2021 represents the twenty-first year of the NH Furniture Masters Prison Outreach Program (POP), a program to teach men in the NH State Prison in Concord woodworking and furniture-making skills. Initiated by retired NH Superior Court Justice, Kathleen McGuire, the program offers weekly classes taught by Furniture Masters Tom McLaughlin and Terry Moore. For twenty-one years, participants in POP have learned all aspects of furniture making from hand tool and machine use, to joinery and construction, inlay and veneer work, and finally sanding and finishing. Some of the astounding pieces of furniture, made by incarcerated men, have been exhibited and auctioned at events hosted by the NH Furniture Masters. Two pieces, a shaker hall table and a desk and chair, are owned by members of the Sununu family.
POP has been incredibly successful because it allows participants to see what they are capable of creating with hard work and honest effort. POP is one solution that addresses education and job skills training that is already making a difference. Some examples of success stories include Tim Eldridge who, upon release from incarceration, was able to immediately get a job in a cabinet shop in Manchester, NH. Donald Briere, having learned woodturning while in POP, upon release, joined the League of NH Craftsman and received “Best in Show” for his segmented turned bowls. In fact, POP has been so successful there is a waiting list for men to join the program. Work from the program will be exhibited at the Furniture Masters Gallery in Concord in June 2021.
Woodworking is an activity that allows participants to learn how to use hand tools and machinery, and this requires patience, attention to detail, and focus. Learning how to build a piece of furniture, requires math and spatial understanding, as well as drawing, planning, and time management. These are educational skills, job training skills, and life skills that are essential skills, necessary for a transition to a successful post-incarceration career in construction and manufacturing men are currently developing in POP.
The NH Correctional Facility for Women was on the cusp of beginning woodworking classes in their own Prison Outreach Program when Covid-19 shut everything down in March, 2020. By way of educational and job skill training programs, the women’s facility currently offers Graphic Design/Sublimation Printing and Braille Transcription. The Education department offers dozens of courses to allow participants to work towards the HiSet exam as well as a college degree.
While these are important and beneficial offerings, they are not enough. A women’s POP would address a different, unique, and equally important niche – that of allowing women access to the world of tools, machines, and construction. And just like the men’s POP, would provide job skills and life skills.
A 2016 study by the NHDOC Family Corrections Center found that 116 female inmates reported having a total of 225 children, 17 years old and younger. The ripple effect of incarceration is huge. But New Hampshire has a choice knowing that 98% of inmates will be released at some point. We can ignore these individuals and hope their problems don’t affect us, or we can prepare them to be better, do better, and prepare their children to make different choices.
While we certainly understand the demands of Covid-19 on the budget and the State of NH, it is paramount in this time of increased unemployment, a health crisis, and a racial reckoning, that we continue all efforts to prepare male and female inmates for the best possible transition upon release. As has become painfully clear throughout our year of Covid, we are all intricately connected to one another. When we fail to prepare NH inmates for a successful transition to life outside of incarceration, we fail our own communities as well.
To learn more about and support the Prison Outreach Program and its history and success in NH, check out https://furnituremasters.org/prison-outreach/.