By Rebeca Oliveira and Benjamin Colb
Four days a week in the Emerald Necklace—the 1,100-acre chain of parks connecting Jamaica Plain to Brookline and the Back Bay—two crews of eight convicts from the Boston Pre-Release Center on Morton Street do landscaping and horticultural work.
The Emerald Necklace Maintenance Collaborative (ENMC) program provides work experience to a select group of well-behaved convicts toward the end of their sentences.
“We decided to join [the program] to help the community and get a skill,” George Graham, one of the men in the program, told the Gazette in an interview at the Morton Street facility.
“The gentlemen who are doing time in this facility are pretty close to rejoining the community,” Tanja Gray, superintendent of the Boston Pre-Release Center, said in that same interview. “They get to this spot because they’ve worked to get to this spot.”
ENMC’s senior project manager, Ray Oladapo-Johnson, said, “for each of the convicts… a panel will decide, ‘John Doe is well-behaved, wants to learn,’ etc.,” before being trained in the landscaping profession.
These convicts hopefully will pursue landscaping once released, Johnson said.
“They are trained professionally,” he said, “with a master gardening curriculum and hands-on maintenance.”
Graham, who did work with hazardous materials before incarceration, wants to use his new skills for future employment. Many jobs require environmental cleanup that would no longer need to be hired out, he explained.
Some convicts, like Jason Conroy, just want to keep private gardens.
“I told my mom we were going to plant an organic garden. That’ll make her happy,” Conroy said during the Gazette’s visit.
The convicts’ working hours are standard. They arrive at a park early in the morning and leave in the afternoon, four to five days a week. On Wednesdays, they study horticulture in a classroom setting.
When either of the two crews is at work, an officer is present at the site, and he conducts inspections of all prisoners before and after work.
“He always makes sure nothing gets in and nothing comes out,” Johnson said. Throughout the duration of this program, no incident involving an unruly convict has taken place.
“I enjoy it because of the guys that work…These are two of the hardest working guys I’ve seen,” Department of Corrections (DOC) Sgt. Richard Henderson said of Graham and Conroy.
“This is a very successful collaboration,” Gray said. “It gets the men out in nature and people who use the parks are very grateful.”
“In the wintertime, entrances are blocked off and we clear them. People appreciate that. That’s a good feeling,” Graham said.
“A lot of people tell us that the parks look great, especially Jamaica Pond,” Conroy said.
Early in the tenure of the program, ENMC received financial support largely from the Robbins deBeaumont Foundation, a non-profit organization founded in 1992 for philanthropic purposes.
Last year, the financial services company State Street Corporation offered financial support to the ENMC.
Initially, one crew took part in the program, but a few years ago the Massachusetts DOC requested that the program coordinators assemble another crew of convicts, offering their support in the form of vocational training expenses.
For more information about the ENMC, see emeraldnecklace.org/maintenance-collaborative or visit their blog at bit.ly/ENMCblog.