Luigi “Shorty” Rossi, former resident of the DJJ Southern Youth Correctional Reception Center, is now the star of a hit television series. Rossi was invited to talk to the youthful offenders about choices in their lives.
Rossi described when SYCRC was his home, not far from where he had been a gang member. Soon after, Rossi spent several years in Folsom State Prison.
Rossi‘s television show is on the Animal Planet and he brought his co-star, Hercules, a pit-bull mix. Rossi believes Hercules and caring for dogs produces caring people who learn patience, compassion and positive reinforcement.
Rossi’s message to the youth was clear. “You can change your life so you don’t end up incarcerated,” said Rossi.
It was a message these youth are learning firsthand through the “Pups and Wards” program. The youth provide obedience training to dogs abandoned in shelters.
Over three months, four dogs are assigned to nine youth in a housing unit, who care for and train the dogs until the dogs have graduated and then adopted by families. “It is ‘pawsitivity’ training”, quipped Janette Thomas, who is responsible for rescuing the dogs and guiding the youth through the exercises and training.
In a sense, the dogs and the youth are living parallel lives. The training gives the dogs an opportunity for a better life after escaping a harrowing shelter existence, and potential euthanasia. And with the youth providing around-the-clock care and training, the youth are also learning skills that will help them get a fresh start in life.
“It’s stabilized the youth’s behavior,” said DJJ Counselor Josie Ramirez. “The youth feel like they’re part of something special and have matured since they got their pups.”
As the head of Shortywood Entertainment, Rossi and his production crew were on hand to tape a segment of Pit Boss, a top rated nationwide program on the Animal Planet network that he uses to spread his message of redemption and caring. As the cameras rolled, he talked with the youth about his life before, during and after incarceration.
Rossi concluded, “It’s hard to believe I spent 10 years of my life locked up.”
To visit the Division of Juvenile Justice homepage, click here: https://www.cdcr.ca.gov/Juvenile_Justice/index.html