the year 
I became a number
and a face
everyone recognized

but no one knew
not even me
who knew
less than nothing
of the woman
buried inside

a turning point
that year
that was
really more
than a year

the year I lived
on peanut butter,
mail call,
visiting day

the year I sank
into the deep muck
of depression,
fears and fate

the year when
I felt I wasn’t
entitled to smile
or dream

the year when
the darkness settled
and waters
became clear
and deep

the year I learned
that hope
is blue
like a springtime sky

and prayer is purple
bold and royal
and everywhere

the year
I was just a number
86519

the year I became

me

who was always
hidden inside...

The dull glimmer of corporate achievements and 28 years of numbing marriage snuffed out by superficial layoff and an empty nest. If that wasn’t enough, the doctor said, “Toby, it’s cancer, we must remove your thyroid.”  Mortality knocked. There would never be a better time to take stock of my life.  But if my values provided the leverage, and cancer my fulcrum, what then must be done? While recovering, I watched a popular TV show called Cell Dogs. 

Every year, 670,000 dogs are put down in the U.S. I felt disposable too, so I started a dog rehabilitation program and called it Safe Harbor. Like so many things that are meant to be, a week had not passed before opportunity knocked on the same door. Lansing Correctional Facility was looking to start a dog rehab program and offered it to me.

Through Safe Harbor, I went on to save the lives of a thousand dogs, but more importantly, I found a door to a different life. I helped hardened inmates develop compassion and responsibility. I united my community, offering well-adjusted dogs to local families who, not only were cornerstone to the program, but experienced the vigor of fulfilling a purpose. 

John Manard was tall, confident, cool.  He was gorgeous while doing his time at Lansing. All the regulation in the world couldn’t smother the innocent smoldering between us. The safeguards designed to prevent such indiscretions only provided a security that fanned the flames. There are no forces more powerful than love. It was all fun and games until, under the nose of authority, I smuggled him out of Lansing Prison… in a dog crate.

A two-week road trip ended when the intensity of our giddy adolescence was matched by a police helicopter’s spotlight. Driven like dogs, my accomplice and I raced down a dark Tennessee highway into the inevitable.  Dozens of heavily armed officers from every agency, federal, state and local, pushed us into the median and into a tree at a 100 miles per hour. 

All that, was just the beginning of my story.  I plead guilty and went to prison where death, desertion and divorce were my visitors.  Stripped bare and stripped of duty, within my story of ruin, I discovered the truth about who I really was and who I wanted to be.  I learned just how deep I could dive and still climb out.  I found freedom in the most unexpected place… within… prison.

My name is Toby but I am better known as The Dog Lady of Lansing Prison.

Unabated.  Uninhibited.  Unleashed.

This is my story.

Expect my memoir, Unleashed, soon on bookshelves everywhere.

Toby Dorr, October 2019