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This is Momma at her graduation ceremony, at least that’s what she called it. There weren’t any caps or gowns or tasseled hats, but she did her best to dress for the occasion. Before this, Momma had been in prison. She went in when she was a little girl and never came out. Her room inside the prison was small and her cell didn’t have any windows. It had a big iron door no one could open–she could push on one side while someone pulled on the other and still that door wouldn’t budge. I guess it had just rusted in place so there was nothing anyone could do, and there Momma stayed until about six months ago.

Momma went to prison she was seven or eight years old. She was walking down the street and two dogs, all she could say later was that they were big and brown, ran out of an alley and attacked her like she was some criminal. No one heard her screaming, at least no one came, and by the time those dogs were done, Momma was bleeding from head to toe. When she finally got out of the hospital she had a lot of scars and from that day on she couldn’t look at a dog, even a picture of one, without screaming. If she heard one barking down the street, even if she was safe inside, she’d do the same thing.

Momma rarely left the house and might have stayed in her prison forever if it wasn’t for this lady shrink who persuaded her to try a desensitization program. After she taught Momma some relaxation techniques, she started with sounds and then pictures. It wasn’t easy but Momma was determined and kept at it. Then, after a long time, she actually saw a dog, then patted a dog, then took a little one for a walk.

On this final day, she walked a whole gang of dogs and kept looking at them to make sure she wasn’t dreaming.

Story by Will Conway

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