Inmate work program save money, changes lives

Worcester Telegram & Gazette
By Casey Rackham

The Inmate Community Service Program run by the Worcester County sheriff’s office has saved Worcester County close to $2 million in the past year, but its biggest triumph might be the change it is starting to make in inmates’ lives.

Gabriel DeLeon, 50, has been an inmate at the Worcester County Jail and House of Correction more than once. But after being a part of the Community Service Program since March, he said he believes this will be his last time in jail.

“I came in with, ‘I don’t want to live anymore,’ ” said Mr. DeLeon, who was charged with nonviolent property crimes. “Now I’m back on my feet, and I have self-value. Now I have a reason to live. I feel strength.”

During Mr. DeLeon’s first stint at the county jail, he didn’t apply for the program, but this time Mr. DeLeon made sure to take the opportunity.

“I’ve been here before, but this time I applied so I could get my life back together,” Mr. DeLeon said. “This time I was accepted and it’s working. As soon as I get out, I’ll be used to it. If we keep a positive mind, I think we’re going to make it.”

The Community Service Program, under the guidance of Sheriff Lewis G. Evangelidis, is partly designed to save Worcester County money. Since January of 2011, the program has saved the county $1,681,416, according to the sheriff’s office.

In addition to financially assisting communities, the program attempts to steer inmates in the right direction so they can find employment after they are released.

“We try to put them in a better position to get employed, because if they get employed they aren’t as likely to come back,” said Mr. Evangelidis. “Don’t we want them to be less likely to be repeat offenders and be productive citizens?”

The program runs Monday through Friday each week, and at least four crews made up of four to six inmates are sent out to projects each day. Projects include landscaping, painting and maintenance throughout the county at nonprofit organizations such as senior centers, town halls, libraries, baseball fields and museums.

“I haven’t seen a negative side to the program, and I don’t think I ever will,” said Wayne R. Boyd, a maintenance employee at Alliance for Resource Management, a nonprofit organization dedicated to assisting people with disabilities that uses the Community Service Program.

Since Mr. Evangelidis took over the program, the number of inmates involved has more than doubled from fewer than 10 inmates to approximately 25, but the number fluctuates depending on the number of eligible inmates. The program is only open to nonviolent inmates and non-sex offenders who are close to the end of their sentences and have earned a place in the program.

For some of the inmates, such as Bryan Fales, 18, who has been a part of the program since April 6, the program is the first work experience they’ve had.

“I look forward to getting up everyday to do work. I never thought I would want to get up for work,” said Mr. Fales, who was charged with nonviolent property and motor vehicle offenses. “It gets you motivated to go out and get an actual job. I’ve never had an actual job before.”

David McMahon, a co-director at Dismas House, an organization in Worcester that provides re-entry assistance to ex-prisoners, said support is necessary for rehabilitation.

“I think it’s a real challenge for anyone coming out of prison or jail to find work,” Mr. McMahon said. “There’s a lack of job opportunities due to the economy, and competing for those jobs and having a criminal record is a hindrance to finding a job. But a former prisoner looking for work with the right support can find work.”

Sheriff Evangelidis also runs a work-release program, which is designed to place inmates in paid jobs. The inmates are matched with a company, and the goal is for the inmates to be hired after they have served their time. Both programs improve inmates’ chances of finding employment after they are released.

“It helps them get acclimated to a schedule,” said Correction Officer Mike Mastrorio, one of the officers who oversees crews while they work. “They get up in the morning and go to work. They learn skills. If they are willing to learn, then they’ll have something when they leave.”

While the program has provided inmates with the opportunity to learn various skills, Mr. DeLeon said that giving back to the communities has given him more than a chance at employment; it has given him pride.

“It shows us how to bring back to the community,” said Mr. DeLeon. “It helps us turn our lives around, and instead of being caged, we can help society.”