Coffee and Corrections: Café opens at Springfield prison

Published: Dec. 15, 2022 at 8:43 AM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

SPRINGFIELD, Vt. (WCAX) - A new coffee shop opened in Springfield this week. But, it is located in a unique place.

“It’s really not about giving a cup of coffee as it is about learning to manage a small business,” said inmate Michael Lewis, who has spent the last 15 years behind bars for vehicular manslaughter. He has six more years to go on his sentence but he’s making good use of his time. Lewis and other inmates at the Southern State Correctional facility have started the Good Spirits Cafe. “There is people like myself who have grown up in institutions and we don’t really have, or haven’t really had some of the skills to be successful out there.”

Freshly brewed coffee used to not be available to the general prison population, but good behavior now gets inmates a card redeemable for a cup, and perhaps a Danish. It’s an incentive-based model. “I start thinking about how can we start focusing on the positive and not so much the crisis management model that corrections tends to follow,” said SSCF Superintendent Michael Lyon

The former chapel went unused during COVID. The prison’s honor unit -- which offers select inmates increased independence -- did all the renovations and came up with the business plan. “The atmosphere feels like and smells like a coffee shop in the community,” Lyon said.

“As cliche as it may sound, leave their troubles behind,” said inmate Perry Thompson, who is serving time in connection with the sexual assault of a minor. He’s a board member of the business. “We are selling coffee but that is really not our main product. Our product is hope.”

It’s also giving those directly involved a new skill set. “The cafe has changed everything for us,” said Carl Butterfield, who is back behind bars on a probation violation. He says the small business skills he learns on the inside will benefit him when he gets out. “We take responsibility for the success of this and it has become a source of pride.”

One way the facility will be measuring success is through data. The superintendent says if discipline cases go down, it’s likely the coffee shop is having an impact.