By Jennifer Robert/Quabog Current
Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis is in the midst of his third year running the inmate community service program and recently spent the day visiting work sites to check in on the work being done and with inmates involved in the program.
One stop on his tour was the Brookﬁeld Elementary School (BES), where a crew has been busy painting the walls and cleaning the carpets. The program provides cost-free labor to non-proﬁt organizations that have projects they are looking to have completed. After submitting a letter of interest to utilize inmates for the work, the sheriff’s ofﬁce visits the organization to evaluate the project. If it is suitable, all the requesting organization has to provide is the materials for the project and lunch for the crew on their work days.
“It is really a win-win program,” Evangelidis said. “We used to say that it would save towns thousands of dollars, but now this program allows for projects to be completed that otherwise wouldn’t be with all the cuts to local budgets. It also helps turn inmate’s lives around.”
The program allows the opportunity for minimum security inmates who have been convicted of non-violent offenses and are within the last six months of their sentence to give something back to the community. Evangelidis said that many of the participants are inmates who have been convicted of crimes due to their behavior while involved with drugs and alcohol and this program gives them an opportunity for a fresh start.
“This is a good way to transition back into the community,” said Kim Roy, director of external affairs with the sheriff’s ofﬁce. Evangelitis also said that participants of the program were less likely to reoffend. While out working, the crew is supervised by an armed ofﬁcer. The crew working in Brookﬁeld currently is supervised by Ofﬁcer Mike Brennan, who has been a crew supervisor for two and one-half years.
“Inside [the prison] guys don’t always want to listen but out here they are more willing to communicate,” Brennan said. “We share ideas on how to do things and those conversations make it easier to offer them advice and make them more willing to listen to things I say to them.”
The inmates agree that the program has advantages. George, who has been involved in the program for about four months, said he found out about the program from other inmates and wanted to earn the right to participate.
“This gives me an opportunity to get back on my feet,” he said. “It is a good way to give back to my community. The program is awesome.” Another member of the crew, who is due to be released from prison this Friday, said that being involved in the program has given him a sense of community and is much better than “being behind the fence.”
Kathleen Hosterman, principal of BES, has been using the community service program for eight years and is extremely pleased with the work done.
“They are so careful,” she said. “They taped everything, every little corner. They were extremely professional. This would have cost me thousands of dollars otherwise.”
Hosterman said that this year she was able to get the crew for two weeks, rather than the one she normally gets, and that the extra week allowed for not only painting of the hallways and carpet cleaning but also a revamping of a room that will be used for a new special education program that will debuting this upcoming school year.
“Not all jail news is bad news,” Evangelitis said. “These people are trying to turn their lives around and we are trying to show them there is a better way for them. I like to see them here working, but I don’t want to see them again in the future.”