By Melissa McKeon
Princeton Municipal Light Department Manager Brian Allen estimates it might have cost him up to $16,000 for the work being done on the department’s building, but for some unlikely knights on white horses.
Half a dozen inmates from the Worcester County House of Correction’s Inmate Community Service Program have been showing up daily for the past two weeks and helping to maintain the PMLD building’s outside and inside with some basic repairs and renovations, such as patching the roof, scraping and painting.
It’s work that Mr. Allen says would not have been done at this point but for the WCHC program that brings inmate labor to municipalities and nonprofits to do just this type of work.
For PMLD, it’s not a small project.
“This is huge for us,” Mr. Allen said. “PMLD has some huge financial issues.”
That means basic maintenance might not have been done until it was serious, and more costly.
Mr. Allen lauded the program and the inmates who have been doing the work; the inmates, he said, have been respectful of the staff, who continue to work while painting goes on inside and out, and they have done, he said, a really professional job.
All PMLD had to supply was the paint and lunch for the inmates and the guard who accompanies them — not a bad investment.
Any municipality can ask to have such work done; Holden Fire Chief John Chandler said crews come to the town’s new public safety building every spring and fall to do landscaping. In Paxton, crews painted the town’s aging White Building several years ago.
While town officials are happy to have the work done for free, these inmates’ boss, Worcester County Sheriff Lewis G. Evangelidis, is just as enthusiastic about providing that work.
“It’s a win-win for everyone,” the sheriff said.
The program, which he estimates has provided about $2 million worth of work for Worcester County municipalities, is not new. But Sheriff Evangelidis said that since taking office, they’ve nearly tripled the size of the program to more than 25 inmates out working on similar municipal or nonprofit projects.
Beyond the obvious benefit to municipalities or struggling nonprofits, there are clear benefits to the inmates: Work experience that could serve them when they are released; a chance to get out of the cell for the day; and, equally important, some self-esteem, a sense of accomplishment from a job well-done.
That’s accompanied by a sense that in spite of what they’ve done, someone believes in them.
“It’s a privilege to be chosen for this program,” Sheriff Evangelidis said.
The inmates chosen are those judged by jail personnel as those who would be most trustworthy and who are nearing the end of their sentences; they must be nonviolent, non-sex-offenders, he said.
Of the about 1,200 inmates at the jail right now, more than 75 are eligible for some kind of work program.
From a law enforcement point of view, it’s also insurance for a less crime-ridden future.
“It makes them less likely to repeat offend when they get out,” Sherriff Evangelidis said. “And there’s dignity and self-respect in work.”
The prisoners themselves feel good about the work, if only to get out of the prison for a while.
Joe Laperle, who expects to be released in November, said he was happy to stay busy.
“I don’t really like to sit around,” he said.
Mr. Laperle is learning some painting skills in the process, something that can only serve him well in the future.
He might be learning some of those from fellow inmate Bob Leonard, for whom painting was part of his job before he ended up in the jail.
For Mr. Leonard, this program gives him a chance to do something else valuable.
“I’m giving back to the community,” he said.
That’s music to the ears of Sheriff Evangelidis.
“In the end, all these people are going to walk out of this prison to Worcester County,” the sheriff
said. “Don’t we all want them to be less likely to commit crimes?”