For the past 15 years, the New Hampshire Institute of Furniture Making’s Prison Outreach Program has been a vital arm of the Furniture Masters’ educational outreach, developing into a dynamic entity that has far exceeded original expectations. Indeed, the Institute recently changed its name to the American Furniture Masters Institute (AFMI) in order to better reflect the organization’s growth and interest in opportunities beyond New England. Yet the program began as a simple mentoring idea, conceived in 1999 by then NH Superior Court Judge Kathleen McGuire as a means of providing prison inmates with training and skills in a viable profession. In 2012, the program opened its doors in Maine, when NH Furniture Master Brian Reid (Maine based) began teaching fine furniture making in the Maine State Prison Industries Program in Warren.
“When I spoke to Terry Moore about his work with the prison program in New Hampshire, I was really impressed,” says Reid. “The impact the program was having on inmates struck a chord with me.” In 2011, Reid mentioned his interest in replicating the program in Maine’s correctional facilities to Tyra Hanson, an AFMI board member and owner of The Gallery at Somes Sound in Somesville, Maine. Hanson responded enthusiastically and quickly scheduled a meeting with Maine’s commissioner of prisons. By August of 2012, the newest arm of the Prison Outreach Program was up and running, led by Furniture Masters Brian Reid and Howard Hatch. As in New Hampshire, participants must have a pristine disciplinary record and possess basic woodworking skills. There are currently 16 inmates participating in the Maine program, which is designed to be self-sustaining, explains Reid; as current students develop their skills, they are expected to assist the Masters in teaching less experienced inmates. The Maine program also offers prisoners a sales outlet for their creations; both the NH Furniture Masters Association and the Gallery at Somes Sound sell the prisoners’ work, allocating one-third of the proceeds to the prison to buy materials, one-third to AFMI to buy tools and provide a small stipend to instructors, and one-third to the maker to use as desired.
Despite the success of both the New Hampshire and Maine programs, none of the individuals involved are content with resting on their laurels. Furniture Master Terry Moore and former Judge McGuire have already met with New Hampshire Prison Commissioner Bill Wrenn to discuss creating a dedicated woodworking shop in the new Women’s Prison (slated to open in 2017). University of New Hampshire professor and former Furniture Master Leah Woods has been recruited to spearhead the teaching there. And in Maine, Furniture Master Brian Reid has introduced plans for a six-month, intensive companion program in the state’s minimum security prison that will teach inmates in the last three years of their sentences the fundamentals of furniture making, cabinet making and boat building.
If you would like to make a tax deductible financial donation to this incredible educational program, please send your donation to:
AFMI (American Furniture Masters Institute)
c/o The Gallery at Somes Sound
PO Box 203
Mt. Desert, Maine 04660
(Checks should be made payable to AFMI)
To make a tax deductible donation of tools please send your donation to:
68 Cedar Street
Rockland, Maine 04841