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While other inmates listen, Marco Arroyo expresses his gratitude for the Hazelton Community Project relapse program during a ceremony this week at the Worcester County Jail and House of Correction in West Boylston. The inmates received certificates for completing an anger management or relapse prevention program. (T&G Staff/PAUL KAPTEYN)



WEST BOYLSTON — Marcos Arroyo choked up as he stood up in front of about 30 other inmates at the Worcester County Jail & House of Correction to admit he is a “chronic relapser,” and to thank his substance abuse counselor and his fellow inmates for helping him make it through the Relapse Prevention certificate program.Mr. Arroyo and 32 fellow inmates received certificates Wednesday from either the Anger Management or the Relapse Prevention classes held the past 10 weeks. A few inmates received certificates for completion of both programs.

Sheriff Lewis G. Evangelidis awarded the inmates their certificates and congratulated them, along with the instructor for both classes, substance abuse counselor Lesa Vaudreuil, and Peter Kosciusko, director of substance abuse programs at the jail and house of correction.

“Other people can only see the low in us,” Mr. Arroyo said. “Lesa could see the human in us.”

This was the jail’s third relapse prevention class, and the fifth anger management class since they were introduced last spring. Of the 103 inmates who started the relapse prevention class, 72 graduated. Of the 171 inmates who started the anger prevention classes, 134 completed the certificate classes.

“These programs are only for the inmates willing to meet me halfway,” Sheriff Evangelidis said.

About 90 percent of inmates are drug- or alcohol-addicted, according to jail officials. More than 6,000 of them come through the doors at the jail every year, according to the sheriff, with a historically high rate of recidivism. The goal of the programs, he said, was to create safer communities and reduce the rate of recidivism.

“The most important thing is I feel I have another chance,” Mr. Arroyo said. He lives in Worcester, and like other inmates who received certificates, Mr. Arroyo believes he has new skills to cope with the realities of going back to society and staying out of jail.

Another of the inmates who received a certificate for the anger management class, Jorge Mendez, said he used to “swing first, ask questions later.” He thanked Ms. Vaudreuil for sticking with him and other inmates in class and teaching them concrete strategies for handling some of their anger issues.

“I was in denial for who I was,” Mr. Mendez said. “Putting my hands on somebody is not going to do me justice or my family justice.” He added, “I’m a way better person than I pretended to be.”

Inmates must have exhibited model behavior prior to signing up for classes, be respectful, attend and participate in every class and do homework. There is a 189-page workbook that must be completed.

Mr. Kosciusko said he’s thrilled every time there’s a graduation. “This tells us you think enough of yourself to put in the effort,” he said.

There were about 1,100 inmates at the jail and house of correction on Wednesday. The original facility was built for 800 inmates, and currently has a federally-mandated capacity for 1,250. Roughly half of the inmates are pretrial and the other half have been sentenced. Inmates who receive sentences serve time on the House of Correction side. People with longer sentences serve their time at a state prison.

Sheriff Evangelidis said the incentive to sign up for the programs for some inmates may be to get “good’ time served, but the fairly new certificate programs are much more demanding than other programs offered.

“We’ve done a lot of programs,” Ms. Vaudreuil said. “But the guys wanted some kind of treatment program.”

Kirk, an inmate who said he has battled addiction for 10 years, said Ms. Vaudreuil taught him reality and humility. He said relapsing was always the worst.

Another inmate, Warren Boudreau, said Ms. Vaudreuil has a certain way of cutting through pretenses and getting inmates to face the realities of their lives.

“Because of her,” Mr. Boudreau said. “I’ve learned how to hold my anger.”

The inmates gave Ms. Vaudreuil a heartfelt standing ovation at the brief graduation ceremony.

“Lesa, you changed my life in more ways than you know” said inmate Justin Cullinane.

Ms. Vaudreuil said the inmates formed a bond in the classes, and took their work seriously. One day, she said, a small group of inmates was playing poker and they had their workbooks with them to work on. She said inmates sometimes have to endure being made fun of by other inmates for doing the homework assignments and attending the classes.

“I try to teach these guys with respect,” Ms. Vaudreuil said. “These guys are the underdogs.”

The roughly 30 percent who do not graduate, leave the class on their own or are asked to leave.

“A lot of people drop out, not because they couldn’t handle the work — they couldn’t handle the honesty,” she said. “I’m very proud of you guys; you didn’t have to do this.”

The new certificate class has caught the eye of parole officials, and some parole officials have denied parole, and said they would reconsider parole as an option if the inmate completes the certificate program.

“Each story is different,” Ms. Vaudreuil said. “You have to get behind those faces. … You have to break them down to build them up. I’m in their face and I think that’s what they respect.”