A retired prison corrections officer was remembered this week for his leading role in the development of a canine training program inside the walls at the Airway Heights Corrections Center.
Richard Eugene Hewson, 69, died at home Sunday from pancreatic cancer. His wife, Bobbie Hewson, and his four children were at his side.
“He was just amazing,” Bobbie Hewson said. “He was strong and gentle and kind. It was the way he was. He was a great father. … He didn’t have a mean bone in his body.”
Those personality traits helped him succeed in a 27-year career as a corrections officer, first at the Washington State Penitentiary at Walla Walla and later at the Airway Heights Corrections Center, where he rose to custody unit supervisor overseeing 250 inmates plus staff, Bobbie Hewson said.
In 2011, corrections officials decided to launch dog training programs in state prisons as a vehicle for rehabilitation.
At Airway Heights, Hewson formed a partnership with SpokAnimal Care and the Diamonds in the Ruff group to start the Pawsitive Dog Training Program in 2012.
The program started with five inmate handlers and two dogs. Five years later, it has trained 133 dogs and has about two dozen inmate handlers participating at any one time, according to Kim Imel, one of the trainers from Diamonds in the Ruff.
“From the very beginning and through the first two and a half years, Rich was the head of the program in the prison,” Imel said in an email.
Hewson showed his leadership skills in assembling a staff team to run the program on a day-to-day basis inside the walls, he said.
“He had the foresight to know it was going to take much more than just him to help this program grow and thrive,” Imel said.
The inmate handlers prepare the dogs for adoption by families in the Spokane region through SpokAnimal. Some of the dogs are adopted by prison staffers; a few by families of the offenders.
The dogs live with their inmate handlers around the clock. Program leaders from the outside go to the prison weekly to work with the inmates and animals. Inmate participants go through a graduation test with their dogs, the most recent being Thursday.
Hewson retired at the end of 2014 after guiding the program for more than two years.
Jeremy Barclay, communications director for the state Department of Corrections, said the dog programs at Airway Heights and other institutions have been successful.
“It’s pretty fantastic because you end up with winners on both sides,” Barclay said. Inmates involved in the program find rehabilitation at the program’s core, he said.
“You’ve got responsibility. You’ve got empathy. You’ve got caring,” Barclay said. “I’ve seen inmates cry if something happens to their dog.”
Elsewhere, the state runs a Freedom Tails program at its Stafford Creek facility along with a Brigadoon Service Dogs program, in which military veteran inmates train dogs for disabled veterans on the outside.
Barclay said Hewson left behind a rich legacy for inmates, animals and the community.
“He loved the program,” said Bobbie Hewson. “He told me he saw very positive changes with the inmates.”
The Cheney Funeral Chapel is in charge of Hewson’s arrangements.
On the chapel’s tribute page for Hewson, a co-worker, Jerry Kilmer, said the officer was a great mentor to him. “He was always willing to lend a hand and help out a co-worker,” said Kilmer.
Born in Sunnyside, Washington, Hewson met his wife, Bobbie, in Yakima. They were married for 44 years and have four children, Laura, Samuel, Hope and Megan.
Hewson is also survived by a brother, Ken, and two sisters, Carol and Glenda.
He joined the corrections department in the late 1980s and transferred to the Airway Heights facility when it opened in 1992, Bobbie Hewson said.
He was the first to be named corrections officer of the year at Airway Heights.
His funeral service will be at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 10405 W. Melville Road, Cheney.
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