Media Archive

Atkinson's Speed shares lifelong wood-working knowledge

Article from The Piscataquis Observer, Vol. 165, No. 1, January 01, 2003

By Ben Bragdon
Staff Writer

CHARLESTON While our time on earth is limited by environment and biological inevitability, our words and beliefs, the way we live our lives and how we pass our lessons on to the younger generation, can survive in perpetuity, nurturing and forming one soul before being handed to the next.

That is the lesson being learned by inmates and officials alike at the Charleston Correctional Center due to the kindness of an Atkinson man intent on giving his years of knowledge and resources to those who can use it most.

Phil Speed, an Atkinson native for all of his 88 years, has over time handed 20 years worth of woodworking expertise, research, and plans to the public restitution program at the minimum-security facility, which routinely provides free labor for non-profit groups around :he region. The stacks of meticulously-preserved woodworking magazines and plans, all marked up in detail by Speed's expert eye, now rest in the office of Tom Sands, the director of the restitution program, alongside other patterns designed by Speed himself.

"It's a huge, huge resource for me," said Sands of both the documents and Speed himself.

Speed came aware of the program, and the program Speed, when inmates heIped put a roof on the Atkinson church Speed has attended since he was a chiId. When another part of the church needed work, the inmates were again called in, and Speed was again the contact for the project.

Last year. Speed showed up at the facility with magazines and books he had collected over the years. A long time woodworker, Speed had further detailed the plans in the periodicals while also creating patterns of his own, all well-kept and well-researched.

He worked with some of the inmates, passing along what he knew, although some at the facility, experienced woodworkers in their own right, were slow to see the old man as a knowleagable resource. Sands says one young man, sure that he, not Speed, knew the right way to complete a project, found that the old guy's tricks were just a bit sharper than his own, opening up the inmate to the value of the older generation.

"There is a lot to say about something like that," said Sands.

Sands said he thinks Speed, who has terminal cancer, though one would never know it from his upbeat demeanor and crisp memory, wants to make sure the knowledge he has gained has a home after he is gone.

"Phil is trying, I believe, to pass on some of what he knows to the younger generation," he said.

Steve Berry, the facility's director, agrees. "I think he saw the uniqueness of the facility," Berry said. "And he wants to leave some sort of legacy."

The restitution program, says Sands, is a way for the inmates to give back to the community while gaining confidence by being productive and utilizing their skills while under lock and key. It is a good fit,since many of the inmates already have ample experience in using their hands.

"A lot of prisoners come in here with talents you wouldn't believe," says Sands.

Besides the work on Speed's church, the group built the bandstand at the YMCA in Dover-Foxcroft and constructed the inside of a police crime van, among countless other projects. The program, which also provides help in fighting forest fires, has been around for 22 years now. Products made at the woodworking facility are sold in shops at correctional centers and over the Internet. Money earned is put back into the program. Working with members of the community like Speed helps reintegrate the inmates back into society, and makes them feel more like an asset to the community rather than a liability.

Speed, a quiet, humble man who " politely answered questions at a meeting recently while deflecting any praise, is still drawing up plans and handing out expertise. At a recent meeting. Speed downplayed anything he has done, while telling Sands he needed to stop using pine on a certain item and switch to poplar.

Whether it is a woodworking pattem or a simple life lesson, the people at the Charleston center are sure to gain from having Speed around. "He always has a positive side," said Sands, smiling each time he talks about Speed. "It's one of the most important things I've learned from Phil."

NOTE - This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of the TRC Alliance Team.