Prisoners Propose Energy-Efficiency Plan

Prisoners Propose Energy-Efficiency Plan

They seem to have thought of everything, such as lowering the hot-water temperature and improving weather-stripping on windows.

If implemented, the changes proposed in the energy audit report could reduce the annual budget for the New Hampshire State Prison for Women by $13,370. But what may be more surprising is who researched, calculated, and organized the plan: the inmates.

The prison played host to an eclectic medley of guests a week ago Friday, including officials from the New Hampshire Department of Correction, Public Service of New Hampshire, and the Governor's Office of Energy and Community Services. Everyone gathered in a stuffy, cinderblock room to hear the inmates proudly present their energy audit.

"In a prison, it is pretty obvious that certain things are wasteful of energy, like lights that should not be on," said inmate Leah Mason. "But we looked into every aspect of the building. We have to think about the conservation of nonrenewable energy."

The report was the conclusion of a Savings Through Energy Management class, in which 14 inmates spent 30 hours of classroom time and 40 to 50 hours of post-classroom time.

"The women in this program are very bright and articulate," said Carole Whitcher-Adams, the prison's education coordinator. "They were unbelievably receptive to the STEM program."

The class mix ran from age 19 to 50, from people working toward their high school equivalency degrees to several veteran teachers. The women are incarcerated for "the full range of crimes," according to Whitcher-Adams. Some expect to be out on parole in just months; one is supposed to be there her whole life. But all of them spoke of the applications that the class will have in their lives.

"If there is anything I'd like to say about the prison experience, it is to make education mandatory," Lori Hock said. "When I get out I'm going to go right back to New York," said Hock, 35, who worked in advertising and sales. Hock said she took part in the project "to expand my experiences and because I love the environment."

Mason, a teacher, said she learned helpful skills.

"I also teach. I teach adolescents how to use algebra and math at the Summit Achievement School. The math in this report is a great teaching tool," Mason said.

Some program members have resolved to incorporate their new knowledge of energy and environmental resource conservation into future employment.

"I have four daughters at home. I want them to enjoy the earth as I have growing up," said Susan Mooney, a former restaurant manager who now wants a career in energy conservation consulting. "I had an awareness before, but not as great as it has become for me now about protecting the earth and its resources.

"My ultimate goal is to put this knowledge to use to help other businesses with energy audits."

The course was "time and mathematics intensive," said Whitcher-Adams. The women quickly learned about renewable and nonrenewable resources and energy, and applied the knowledge as they studied the entire floor plan of the prison. They assessed items ranging from light efficiency to the materials that make up the building.

"It was a real surprise to see their dedication," instructor Tom Poland said of his students. "The class condensed into five days what is normally tackled in four to five months," he said during the presentation.

Public Service of New Hampshire has sponsored 35 such programs statewide, but this was the first that wasn't a middle school or high school, said Jack Shelling of PSNH.

Poland said that "this is the first correctional facility in the United States to do this."

"The inmates were asking for more advanced science classes," Whitcher-Adams said, "so I contacted the governor's energy commission and Public Service of New Hampshire. I learned about the STEM program offered by Wilson Educational Services and the women who were interested applied by writing a 10,000-word essay."

Following the presentation, the facility's maintenance coordinator, William Lavallee, confirmed the accuracy of the class's observations. Shelling also said that the inmates' electricity calculations were very accurate. Group member Bernice Leone said to the audience members, "We hope that you implement the changes made by the STEM team."

"This is full of useful information," said Phil Stanley, commissioner of the Department of Correction. "This is groundbreaking work for inmates to look at this, and do the studying that they did and to come back with solid recommendations for the administration.

"I can't say that we are going to jump right in with these changes," he said to the group, "but we ought to look seriously at implementing them."

The women beamed and the room echoed with applause as each member received a certificate of course completion and a round of handshakes from acting warden Jeanne North, Poland, commissioner Stanley, and other officials.

"It is obvious that these women were not thinking selfishly. They put work into a project that benefits our facility and the environment," said North. "We hope that this will help them with their employability after they leave prison."

This story, by Amanda McGregor, ran on page 1 of the Boston Globe's New Hampshire Weekly on 11/5/2000. © Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.