The Daily Holden
By Daniel Castro
HOLDEN, Mass. — During his campaign for Worcester County Sheriff, one of Lew Evangelidis’ goals was to be visible in his commitment to the community both within and outside of the prison walls — and since taking office in January, the Holden native has been able to nearly double the department’s Community Service Program, with minimum security inmates providing cost free labor that has been able to save Holden and other towns and organizations almost $500,000 in work projects.
“The best part of this program is that we made an investment of $100,000 to double the size of this program, but with that investment we’re going to do a million dollars worth of work in Worcester County this year,” said Evangelidis. “But even better than that, it’s a win-win for everybody. The communities are so appreciative because they got the work done they couldn’t otherwise afford, and the ancillary benefit is that the inmates also appreciate the program.”
For example, Evangelidis recalled one inmate he spoke with at a ball field clean-up who told him, “Sheriff, thank you for letting me do this, because I’ve done a lot of bad things in this community, and it feels so nice to do something good for a change, you know?”
“So we’re actually helping rehabilitate people,” Evangelidis added. “There’s dignity in a days work, and self-respect, and that’s truly the essence of this program.”
According to Evangelidis, the department already has four work crews out every single day, and they’re working on getting the fifth online as well.
The teams are made up of minimum security inmates who have been convicted only of a non-violent offense, are within the final 6 months of their sentence, and have a spotless record while incarcerated. Additionally, the inmates are monitored at all times by an armed officer.
Out in the community, the inmates have taken on projects involving carpentry, demolition, painting, landscaping, snow removal, floor tiling, and much more.
In some cases the inmates are matched by their experience to projects, so if they have done painting or landscaping in the past, they can bring those skills to the job sites. In other instances, however, the inmates are able to learn a skill on the site — further preparing them for life after prison.
”Reagan said the greatest social program is a job,” said Evangelidis, further explaining that there are four things they focus on making sure inmates have when they are released to ensure their success: health care, housing, detoxification, and a vocational skill or job.
”With this type of training, at least you can say I worked on the inmate work crew program, and for months I worked and did painting and spackling… these types of skills will benefit you,” said Evangelidis.
In fact, the sheriff said there was no job that the department had that is more important than reducing recidivism.
“My job is the care and custody and control of inmates,” he added. “We have 1,400 today, and half of them are pre-trial, and many will go to state prison. Some of them are bad people, rapists, murderers, sex offenders — but the other half are inmates that have been convicted, sentenced to relatively minor offenses, and they’re going to be coming back to our communities. So my responsibility is to have those folks less likely to repeat offend then when they got there.” The community service program fits right into these goals, as it helps the inmates develop self-esteem and an appreciation of a days work. Part of this comes from seeing the appreciation and positive reaction they get from members of the community to the work they accomplish. ”They tell us that all the time, at every job site,” said one inmate. “It makes us fee good. It’s not like they’re judging you just because you’re in jail. They still appreciate the help.” The crew member added that he had been learning a lot, and has been picking stuff up quickly.
“There’s no question this program helps inmates when they get out,” said the Sheriff. “Not all, we can’t get everybody detoxified, we can’t get everybody a job, but we’ve got to work, because everyone we give those skills to and those benefits to are less likely to repeat offend. So that’s why I want to make it better.”
Moreover, the program is one of the few that is not only of no cost to the taxpayer, but also has a negative cost by the positive benefits it brings to the communities. ”That’s why I say it’s win-win,” said Evangelidis. The program has completed projects in Holden that have included the First Baptist Church on Main St. and Central Mass Emergency Systems Corp (EMS). This past week, one inmate crew completed work for the Auburn Visiting Nurse Association, helping paint, landscape, move equipment, install air-conditioners and do other projects to help out the non-profit organization through its renovation. ”As a (former) Rep., I know that every community is hurting right now,” said Evangelidis, pointing out that while Federal, state or towns might not be able to come to the aid of these non-profit organizations, “here we come along, and we can do hopefully thousands of dollars of work for you for just a little bit of cooking.
For more than seven years, crews have been coming back to do work for the Auburn VNA, with the only cost to the host organization being lunches for the works crews and for materials. ”We would have had to hire movers and painters,” said Brett L. Campbell, director of PR and funding development at Auburn VNA. “We’ve been very happy (with the quality of the work) and we invite them back, so it’s much more of a benefit than paying the money to get a professional.” Additionally, Campbell pointed out that the inmates are not just begrudgingly painting in a corner, but often express interest in learning about the mission of the organization, and what type of work they do. ”So it’s really nice that they’re interested in what they’re doing, and they get to see the benefit.” she said. “But we’re grateful to participate, not only for the more physical and tangible benefits, but to work in conjunction with community service, which is something that we do. We do community service with education, or free care programs — so to be hand-in-hand with community service program is another benefit to just getting the job done.” The Auburn VNA Health Network, founded in 1919, is an independent, not-for-profit agency that provides home health care, preventive and public health services and health education in Auburn, Worcester and the surrounding towns. Kim Harmon, President and CEO of the Auburn Visiting Nurse Association, said that many of the jobs that the inmates take on are projects that they would not be able to accomplish on their own. ”For them to do that for us, and so efficiently — they’re wonderful to work with,” she said. “We’re thrilled. It’s just fantastic how efficient and pleasant they are. I’ve worked with volunteers who don’t have the drive that they have.” In fact, while working on the facility’s patio “even in the misty drizzly weather, there was not a complaint out of the one of them,” said Harmon. ”I went out and bought ponchos for them, and I don’t think they even wore them. I felt badly that they were out in that mist, but they were just out there doing their thing, and the patio looks wonderful.” In order to participate in the program, all non-profit organizations have to do is send a letter to the Worcester County Sheriff’s office, where Evangelidis reviews the request, and authorizes Lieutenant Steve Hynes to go forward with the project. To learn more about the Community Service Program, please call Lieutenant Steve Hynes at (508)854-1938.
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Kimberly Harmon, President and CEO of the Auburn VNA, Sheriff Lew Evangelidis, and Brett L. Campbell, director of PR and funding development at Auburn VNA Photo by Daniel Castro.