By Bonnie Adams, Managing Editor
Since 2010, Lewis Evangelidis has served as Worcester County Sheriff, overseeing the Worcester County Jail and House of Correction in West Boylston. As such, he is responsible for over 1,000 inmates who are pre-trial detainees or who have been sentenced to two and a half years or less. A primary focus is the rehabilitation of those inmates, through education and resource programs, to help enhance public safety and reduce recidivism.
Evangelidis also spends a great deal of time visiting groups throughout the community, presenting important programs on substance and alcohol abuse and prevention awareness.
He is also a familiar face throughout the region, hosting and sponsoring many initiatives to give back to those in need.
Business not patronage
Since taking the oath of office in January of 2011, Evangelidis has been committed to running the Sheriff’s Department based on the mission of professionalism and public safety.
His previous public service includes serving as an Assistant State Attorney in Miami-Dade County, Fla., and as Assistant District Attorney in Suffolk County, Mass. He also served as a Mass. State Representative from 2002 – 2010, serving on the Joint Committee on the Judiciary and the Committee on Public Safety. He practiced law for over 20 years as an Associate at Wausau Insurance Company and at the law firm of Pellegrini and Seeley.
“I feel it was a natural progression to move from a prosecuting attorney to Sheriff,” he said. “I think I bring a strong business sense to the position here.”
“We ran for office on the promise that we would make this a professional organization and not make promises for money. There is no patronage here – no politics. We have eliminated those from this organization.”
That philosophy extends to his hiring practices as well.
“Here it’s not based on who you know but rather what you know,” he said.
Working for ‘the greatest force of good’
Evangelidis speaks with reverence about the 500+ employees for their work in making the facility run.
Beyond the day-to-day operation of the facility, he oversees programs that emphasize drug and alcohol rehabilitation and education, with the hope that inmates will learn skills that help them to become productive citizens and reduce recidivism.
Although Evangelidis has a strong sense of compassion for the inmates at Worcester County, he is equally firm in his belief that in order for those imprisoned there to succeed, they must take accountability for their past choices. In fact, close to ninety percent of the inmates are in Worcester County because of charges related to substance abuse issues.
“We don’t judge people here…that has already happened. We are not the judge or jury,” he stressed. “Our job is to take care of the custody part [of the inmates’ sentence].”
“We don’t let them off the hook. It’s no one’s fault but their own that they are in here,” he added. “But if they take responsibility and prove they want to make things better we will meet them halfway and give them resources to give them the opportunity to succeed when they are released.”
Re-entry begins on day 1. Inmates go through an orientation process which gives officials 10 days to assess the inmates and see what programs would best benefit them.
The Short Stop Program offers one on one counseling as well as group counseling. Other programs tackle issues such as relapse, domestic abuse, recovery, maintenance, anger management and parenting.
Inmates may take classes to receive their GED. The jail also has a program with Mt. Wachusett Community College that allows inmates to get a degree in plastics manufacturing.
One inmate, Josh, spoke of how the Short Stop Program has helped him.
“It has helped me to have a clear mind. I received five certificates from the program and studied in the Mt. Wachusett plastics program,” he said. “Staying out of trouble [in jail] has let me have more opportunities in the program.”
Prevention and education
As Sheriff, Evangelidis is constantly meeting members of the public, including presenting his popular program Face 2 Face to middle school kids.
“It helps them realize that ‘one wrong decision’ can affect the rest of your life,” he said.
“We have also been ahead of the curve on vaping,” he noted. “Juuling is an incredibly intense form of nicotine. We definitely need to educate our kids about the dangers of this.”
In 2009 as he ran for his first term as Sheriff, he had a sense that the opioid epidemic would soon become a crisis.
“It is the central issue of our time,” he said.
Giving back to the community
The Sheriff’s office also works in the community by providing inmate work crews who do projects such as painting, maintenance and light construction. One crew works on a regular basis at St. Anne’s food pantry in Shrewsbury, helping to set up distribution boxes. All inmates who participate in these crews are low risk, Evangelidis stresses, and are always accompanied by an armed officer. The program has saved communities throughout the county over $7 million in labor costs.
The Sheriff’s Office has partnered with the Vanessa T. Marcotte Foundation to host women’s self-defense workshops. Each summer an annual cookout draws nearly 1,000 seniors from throughout Worcester County to the popular event. The office also provides grants to local senior organizations, hosts toy and coat drives, and provides fresh produce from its organic farm to those in need.
Each spring, Evangelidis welcomes his office’s reserve deputies to a dinner and swearing-in ceremony. Those deputies assist his office with numerous charitable events during the year, contributing manyvolunteer hours in the community.
At this year’s event held April 14 at Pleasant Valley Golf Club in Sutton, the guests received a very special treat – the chance to meet and have their photo taken with Pedro Martinez, the iconic former Boston Red Sox pitcher.
And to his, and everyone else’s delight, Martinez was sworn in as a reserve deputy as well.
After three guests drove up bidding in an auction to just over $6,000 on an official Martinez baseball shirt, the pitcher agreed to donate two more, so each bidder would receive one. The Sheriff’s Office in turn made a donation of $5,000 to the Pedro Martinez Foundation (pedromartinezfoundation.com), which helps children in need in the Dominican Republic.
Massport Board of Directors
In 2015 Evangelidis was appointed to the Board of Directors for the Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport) by Gov. Charlie Baker and two years later, was asked to take on the role of chairman. As such, Evangelidis and the board work with the agency on issues related to the three airports the agency oversees – Logan International Airport, Hanscom Field, and Worcester Regional Airport— as well as the Paul W. Conley Container Terminal in the Port of Boston (container lines) and Cruiseport (vacation cruise ships). It also oversees the development of the Seaport area, which is fast becoming a thriving area of the city.
Massport is not a federal agency but rather an independent public authority. Board members are not paid.
“It was quite an honor to be asked by the governor to serve,” Evangelidis said. “I think the perception is that sometimes Massport just serves Boston but in reality it serves the whole commonwealth. I think my being appointed was a nod to Worcester County and the Metrowest area of the state.”
Evangelidis acknowledges that as sheriff, and as Massport chair, life is busy. He credits much of his success to the people around him, but also to the missions that he is always striving for and indeed thrives on, especially at the Worcester County House of Correction.
“I have loved every moment of being Sheriff,” he said. “We have an important job to do here and I take that very seriously. I have been honored and blessed to be here.”
For more information on the Worcester County Jail and House of Correction, visit worcestercountysheriff.com.