Inmate Crew Builds New Paths at St. Francis Church

The Daily Holden
By Daniel Castro

HOLDEN, Mass. — Last Friday in Holden, an inmate crew from the Worcester County Sheriff’s Community Service Program finished up work at St. Francis Episcopal Church on Highland St., where they had spent their week not only helping to beautify the grounds by rebuilding the old brick walkways, but also continued building a path toward success for when they soon leave prison life behind.

“This is the biggest win-win I’ve ever seen in my political life, because what we have is the two-fold benefit of free labor being done for the community who can’t afford to have this work done anymore,” said Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis. “But the positive side for the inmates is that they actually get rehabilitated in this program.”

The Sheriff said one of the best aspects of the program was that it “gives these inmates a sense of accomplishment, and dignity in a day’s work. And when they get out, I can tell you for a fact that the people in this program have a lower recidivist rate than the average inmate who hasn’t had the opportunity to do this kind of work — and that’s just extraordinary.”

The program, which the sheriff worked to double since taking office in January, gives minimum security inmates the opportunity to get outside prison walls to work on community service projects, providing cost free labor that has been able to save Holden and other towns and organizations more than $1 million in work projects.

“We have on average 25 inmates a day working all over Worcester County,” said Evangelidis. “If I gave your a rough ballpark, I’d say we’ve probably done a couple hundred jobs in the seven months I’ve been in office.”

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.

“They essentially earn their way into this program,” said Evangelidis adding that participation is not a punishment, but a reward.

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.

Evangelidis recounted one instance that stuck out for him at an early project at a ball park in Worcester.

“One of the inmates told me, Sheriff, I’ve done a lot of bad things in my life. It feels good to get up and do something positive.”

The sheriff said he remembered seeing how the directors of the Joe Schwartz Little League were so were so happy at the work being done, especially as opening day was just around the corner.

“There was so much work being done, and everybody felt they were pulling together to make something positive happen,” he said. “That was early, probably one of my first months in office, but it struck me with why this program is so important.”

In Holden, crews have done work at the First Baptist Church on Main St. and Central Mass Emergency Systems Corp (EMS), in addition to hundreds of other projects around Worcester County.

“I’ve made a conscious effort to try and spread out the work crews as much as possible,” said Evangelidis. “For me, it’s just a great program to help people in the county.”

Yet the sheriff also said it was nice to see the work being done in his own community as well.

At St. Francis Church, people from the congregation came in every day to make lunch for the inmates.

“It was nice for the congregation,” said Richard Simpson, rector at St. Francis Church. “They got to visit with these guys, and everybody was so impressed and really appreciative of, not just the work, but their attitude about it too.”

Simpson added that all week he’s felt “kind of blown away” by the experience.

“There’s not many win-wins in life, where they’re glad to be here, we’re glad to get the work done.”

It’s something that Evangelidis said was a familiar response from around the county.

“It doesn’t matter whether we go to ball fields, town halls, churches,” he said, “Any project I go to I hear the same thing — ‘Sheriff, thank you for bringing the inmates to us, they were respectful, they did great work, and we couldn’t have afforded to get this done otherwise.’”

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.