James Barkley, 54; cellmate, Kenneth Rivera. Dog, Ike. Grandfather and licensed plumber, he was one of the oldest in the group. In and out of prison since the 1970s for drug dealing and theft. Full of bluster, he described his self-esteem as “on the ceiling” and insisted he was working hard training his dog, Ike. The dog trainer was skeptical.

Joseph Davis, 40; cellmate, Gabriel Seda. Dog, Mike. Gruff and serious, he had a long criminal record. He hoped to turn his life around after his mother, a mental-health worker, told him she had stopped celebrating his birthday and his 19-year-old son was arrested.

Elliott Glover, 39, mentor. Graduate of the previous New Leash session. Banker convicted of embezzlement, he had not been granted early parole.

Dominic Hayes, 38, cellmate, Jamal Thompson. Dog, Hershey. Extremely quiet, he seemed uninterested in the program and kept all of his personal information to himself — including his real name.

Corey Maxey, 19; cellmate, Ari Tee. Dog, Rolo. A former high school football star, he was the youngest in the group. He regretted the tattoos on his face and worried they might prevent him from ever finding a job.

Shawn Paige, 23; cellmate, Ruben Perez. Dogs, Heath and Peanut Chew. He had such a jagged past, he could not reconstruct a timeline of his life. He was afraid of the dogs because they came from shelters. His sullen expression unnerved some of the staff at first.

Ruben Perez, 54; cellmate, Shawn Paige. Dogs, Heath and Peanut Chew.  The oldest inmate. He participated little in the program and was suspected of being harsh with the dogs when the staff was not around.

Kenneth Rivera, 20; cellmate, James Barkley. Dog, Ike. He had the shortest criminal record in the group. Quiet, almost shy, he chastised himself every morning in the mirror and believed his prison term was divine punishment intended to redirect his life. Intimidated by his dog, Ike, he failed at first to make progress in the training.

Gabriel Seda, 32; cellmate, Joseph Davis. Dog, Mike. Father of three, he had worked successfully in a Lansdale factory before relapsing into drugs. His perpetually furrowed brow made him look angry. In truth, he merely needed glasses and did not want to ask the medical staff for a pair. Although he sincerely wanted to work with his dog, Mike, he did not want to challenge his more assertive cellmate, who dominated the training.

Jamal Thompson; cellmate, Dominic Hayes. Dog, Hershey. An impish man-boy who turned 22 while in prison, he completed one semester of community college and hoped to become a social worker.

Donte Waters, 23; cellmate, Lorenzo Whitaker. Dog, Goober. He had coasted through life on his charm and good looks. He worked diligently with his dog, but had trouble shedding his street-cool attitude.


Nicole LaRocco — A dog trainer  who was easy-going but firm when necessary, she taught the inmates how to train their dogs using positive reinforcement.

Marian Marchese — Founder of New Leash on Life USA. A former advertising executive, she started the program to rescue dogs that were likely to be euthanized in shelters and to help criminals who were willing to redirect their lives.

Laura Muller — Veterinary technician. A brash redhead, she had a tough childhood and spoke frankly to the men, teaching them about canine health and grooming, as well as the problems with puppy mills and dog fighting.

Roberto Rosa — Director of operations for New Leash on Life USA. A former addict and drug dealer, Rosa spent 12 years in Graterford Prison before turning his life around. He understood the inmates’ thinking and the allure of criminal life.

Waleed Yousef — Adoptions coordinator. Worked with New Leash to place each dog in the best adoptive home. He accompanied Mike to be tested as a service animal for a woman with PTSD. Yousef also works as a paralegal for defense attorney Jack McMahon, who serves on the New Leash board with his wife, Ruth.


Goober — Inmates: Donte Waters and Lorenzo Whitaker. A Pharaoh hound mix with batlike ears, he beat the odds at the Hunting Park shelter. Extremely smart and easygoing, he was trained by the shelter staff before joining the prison program.

Heath — Inmates: Shawn Paige and Ruben Perez . A moon-blue pit bull, was on his way to be euthanized when Ruth McMahon, a New Leash board member, rescued him. Prison would bring out his aggression.

Hershey — Inmates: Jamal Thompson and Dominic Hayes. A gangly, energetic hound with jackrabbit feet, he was rescued from a shelter in Georgia.

Ike — Inmates: Kenneth Rivera and James Barkley. An 80-pound mastiff mix with cauliflower ears, he was found wandering the streets of North Philadelphia. Stubborn but sweet, he would plunk to the ground like a cement block when he did not want to cooperate.

Mike — Inmates: Joseph Davis and Gabriel Seda. A tan pit bull with golden eyes and a white-tipped tail, Mike had been returned to the Hunting Park shelter several times because he was unmanageable and “hyperactive.” He was considered the most challenging of the group and fought with other dogs — especially Ike — over toys.

Peanut Chew — Inmates: Shawn Paige and Ruben Perez. A white pit bull mix, he had been confined in a basement for the first year of his life. Nervous and high-strung, he required a patient trainer.

Rolo — Inmates: Ari Tee and Corey Maxey. The puppy of the group, the beagle mix did a lot of yapping. His inmates were training him to ride a skateboard.