Jul 5, 2016
Jane Serrano speaks during a dedication ceremony for the Garden of Faith & Hope at the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office in Fitchburg on Thursday morning. Serrano’s son died of an opiate overdose. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE PHOTOS / Anna Burgess
The Garden of Faith & Hope
By Anna Burgess, email@example.com
FITCHBURG — Speaking at a dedication ceremony for a garden in memory of people who died from addiction, Nick Barbera said the garden will serve as “a reminder to us all and to the community that addiction is a real battle.”
“It’s affected everybody here,” said Barbera, who is director of external programs for the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office. “It’s affected everybody I know.”
On Thursday afternoon, law-enforcement and court officials, the families of addicts in recovery, and the families of addicts who have died gathered in the small park outside Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis’ satellite office in Fitchburg.
Whereas last week there was a ring of trees surrounding sparse grass and concrete pathways, on Thursday there was a beautiful tribute to those who have died from addiction.
In a bed of fresh mulch were tomato plants and various flowers, along with homemade plaques bearing names of those who died battling addiction: Cathy, Jack, Jason, Nicole.
Called the Garden of Faith & Hope, the project was the brainchild of Community Corrections Program Director Mark Leary and recovering addicts.
“We thought, ‘this is a beautiful place,’ and we thought we’d make it for people struggling with addiction and in memory of people who died from addiction,” Leary said. “We wanted to bring the garden alive and the park alive.”
Families of people who died battling addiction wrote inspirational quotes and messages of hope, faith, and peace around the garden.
Ronnie Serrano and his wife, Jane, who started the nonprofit Preventing Addiction Resources Team after their son died of an opiate overdose, spoke of the stigma of addiction.
“My son was more than just another addict,” Jane Serrano said. “My son was a beautiful soul that will no longer be walking here on earth.”
Michelle Dunn, who founded the local chapter of support organization Learn to Cope after her daughter died of an overdose, also offered her perspective.
“I can’t imagine going through something worse than losing a child, especially in such a tragic way,” she said, but added that every day, they live to honor her daughter’s life.
The garden dedication also served as a graduation ceremony for nine people finishing the Community Corrections Center substance-abuse recovery program.
Leary said the difference between the graduates on Thursday and on the day they started the program is “the most amazing transformation you’ll ever see.”
“When somebody is fighting addiction, to see them take a step forward is a wonderful thing,” Barbera said.
Jane Serrano and Dunn said they were proud of the graduates, and glad to see hope for recovery.
“People really do recover,” Dunn said. “Each and every day you wake up and make the decision to not use is a good day.”
Evangelidis said in a statement that the dedication “represents a community effort, all of us working together to do all we can to prevent another tragedy and young life lost to opiates. My heart goes out to the families who have lost a loved one to addiction and I am proud of our graduates who are now on the road to recovery and a better life.”
Jun 28, 2016
Inmate Thomas LaFrance says writing letters in his cell helps him meditate. He is seeking to enter the STOP program.
By Brian MacQuarrie GLOBE STAFF JUNE 25, 2016
WEST BOYLSTON — Antwan Stevenson has been behind bars, time and again, for a total of more than five years since adolescence. The 24-year-old has run with a violent Dorchester gang, several friends have been killed, and his father was shot dead in January.
“I have to change,” he said, sitting on a bunk in a 9-by-11-foot cell.
Finally, this father of three thinks he has found a way: an intense six-month program at the Worcester County House of Correction in which inmates confront the reasons they abused drugs or alcohol and the bitter consequences that followed.
The program is voluntary, its 36 participants must be screened and approved, and attendance is mandatory at daily classes that range from anger management to the architecture of the criminal mind.
No other county in the state has an addiction program as long as this one, jail officials said, and the support does not stop when these inmates walk free. Follow-up services are designed to make their progress more than a temporary change.
“I wanted to understand why I do the things I do,” said Stevenson, who was convicted of burglary. Only when he woke up in custody, Stevenson said, did he learn he had broken into a police officer’s home in a crime he did not remember.
“I don’t want to die the way my friends have died, in the way my father died,” Stevenson said.
For Sheriff Lewis Evangelidis, the Substance Treatment Opportunity Program — or STOP — is designed to give inmates the mental and emotional tools to resist temptation when they leave this medium-security facility. By doing so, the thinking goes that their communities also will be safer.
“This is not about coddling anybody,” said Evangelidis, a former prosecutor and state representative. “But what we do is we meet people halfway.”
Results are encouraging.
The recidivism rate — which measures how many inmates are convicted again after release — is 26 percent for STOP graduates. For the facility as a whole, the rate is 40 percent after three years and 56 percent after five years, correction officials said.
“Enough is enough, you know?” said Edwin Ortiz, a 34-year-old from Worcester who is serving time for assaulting his girlfriend.
“I knew that I had an addiction problem, but I didn’t think I was an addict,” said Ortiz, who previously had been convicted for dealing heroin. “I have three daughters with three different mothers. In order to be there for them, I have to be in the right state of mind.”
That state of mind is being shaped in a stand-alone unit at the all-male facility, which houses more than 1,000 prisoners who have received sentences up to 2½ years long or have been detained until trial.
DAVID L. RYAN/GLOBE STAFF
Inmate Edwin Ortiz said he takes the STOP rules seriously.
Although Ortiz’s cell has only a tiny sliver of natural light and a toilet without a seat, he and his STOP colleagues have more privileges than many other inmates.
There is more freedom of movement, for example, and there is a weight room. The inmates live in single-bed cells, instead of being double-bunked. But with those benefits comes strict responsibility. Classes cannot be missed, and instructors and other inmates must be respected.
Otherwise, a prisoner can be discharged from the program.
Ortiz said he takes the rules seriously. He pointed to a legal pad, where he had written this goal for the day: “Eliminate the negative and destructive people in my life. Just to keep my circle small and positive.”
The workload is daunting and immersive. Classes and meetings stretch over 12 hours — from about8 a.m. to 8 p.m. three days a week — and about eight hours on three other days. From discussions about anxiety, to coping strategies, to the framework of addiction, the inmates are exposed to the “why” of their behavior as well as the “how” of change.
At its core, the program insists on accountability.
Peter Kosciusko, the facility’s director of substance-abuse programs, said part of his job is to judge whether applicants truly want to change, and to weed out inmates who simply want better living conditions.
“I want to see the desperation and motivation,” said Kosciusko, who designed STOP in 2006.
David McCarthy, a Leominster hair stylist who completed the program and has been released, said he knows desperation.
“I was a miserable SOB,” said McCarthy, whose journey led him to crippling addiction and crimes to feed his drug habit. “The God’s honest truth is you have to be honest with yourself, but most people won’t do that. We don’t want anything jammed down our throats except for the poison.”
STOP changed that outlook dramatically. McCarthy said he remained at the jail for two extra months solely to complete the program. Its educational benefit is pivotal, he said, but so is the empathy that inmates receive.
“This is the first encounter they’ve ever had with an adult who didn’t tell them what a piece of crap they are,” McCarthy said.
The respect seems to be returned. At a meeting with Evangelidis, the inmates sat rapt and attentive as the sheriff asked how many believed they might relapse if they did not take the program.
DAVID L. RYAN/GLOBE STAFF
Nearly all the STOP inmates in a discussion with group leaders raised their hands when they were asked if they had ever used heroin.
Every arm — white, black, brown, and most of them tattooed — was lifted.
“Being in this environment, everyone is considered family,” said one middle-age inmate who asked that his name not be used. “It’s one addict helping another addict. You realize you can tell your story, that you can shed a tear.”
Elsewhere in the jail, he said, “people will prey on that.”
Within the walls of the STOP building, the tough-guy persona has been softened with an acceptance that change is not only possible, but long overdue. It’s an attitude that means a former gang member like Stevenson, bespectacled and quiet, can lay back on his bunk and digest a self-help book by Dr. Phil.
There are no guarantees, but it’s a start.
“We can only give you the tools,” Evangelidis told the group, “and then it’s up to you.”
DAVID L. RYAN/GLOBE STAFF
David McCarthy, a STOP program graduate, cut a customer’s hair in a Worcester salon.
Jun 20, 2016
Inmates and dogs benefit from working together –
By Sloane M. Perron Correspondent
WEST BOYLSTON – On June 10, the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office celebrated the one-year anniversary of Project Good Dog, a program that allows inmates in the work release facility to train shelter dogs with behavioral issues and find the animals their“forever homes” Project Good Dog began when the Second Chance Animal Shelter in East Brookfield approached the Worcester County Jail and House of Correction with an idea that would benefit both the shelter dogs and the inmates.
Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis spoke about the positive impact that Project Good Dog has had, not only on the inmates who train the dogs, but on the facility as a whole. He said that the dogs have reduced stress for inmates and staff ,which improves the level of safety at the prison, “The dogs have almost become the pets of the entire block,” he said. During the first year of the program, 20 dogs have been in the workrelease facility and then been adopted. Eight of these dogs were even adopted by staff at the prison. Currently, inmates are working on training three new dogs as they teach them behaviors and manners that will make them adoptable. “Public safety, that is what this program is all about,” said Evangelidis. “Our job is that people leaving our facility are less likely to commit a crime then when they got here.” He recalled a time in the past when someone asked about rehabilitating inmates, to which the Sheriff answered, “I don’t care if they find God, or a dog.” Since Second Chance Animal Shelter has partnered with the work-release facility, it is clear that for some inmates, having a purpose by training dogs and having the unconditional love of a pet has greatly improved their lives. This program does not cost the taxpayers any money, although donations to Second Chance Animal Shelter are always appreciated in order to cover costs. “We were able to find a wonderful, wonderful partner for this program,” Evangelidis said.
Lindsay Doray from Second Chance Animal Shelter described the types of dogs that enter Project Good Dog. “We’ve got a lot of dogs that are crazy and have no manners or are scared to death,” she said. This is exemplified by Jenna, a dog who was rescued from a dog meat facility in South Korea. Because Jenna spent her entire life in a small cage, her paws are splayed out, and she has never been on a leash, been socialized with other dogs or been trained. Second Chance trains the inmates how to teach these shelter dogs and in turn, the inmates are able to provide the dogs with attentive, round-the-clock care and training. Doray said she was very grateful for the partnership between Second Chance Animal Shelter and the Worcester County Jail and House of Correction, “These dogs would not be here without your help and we appreciate that,” she said.
During the ceremony Evangelidis presented Doray with a citation and a donation of creates and dogs beds made on behalf of Ellie’s Pet Barn. Along with staff from the prison and animal shelter, pet owners who adopted dogs after they went through Project Good Dog were also present. Jamie Lubelczyk adopted her dog Lucy about a year ago. Lucy was one of the first dogs to go through the program. From the time she born and until she was four, Lucy lived in a crate. As a result, she had no interaction with other dogs, other then her brother, or the outside world. Lubelczyk was interested in adopting Lucy, but was worried that her home renovations at the time would postpone the adoption. Instead, she was told by a staff member at the shelter, “Don’t worry, she’s in jail.” Originally Lucy was a scared dog with little energy. “She’s a little bit of a princess now, she thinks it all about her,” she joked, adding that Lucy “got kicked out early” after six of the eight weeks because she was getting too attached to her handler, Bob. Lubelczyk supports Project Good Dog, “I think it made a whole difference for her [Lucy].” John and Annmarie Lapierre adopted their 1- year-old Australian sheep mix Walter on March 31, and he works at the prison and is one of the staff members who donated a pet from Project Good Dog. As a result, Lapierre has seen the benefits of the program first-hand as both a staff member of 15 years and a pet owner. “The day he came in, I fell in love with him,” he said. Walter loves the Lapierre’s two daughters and cat. “He wants to be a friend with everyone,” he said. Lapierre saw Walter on a regular basis as he worked which helped the transition during adoption. According to Lapierre, the transformation the Project Good Dog has on inmates is like “night and day. It gives them a sense of pride, a sense of meaning.” Twenty-six inmates have participated in Project Good Dog since the program began a year ago. Roger Holm recently began training his first shelter dog, Walker, a 10- month-old redbone coonhound. After 34 months in jail, Holm was eager to be transferred to the work-release facility and join the Good Dog Project. He has been training Walker for five weeks and says he is a, “He’s a very good dog, well tempered,” he said of Walker, who he has been training for five weeks. “Patience, I’ve definitely learned patience, and giving back,” Holm said of the Good Dog Project. Holm will miss his pal Walker when he is adopted. Every morning at 5 a.m., Walker jumps into Holm’s bed to sleep next to him. Holm talked about his bond with Walker, “To me, dogs mean family. Without a dog, my family was not complete.”
Jun 15, 2016
Posted: Jun 10, 2016 2:32 PM EDT Updated: Jun 10, 2016 3:16 PM EDT
WORCESTER, MA (WGGB/WSHM) –
Richard Velazquez holds a stack of photos each one shows the face of a happy dog.
“That’s Erica, That’s Erica right there,” Velazquez said.
Velazquez has taught a lot of dogs some new tricks.
“Paw….sit…good boy Walker, good boy,” Velazquez added.
Velazquez isn’t just a dog trainer. He is also an inmate at the Worcester County Jail and House of Correction and works with animals from the Second Chance Animal Shelter.
The shelter started the Project Good Dog program one year ago to help socialize and train some of their dogs.
“The dogs have no obedience and no manners and they don’t show very well in the kennel so they sit there for a while. So that ties up the kennel for another dog,” said Lindsay Doray with Second Chance Animal Shelter.
Doray noted that many of these dogs have never seen grass, never worn a leash, and haven’t received the attention from an owner or trainer.
“Others need to be taught the basics like sit, paw, roll over just to get them ready to be adopted,” Valazquez explained.
The program has graduated 23 dogs from the program.
Recently Jenna, a dog who was rescued from a Korean meat farm was brought to the prison. Jenna along with four other dogs were sent to Second Chance after spending their lives living in wire cages with little love and attention.
“I put her in the cage I lay next to her and soothe her and talk to her and you might consider it crazy but it works for the dog but they get to bond with me more,” Valazquez said.
The dogs sleep in kennels in the inmate’s rooms. The handlers take care of the dogs from feeding them, to bathing them.
“This opportunity opened my eyes up to a lot of things that I took for granted with my family you know,” Valazquez noted.
Velazquez is coming to the end of serving a two and a half year sentence.
“The impact on my life is it’s about being responsible now. I have 4 daughters and being caught up in bad decisions kind of made me miss a lot of them growing up,” Valazquez said.