Painting and landscaping at the SHA
Hampden County House of Corrections inmates are spiffing up Springfield Housing Authority properties in a collaboration that saves public dollars and helps train participants for skilled work upon release.
The program involves three separate crews of 20 men from the jail in Ludlow. The three crews do painting, landscaping and light maintenance in and around vacant SHA units, with two supervised and the third part of a pre-release program that lends them more freedom to work and learn.
SHA Deputy Executive Director Nicole Contois said the collaboration works on both sides, with the housing agency getting low-cost and much-needed labor, and the jail getting job training as well as community service opportunities for inmates.
“We’re able to get some of our maintenance work done at a much lower cost than we would,” Contois said. “And it’s a great training opportunity for the men in the program. It works very well all around.”
On a recent morning at Manilla Apartments in the Pine Point section of the city, three inmates and a supervisor worked together to paint and clean a vacant unit. The SHA owns several family duplexes there and on the nearby Ralph Street.
Under the direction of county Service Officer Joseph Sciartelli, the crew sanded, caulked and painted walls, getting the four-room apartment ready for a quick turnover. He said the crew, short on this day from its usual count of four men, is made of volunteers generally getting ready for release.
“We come into an empty apartment, sand, paint, clean up and get it ready to rent,” Sciartelli explained. “It’s like a full-time job for the guys. They get right to it at 7 o’clock every weekday, and we finish up at 3 in the afternoon.”
Sciartelli noted that the men who make up the crews are learning skills they can carry with them on their release, and in fact they frequently find jobs painting or in the landscaping field.
“This teaches them work for when they get out,” he said. “It’s hard to find good painters out there. These guys know how to paint.”
Indeed, Dale Pease took on the job for exactly that reason, and is hoping to get back into the house painting business on his release, which is coming up shortly.
“I do this for a living. I had my own business back in the day,” Pease said. “I teach the other guys how to get the details right, if they’re not sure. They watch me and learn.”
Pease added, “More than likely I’ll go back to this.”
Sciartelli said Pease is the best painter he’s had since inmates began painting at SHA properties.
Volunteer inmate Jose Delgado said he while he worked mostly in automotive painting, he also has had experience in house painting, and enjoys doing something productive while he pays his debt to society.
“It’s getting me ready to get back into the community. I will definitely take a shot at this when I get out,” Delgado said.
Mark Cross agreed on all counts, saying he is especially grateful because he had never painted professionally before and is learning a lot.
“I enjoy it because it kills time, gets you out, and also I know I’m learning something useful,” Cross said. “It’s another trade that hopefully will help me to get a job once I get out.”
Sciartelli said the ultimate aims of the program – training and community service – have already borne fruit among the men who have left the jail and gotten jobs with skills they learned at SHA developments.
“Our main goal in most everything we do is to get them ready to go out into the world,” Sciartelli said. “This does exactly that.”
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