Sheriff’s visit highlights community focus

The Gardner News
By Damien Fisher

TEMPLETON — Lew Evangelidis had a typical morning Thursday, starting off by leading a presentation for Narragansett middle and high school students before heading out to a cemetery to check in on a work crew.

The Worcester County sheriff is doing exactly what he said he would do when he ran for the office in 2010 — reaching out to the youth of the county, helping communities save money through the Sheriff’s Inmate Community Service Program, giving inmates an opportunity at rehabilitation and reforming some of the practices of his department.

The Face2Face program is a drug and alcohol prevention and education presentation Mr. Evangelidis developed himself. He has been to more than 50 schools in Worcester County to give the multimedia talk to teens and preteens.

“I can only do it for two mornings a week in the school year,” he said.

The sheriff has given his presentation to almost 20,000 students, and is booked through November at more high and middle schools. The talk he gives stresses the impact drug and alcohol abuse can have on young lives, a message he says is absolutely essential to convey to children.

“I’m in prison every single day, I talk to inmates every single day, and 90 percent of them are drug and alcohol addicted,” he said.

Face2Face gets the sheriff out to schools, but his Inmate Community Service Program takes him to ball fields, town halls, nonprofits, senior centers, veterans homes and, on Thursday, to the Pine Grove Cemetery.

Templeton Cemetery Superintendent Alan Mayo has been using the inmate crews for decades, and said they are a big help to his department.

“We save a lot of money, and they always do a good job,” he said.

The crew is saving Templeton a few thousand dollars on landscaping and painting work at the cemetery. Mr. Evangelidis said the program has saved Worcester County municipalities and nonprofits more than $2 million since he took office.

“I cut other areas to increase this program,” he said.

The department now has 25 inmates taking part in the program, which allows them the chance to give back to the community and develop work skills they can use when they get out of prison.

“It gives them a sense of pride,” the sheriff said.

The inmates in the program have to earn their way in through good behavior, and no one with a violent record, or a sex offense record, can take part.

The officers running the program have to earn their way in as well, Mr. Evangelidis said. He threw open the officer positions to an open application process when he took over, instead of awarding it to particular officers.

Correctional Officer Jason Firmin passed through an application and interview process to get the job running the crew in Templeton. A 10-year veteran, he said he wanted the chance to serve outside of the jail’s walls and to be part of the community.

“It’s nice to meet new people and help the community,” he said.