Newspaper

Jun 4, 2014

Milford: Inmate Program Helps Save Thousands, Assists Transition Into Workforce

Inmate Matthew McCourt, left, listens as Worcester County Sheriff Lewis Evangelidis visits a Community Service Program work site at Milford Town Hall Wednesday. Daily News staff Photo/Ken McGagh

Inmate Matthew McCourt, left, listens as Worcester County Sheriff Lewis Evangelidis visits a Community Service Program work site at Milford Town Hall Wednesday. Daily News staff Photo/Ken McGagh

By James Sheridan
Daily News Correspondent 

Posted May. 29, 2014 

MILFORD – A group of uniformed men sat around a table at Town Hall Wednesday morning. The room could hold a few hundred people, but only five sat around the small plastic table set up for lunch.

As they ate, the men joked about their bosses and the series of jobs they recently completed.

However, unlike other groups of co-workers, the men are inmates at the Worcester County House of Corrections and their boss is Worcester County Sheriff Lewis G. Evangelidis.

On Wednesday, the four-man crew and a corrections officer came to Milford to lay down mulch at Town Hall, the Senior Center and the Police Station and clean the buildings’ facades. They expect to be in town through Friday.

The crew was requested by Town Administrator Richard Villani, whose only charge for their services was buying lunch. According to the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office, the program, utilized nine times since 2011, has saved Milford nearly $31,000 in hourly wages.

This crew, one of four, is part of the inmate Community Service Program at Worcester County’s House of Corrections. The program, according to Evangelidis, is “a win-win,” because it saves towns and community organizations money while providing the inmates an opportunity to work and learn skills that can be used upon their release from prison.

Evangelidis, who accomplanied the crew to town, said he is “very proud of these inmates,” because they have earned the right to participate in work crews and “are turning their lives around.”

Andy Gemme, one of the inmates working in Milford this week, said communities are grateful for the work the inmates complete, as many of their jobs are for churches, community centers and town halls.

Corrections Officer Mike Brennen, of the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office, accompanied the crew and said every inmate who wishes to enter the program is first interviewed by the classification board before being accepted.

Brennen said only inmates who have committed non-violent crimes are accepted.

Jordan Peterson, another of the workers, added that only inmates with “community-friendly crimes,” are eligible for the program.

Peterson, the crew’s newest member, was only on his second day of work, but said the program is one of the best to help rehabilitate inmates.

For Matt McCourt, another crew member, the program has helped him establish a routine that will help him stay away from drugs after he is released. “For me,” he said, “drugs were part of the equation that landed me here.”

McCourt added that for some in the program, the work represents the first time they have held a job, which leads to a schedule that consists of more than waking up and figuring out where to get their next fix.

Inmates, he said, learn marketable skills and it leads them to think, “Hey! I could do this when I get out … instead of drugs.”

Jun 4, 2014

Westboro Students See Graphic Impact of Pills, Other Drug Abuse

Picture

Sheriff Lew Evangelidis gives his Face2Face drug prevention program to students at Westboro High School Thursday.

(T&G Staff/RICK CINCLAIR)

 

By Susan Spencer
TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF

Thursday, May 29, 2014

WESTBORO — It’s the before-and-after pictures that always get them: Fresh-faced young people morph on the screen into ravaged shells of their former selves, with mottled, pocked skin and sunken faces, the effect of just a few years of heavy drug use.

It can be seen in faces of the famous: actors Lindsay Lohan and Macaulay Culkin, for example; in typical county jail inmates; and in a computer simulation of local high school students’ photos.

On Thursday, Westboro High School students were among the 100,000 students in Central Massachusetts over the past three years to see the physical effects and hear a debunking of the myths of opioids, alcohol, marijuana and other drugs as part of Sheriff Lewis G. Evangelides’ Face2Face program to prevent substance abuse.

Mr. Evangelides started the program after learning that roughly 90 percent of the 1,100 inmates at the Worcester County Jail got there because of drug and alcohol addiction.

He said drugs were a major problem at the time he was elected in 2010. But the problem has gotten worse, particularly with what he called the epidemic of prescription drug abuse and its common progression to heroin.

Mr. Evangelides told the students that they were members of “Generation Rx,” reflecting the rapid growth in abuse of prescription painkillers such as OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin over the last decade. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, in 2010 nearly as many youths tried prescription painkillers for the first time as tried marijuana.

Instead of the bring-your-own-bottle drinking parties of many middle-aged parents’ youth, high school and middle school students today go to “Skittle parties,” where they bring pills they’ve procured from medicine cabinets, Mr. Evangelides said. The practice is also known as “pharming” or “trail mixing.”

“Young people don’t even think they’re real drugs and they’ll send you to places you wouldn’t dream you’d go,” Mr. Evangelides said, as he showed video footage of the 24/7 monitoring and lack of amenities such as toilet seats that jail inmates live with.

“None of you are thinking that if you pop a Perc or an Oxy or Vicodin, you’d end up addicted,” he continued. “No one is going to offer you that Oxy and tell you, after a while you’re going to need three, six, 10 (pills), and 80 milligrams of Oxy costs $80 … and a bag of heroin is cheaper than a six-pack. You go right from that pill to that needle.”

He also exploded myths about popular club drugs such as “Molly,” a supposedly pure form of Ecstasy. Citing two deaths in one week last year of New Hampshire students who overdosed on the drug, Mr. Evangelides said, “There is no such thing as a safe dose of Molly.”

Even marijuana, which many baby boomer parents consider relatively safe, causes brain, behavioral and physical damage similar to that caused by alcohol and other drugs.

Police Chief Alan Gordon said before the program: “We have a heroin problem. We have opiates. We just did a drug search here last week and had two hits of marijuana. We’ve had overdoses.

“They think marijuana is fine, but it’s definitely a gateway. The high isn’t high enough, so they move to pills. Then the money becomes a problem, they turn to heroin.”

Former Westboro High School tennis coach Nancy Quimby, who helped bring the Face2Face program to the school, said, “Even in Westboro, it’s a problem.”

Erin McCafferty, a junior, said as she walked out of the auditorium afterward: “It was really informative. The prescription pain ones — I’ve had family members overdose and die from it.”

“Seeing the pictures really makes you see how bad it is,” said junior Margaret Baldwin.

Sophomore Hailey Erb said she was struck by the video of an 18-year-old boy who became a paraplegic after he overdosed and his friends didn’t call 911 until several hours later, resulting in permanent brain damage.

Hailey described the drug scene in Westboro: “It’s mostly weed here, but I’m sure there’s lots of other drug abuse. I don’t think they think about it too much. People don’t see the negative impacts it (marijuana) has.”

Principal Brian M. Callaghan said that a community coalition was forming to bring together businesses, medical professionals, schools, town leaders and others to focus on substance abuse and promote healthy living.

Mr. Callaghan said there’s been an uptick in prescription painkiller and marijuana use, while alcohol use among students is relatively low.

But he’s hopeful that with more education, awareness and community involvement, attitudes, including the “amused tolerance” many hold toward marijuana use, will turn around.

“When the parents believe in the message, you see the drug use go down,” he said.

May 7, 2014

Westminster Senior Center Gets Help From Inmate Community Program

5/2/2014
Westminster Senior Center gets help from inmate community program

Kimberly Petalas

News Staff Writer

 

 

Sheriff Lew Evangelidis checks on the progress of work being done by county  inmates at the new Westminster Senior Center on Thursday. Above, Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis, Officer Jason Firmin, Co-chairman of the Senior Center Building Committee Peter Normandin, Council on Aging Director Sue Fisher, Senior Center Building Committee member Neysa Miller.

 

WESTMINSTER — Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis stopped into the new Westminster Senior Center to check in on the Inmate Community Service Program on Thursday.

“I was the state rep. here for eight years,” said  Sheriff Evangelidis. “I know that it’s been a dream for the community to get this Senior Center.”

Six inmates have been working to paint the walls of the senior center since Monday and will continue their efforts into next week.

“We’re saving about $18,000 by not having to contract a paint crew,” said Senior Center Building Committee Co-Chairman Peter Normandin.

“Aubuchon generously donated all of the paint we are using for the project. They also sent a color expert to help us color coordinate all of the rooms.”

The Inmate Community Service Program has tripled in size since Sheriff Evangelidis took office. He said the program has been very beneficial to both the places receiving the help, and  the working participants.

“These are the best inmates we have. They are nonviolent offenders,” said the sheriff. “The community benefits by saving money on projects, and the inmates benefit because it gives them an opportunity to acquire skills and turn their lives around. The inmates in this program have proven to be the least likely to become repeat offenders.”

The only cost to the community is supplies and lunch for the workers.

The Westminster Senior Center project, which is well underway, is expected to be completed before Christmas. Committee member Neysa Miller said she has been waiting for this since 2005.

“We’ve been working on this for a long time,” said Ms. Miller. “It originally started as plans for just the senior housing, which will still happen after this is complete. We were told we needed to invest more in our seniors before we could receive funding for the housing, so that’s how the senior center started.”

She said that students from Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School will be doing all of the wood and cabinet work, in addition to the inmates doing all of the painting.

The town purchased the land for $360,000 and donated it to the Senior Center in 2005 as part of an Annual Town Meeting article.

In 2011, voters approved $250,000 for the design of the building, and in January 2013, the $2.5 million budget for the project was backed by voters as a Proposition 2 1/2 debt exclusion.

The project’s budget includes a $189,000 contract with architectural firm Reinhardt Associates — which includes a $64,000 extension given by the Board of Selectmen in April 2013 — and a $50,000 contract for Suresh Bhatia of Atlantic Construction and Management to oversee the construction.

The  7,400-square-foot building sits on about 12 acres of land and will include an art room, game room, lounge, kitchen, outdoor patio and grill space, and a multipurpose room.

“So many people have volunteered their time or money to this project,” said Mr. Normandin. “Everyone is so appreciative of our seniors and all seem to want to help. That’s just the spirit of Westminster.”

May 7, 2014

Hammers Swing at Westminster Senior Center

Inmate workers helping with construction

By Michael Hartwell, mhartwell@sentinelandenterprise.com

05/01/2014 06:53:17 AM

 

Tommie-Lee Goddard sands a doorway in the new Westminster Senior Center Wednesday morning as part of the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office Community

 

 

 

Tommie-Lee Goddard sands a doorway in the new Westminster Senior Center

Wednesday morning as part of the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office Community Service Program.

 

SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / ASHLEY GREEN

 

 

 

 

 

WESTMINSTER — Contractors and inmate workers were working hard on the inside of the Westminster Senior Center, which town officials expect to be open by Christmas.

The inmate workers, who are sanding and painting the interior this week, were brought in courtesy of a Worcester County Sheriff’s Office program for low-risk inmates nearing release.

Inmates are unpaid, but receive credit towards an earlier release. Corrections Officer Jason Firmin, who was one of two officers supervising the work Wednesday, said it also allows them to give back to the community.

“It’s a good way to pass the time,” said Felix Mendoza, an inmate worker originally from Clinton and no stranger to construction work.

 

Town officials say the new Westminster Senior Center is on track to open by Christmas.

SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / ASHLEY GREEN

Town officials say the new Westminster Senior Center is on track to open by Christmas.SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / ASHLEY GREENSentinel and Enterprise staff

He has experience with masonry and electrical work, but the inmate crew is only there to paint.

Tommie Goddard of Leicester said the work gives them something to do and breaks up their routine. The inmate workers received coffee and doughnuts in the morning and sandwiches for lunch.

Inmate worker Brandon Griffin of Fitchburg has never done painting work before. Previously this week, he put down primer and paint and on Wednesday he was using sandpaper on doorways to smoothe out the brushstrokes. He said when he gets out he plans to work and continue his education. He currently has an associate’s degree in business and plans to get a bachelor’s degree in business.

Construction contractors from L.D. Russo Inc., of Harvard, are working on more advanced tasks like installing components of the temperature-control system. In addition, unpaid volunteers from town are also helping work on the project, including Keith Harding, a former advisory board member, and Don Barry of the Planning Board.

Aubuchon Hardware, which has its headquarters in Westminster, donated paint for the project. A Westminster resident donated the use of a scissor lift to reach the high points of the ceiling in the large activity room at the center of the senior center.

“With the tight budget we have, everyone’s help is appreciated,” said Peter Normandin of the Senior Center Building Committee.

Wearing old clothes for painting work, Normandin said next week students from Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School will come in to put in ceramic tiles in the kitchen and bathrooms and install stone details on the bottom of the outside walls and columns.

The contractor should be finished with the construction work before July, according to Normandin. He said they hope to have the 7,400 square foot building finished and open before Christmas of this year.

Neysa Miller of Westminster’s Council on Aging has been one of the volunteers working on the building project since 2005. At age 87, she said it’s a success that the single-floor building will offer program space for people her age, as well as the younger seniors. She praised the volunteer work that has been crucial to keeping the budget low for the project.

“It brings the whole town together,” said Miller.

Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis represented Westminster for eight years as a state representative, “And I know how hard they worked to get the senior center in their budget. The amazing thing about this program is it saves millions of dollars … and at the same time it gives the inmates a skillset they can rely on when they get out.”

He said participation in the inmate-work program is a privilege reserved for nonviolent offenders without behavioral issues, and participants have one of the lowest recidivism rates among inmates.

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