian at the practice, saw enough in him to pitch to the hospital owner that bringing on a convicted criminal was a sound idea.

“I know when I approached my boss about Nolan working at the clinic, there really wasn’t any qualms about hiring him at all,” Unger said. “I know a lot of that went smoothly because of me vouching for how he was as a student, but there really was no hesitation.”

Unger said that if given the opportunity to tell others in a hiring position about bringing someone in a similar position as Chauvin, she would tell them, Chauvin, like many who have completed a program under the College, are quality students who are willing to learn. They are trained by professionals who know the needs of a given industry.

At the hospital, amongst the pitchy squeals of cats and howls of dogs, Chauvin’s daily routine consists of walking, feeding, and grooming boarded pets, as well as, assisting Dr. Unger and others as they treat animals.

“I’m here early every morning, and there are some days I don’t leave till 9 p.m.,” he said.

Chauvin says the best part of working with an animal is in the reaction of the owner, the joy of giving a person that member of their extended family back in good health and spirits.

Not to equate prisoners with animals, Chauvin saw some real parallels to the temporary confinement of his furry patients compared to his own. Chauvin recalled how every day while at Burruss when the inmates greeted the dogs; the dogs knew exactly who their handler was, and the second the animal laid eyes on them, they were ready to burst out of their crate and greet them.

“It kind of does parallel,” he said. “On the weekend the dogs would go home with their weekend handler, and do things with the dog on the outside, that we couldn’t from the inside. It was always kind of nice to pack up their bags and let them go off, kind of the liberation we didn’t get.”

The Office of Re-entry Services at CGTC, under the direction of executive director, Dr. Brittany Lucas, agree that returning a member of the extended society back in good health and spirits, is part of the mission of their office. Now that Chauvin is in a transitional facility, the state is slowly packing his bags, and, thanks to the College and Dr. Unger, sending him off with a skill.

Dr. Carrie Unger treats a patient with the help of Nolan Chauvin.

“Prison doesn't define any man or woman,” Dr. Lucas said. “What defines Nolan is what he allowed to lead his life after realizing the extent of his wrongdoing. Education, training, peer support, and spiritual growth led Chauvin to tangible and intangible benefits that are available to many. Now with a belief in something greater than his past, something greater than himself, and training to back it up, he is prepared to come back into the fold of society.”

Returning to the fold is not easy. Every day for Chauvin is an excursion in liberation.

Though confined, he has a hefty amount of freedom and responsibility. For his transition, the state gives Chauvin what essentially amounts to a long leash with which to operate. Every day he takes the Marta –budgeted and paid for himself - to and from work. Every night he must be back in before curfew. On Sundays, he is at church with family, just inside the allotted distance the state gives him to travel.

Chauvin said he looks forward to transition ending later this year. Dr. Unger agreed there is no doubt he is ready. As she guides his progress in the transition to a career, she said everyone involved in Chauvin’s work is on board with making sure he sees this through.

“What is rewarding is seeing them (residents) do something that they may have not otherwise done in their lives,” said Dr. Unger, whose belief in correctional education programs grew from her love to teach what she does.

“I think many people see this as something extremely positive. I get a lot of good feedback from it; it is what makes this program unique. I do not think there is anyone else doing it as we are with a veterinarian involved.”

Dr. Unger added that if the whole purpose of rehabilitation programs is to rehabilitate, then, “we have to let them rehabilitate,” she said.

On whether or not he deserves these unique opportunities, Chauvin said this:

“The issue isn’t of deserving or not deserving a second chance,” he said, from the Christian beliefs he maintains, and believing that he does not know where any person could end up. “But whether we (as individuals) can give somebody this (opportunity) and rejoice in them having a second chance.”

Chauvin’s acceptance of guilt and humility do not appear as though they are a grateful, tail-end response to returning liberties. In fact, his commitment to changing coincided with his first days on the inside.

At 18, he arrived in prison and quickly started to notice how many men had been coming in and out of prison.

“I did everything I could to try and better myself in any way that I could,” he said. “I was going to knock a good bit off of this twenty-year sentence and not be the statistic, the person that gets out with a lesser offense than what they did when they first came in (and didn’t serve it through).”

He even learned Spanish.

He connected with Hispanic men on the inside who wanted to learn English, and in return, they taught him Spanish. He says he occasionally serves as a translator for owners who come in knowing less English.

When asked, “si quería hacer la última parte de la entrevista en español,” Nolan responded, “Si, y si alguien necesita un intérprete, yo lo hago.”

No interpreter needed.

In the timeline of Nolan’s story, what followed his conviction was conversion.

He accepted Jesus Christ as his lord and savior. Something he acknowledged as sounding like a trite refrain on rehearsed grace coming from a prisoner.

He combats this with a story of how his family, devout atheists as he was growing up, all became Christians through the testimony of his faith in action.

The key was his action. Following conversion came commitment, part of it in education, and the other toward a career. Time served, training earned, and transition all groomed Chauvin for this; it rinsed, washed and made him ready. Soon he will re-enter, brought back into the fold, awaiting society’s reaction.


Photos: JoBen Rivera-Thompson, CGTC Office of Marketing and Public Relation

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