Late officer’s ‘profound impact’ continues with memorial fund to help formerly incarcerated

Inmates at the Franklin County Jail and House of Correction, like those enrolled in the treatment program, are eligible for money from the the Sgt. Jacob Garmalo Memorial Fund, which helps inmates get a driver’s license, birth certificate or other documents needed to open a bank account, apply for a job or get an apartment.

Inmates at the Franklin County Jail and House of Correction, like those enrolled in the treatment program, are eligible for money from the the Sgt. Jacob Garmalo Memorial Fund, which helps inmates get a driver’s license, birth certificate or other documents needed to open a bank account, apply for a job or get an apartment. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

JACOB GARMALO

JACOB GARMALO

By DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer

Published: 12-08-2023 5:30 PM

GREENFIELD — The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office is rejuvenating the campaign honoring a young officer’s memory by raising money to help the formerly incarcerated to overcome financial obstacles and re-enter society.

The Sgt. Jacob Garmalo Memorial Fund was created shortly after the 21-year-old Leyden resident was killed when his motorcycle collided with a vehicle in 2016, but it has been dormant since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Garmalo’s family and colleagues have decided to usher in the next year with a prize calendar raffle in January, with proceeds benefiting the memorial fund that helps departing inmates obtain a driver’s license, birth certificate or other documents needed to open a bank account, apply for a job or get an apartment.

Garmalo’s mother, Kathleen, said this idea was born out of conversations she had with her son.

“He believed in people getting second, and even third, chances,” she said.

People pay money for the chance to have their names drawn at random Monday through Friday throughout January. If their name is picked they win the featured prize that day. Prizes include gift baskets, gift cards to area businesses and tickets to Boston Celtics, Bruins and Red Sox games. Tickets are $10 each or $25 for three. Winners will be announced each day at tinyurl.com/247fu776.

Monetary donations to the memorial fund can be made at any time. Anyone interested in contributing should contact Re-entry Coordinator Ken Chartrand at 413-207-1794 or Re-entry Planner Ameilia Czarnik at 413-834-3261. Contributions can also be made to the Sgt. Jacob Garmalo Memorial Fund, c/o Greenfield Savings Bank, 400 Main St., Greenfield, MA 01302.

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Chartrand said Kathleen Garmalo approached Franklin County Sheriff Christopher Donelan in the weeks following her son’s death to pitch an idea in honor of him.

“The sheriff knew that I also want the same, to help with Jacob’s legacy, and connected me with Kathy Garmalo, and then every Wednesday Kathy and I got together and talked about what she wanted it to be,” Chartrand said. “And his care and concern for the residents of the facility, his big heart, was what molded the vision to start the [memorial fund].

“He was a rookie,” he said about Officer Garmalo. “Him and I just exchanged a lot of high-fives. I noticed that he was an officer here that spent more time speaking with the residents. I noticed that he would actually be sitting with somebody. He would sit with people, he would talk with them at length, he would really care about them.”

Garmalo was a 2012 graduate of Pioneer Valley Regional School in Northfield. He completed the correctional officer’s academy in June 2014. He had finished a night shift and had just left work on June 9, 2016, when his motorcycle collided with a car on Elm Street. He died of his injuries at Baystate Franklin Medical Center. Donelan posthumously promoted Garmalo to sergeant.

“I knew him through the academy program, primarily,” Donelan said. “He was just a really hard-working and caring young man. When he died he was working in [the minimum security facility]. When we went and told the incarcerated population over there, the men started to cry. So he had a profound impact on them.”

Chartrand explained many inmates who enter the Franklin County Jail and House of Correction have previously lost birth certificates and identification cards due to homelessness or other issues. Not having these important items, Chartrand said, often results in people winding up back in jail because they cannot restart their lives. The re-entry coordinator mentioned that memorial fund money is also used to buy clothes for those being released.

The Sgt. Jacob Garmalo Memorial Fund has helped provide approximately 600 birth certificates and 200 Massachusetts state identification cards in the past five years. The fund has also paid the first month’s sober-housing rent for roughly 10 men.

Inmate George Baker said he never knew Officer Garmalo but he has become very fond of his mother, who he called “a wonderful lady.” He recalled how Kathleen Garmalo once gave him a check for $250 to buy new clothes and asked him to pay it back by preserving her son’s memory and working hard when given another chance.

“I remember tears fell down from my eyes,” he said. “I’m kind of teary-eyed right now, just thinking about her.”

Baker said the memorial fund and its purpose blend perfectly with the house of correction’s mission of focusing on rehabilitating people instead of strictly punishing them.

“I like the way [Donelan] runs the jail,” Baker said. “He treats us like human beings. He doesn’t treat us like prisoners.”

Kathleen Garmalo said her son, who died a month before his 22nd birthday, was adamant that people make mistakes and they should be allowed to move on with their lives by working diligently.

“That’s the person he was,” she said. “We’re all very proud of him. We miss him very much. But I figured, what better way to remember who he was than to keep something like this going?”

She said the pandemic put a dent in the memorial fund’s ability to grow, but she is still impressed with what it has become.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-930-4120.