Prison inmates train service dogs for wounded veterans

(WJLA) - Kenneth Doyle entered a place where darkness dwells, so that he could take another step in his journey from soldier to survivor.

"On our way up here I was going crazy with nerves," he said. "It's gotten a lot better because when I first woke in the hospital almost two years ago, I wasn't able to do anything for myself."

The 25-year-old Army specialist lost an arm and nearly his life to an explosion in Afghanistan in 2012. Doyle now has the confidence to leave his Montgomery County home after working for months with his new service dog, “Trooper.”

"Trooper is pretty much my new right arm," he said.

Doyle and the companion he now relies on walked deep into the heart of the Maryland Correctional Institution in Hagerstown to see a prisoner Doyle had never met, but had to thank.

Inmate Kent Brewer raised Trooper from the time he was a puppy through a groundbreaking program, where inmates train service dogs for wounded veterans like Ken Doyle.

"I'm very self-conscious about going outside, but whenever I take Trooper everybody is automatically drawn to Trooper instead of staring at my arm," said Doyle.

There is room for redemption, even in a place surrounded by razor wire.

"When you take someone's life, you don't think about the consequences thereafter,” said Brewer, who murdered a man and then hid here in self-imposed isolation for nearly 20 years. But a black Labrador broke through the wall of a convicted killer:

"Trooper let me love him. And he gave me love. It was just a wonderful experience."

While he misses his old friend, he knows Trooper is exactly where he should be, helping free a fellow veteran.

Prison leaders say the program is lowering violence and improving morale. Inmates Kent Brewer and Terry Dorsey, who have thrived since working in the service dog training program, hope to be out of prison within several years.

Meanwhile, veteran Ken Doyle hopes to eventually open a doggie daycare center.