Heroin took Lionel Acety's freedom. Plastics helped to give him hope.
Acety, an employee at blow molder Meredith-Springfield Associates Inc. for the past seven years, knows he's been granted another chance, and he is grateful.
"Life is good," Acety said. "There are people out there who want to help."
Acety talks openly about his past heroin addiction and the impact drug abuse had on his life. He ended up spending the better part of two decades behind bars, about 14 years total during three different stints, before finally overcoming his addiction and finding work at Meredith-Springfield.
Mel O'Leary is one of those people who wants to help people like Acety succeed. As owner of Meredith-Springfield in Ludlow, Mass., he estimated Acety is one of more than 100 convicts his company has employed over the years through the All-Inclusive Support Services job training program run by the Hampden County Sheriff's Department.
There have been many like Acety, and O'Leary said his company has been better off for taking a leap of faith more than 20 years ago to become part of the program.
The All-Inclusive Support Services program, which recently honored O'Leary for his longtime support and participation, provides workers to local businesses that are looking for another chance to prove themselves and rebuild their lives.
But while O'Leary has been a long-time supporter of the program, he was not always a believer.
"I was somewhat against it, believing that people who do bad things should be locked up and we throw away the key. I was resistant to the program at first, but as they described it more and more to me ... they got my attention," O'Leary said.
After some convincing by the sheriff's department, O'Leary agreed to open his doors.
"We got started on the program with a person, and we have never stopped supporting this program. Over the past couple of decades, we have had well over 100 folks come through our company," O'Leary said. That includes incarcerated individuals nearing the end of their sentences as well as those in transition and living in halfway homes and under home confinement.
Law enforcement employees bring the workers to the plant each day and pick them up at the end of their shifts.
"I think the big thing here is the partnership. Mel and his business is one of many that have decided to partner with us to provide good career opportunities for people that are leaving justice-involved care and custody," said Robert Rizzuto, a spokesman for the sheriff's department.
"We work hand in hand with companies just like his to ensure all the on-the-job training is just what they need," Rizzuto said.
Screening, O'Leary said, is a key to the program's success. Meredith-Springfield has had fewer problems with program employees than with people hired from the general public.
"It's been good in a lot of ways and done a lot of good, and I'd like to think we've helped some folks turn their lives around and get a second chance. I've practiced and preached this to other employers in this area and brought one or two others onboard with this program," O'Leary said.
Meredith-Springfield pays regular wages to the program workers, allowing them to earn money to help integrate themselves back into the community when it comes time for release. Some remain with the plastics company while others leave, depending on their individual situations and past employment skills.