By Anna Burgess
Sentinel & Enterprise
LEOMINSTER — In the wake of this week’s snow storm, Leominster officials and residents got help with their shoveling from an unexpected source — the nearby prison.
On Wednesday morning, nearly a dozen inmates showed up in downtown Leominster ready to help the town with snow removal as part of Worcester County Sheriff Lewis Evangelidis’ inmate work program.
The work program, which existed before Evangelidis but tripled in size when he took office in 2011, allows select inmates at the Worcester County Jail and House of Corrections to do manual labor for local communities and nonprofits. The inmates in the program are all nonviolent offenders who have been pre-screened and are supervised while working.
“Only our best inmates are part of the program,” Evangelidis said.
Kim Roy, the sheriff’s director of external affairs, explained that crews with three to five men go to a specific job every day, but this snowstorm was an exception.
“We have four inmate work crews out five days a week, and that’s ongoing throughout the year,” Roy said. “But when Mother Nature hits, the sheriff always makes the top priority to avail the work crews to help the municipalities dig out.”
Roy said two of the four work crews were sent to Worcester today. The other two crews went to Leominster.
“We get in this morning and we’re shoveling away, and all of a sudden the sheriff’s van shows up,” said Leominster Mayor Dean Mazzarella.
“We had over 30 inches of snow, and what a relief to see them.”
Over the course of the day, the inmates helped to clear several areas downtown, including bus stops, sidewalks, the courthouse steps and parking meters.
“The trucks can’t get everything, so these guys were able to go behind them and sort of clean up after,” said Mazzarella.
He said he was very grateful for their help.
“We thank the sheriff for automatically knowing that we could use the help,” Mazzarella said. “They worked hard. I don’t think they stopped for a minute. They were certainly providing a good public service.”
Evangelidis said he believes strongly that the work program is in the best interest of all parties.
“It all contributes to the idea of public safety,” he said. “Communities get to save money, and the inmates gain a sense of self-worth.”