Autistic Boys’ Parents Send Him to Visit Murderer in Jail—Radically Changes His Life
Arthur and Susy Tucker are the parents Zachary, a 9-year-old with Asperger’s syndrome. Desperate for anything that would help their son’s unmanageable behavior, emotional anxiety and sensory processing, the Tuckers turned to an unlikely source—a murderer.
In 1998, Chris Vogt was sentenced to 48 years in a Colorado prison for second-degree murder. “I am in prison on a murder sentence that I’m guilty of,” Vogt emotionally told ABC News.
Today, prisoner 100765 is changing the lives of nine families with autistic children.
Since 2002, Colorado Correctional Industries has provided abandoned dogs for its inmates to train, through a program called Colorado Cell Dogs. Most prisoners have learned to train service dogs for the blind and deaf communities, but Vogt took it even further. He dove head-first into a sea of books to learn all that he could about autism.
Vogt took what he learned and developed unique service dog training techniques to help autistic children overcome behavioral and emotional issues.
The dogs come from local shelters, and Vogt trains them inside his cell by acting out problem behaviors himself. Each dog is trained to meet a specific child’s need.
A change for Zachary.
“I’m no autism expert, but I’m a teacher who works with kids with disabilities every day, and Zachary was bad,” Zachary’s teacher, Erin Carroll, told ABC News. “He would crunch down in a fetal position at his desk, he wouldn’t talk, he was inconsolable.”
Upon hearing about the murderer who could possibly help their son, the family started sending Zachary 200 miles away on the weekends, to a high-security prison, where he could work with Vogt and eventually take home one of his dogs.
With Vogt’s training and help, the Tucker family now has a dog named Clyde. He has been trained to nudge and poke whenever he feels anxiety building in Zachary.
It seems to be working.
“My anxiety has been brought down by at least 70 percent and I’ve been calm enough to socialize with kids, which I haven’t been able to do in a long time,” Zachary said.
The kid who was once the troubled student failing class is now reading at grade level and thriving in science and math.
When the family traveled back to the prison to meet with Vogt, Zachary gave him a hug. “Here’s a man that isn’t allowed any physical contact,” said Susy Tucker. “And yet [Mr. Vogt has] given my son the ability to hug and to care about other people.”
“He made a mission out of helping our son,” said Arthur Tucker.
From his Colorado prison yard, Vogt explained what he sees as redemption. “This is the thing I do to give back,” he said. “When Zach and even the other kids get to work with me, they don’t see the murderer. This has given me a chance to do something better.”