Parents, you MATTER. Take initiative. Be involved. Work collaboratively. Embrace your community. You have a place.
Through this work it has become quite clear to me the unique challenges faced by today’s youth, including those unique to this region of the state. Social media, socioeconomic disparity, social divisiveness, educational prejudice, a punitive justice system, and a lack of resources are all impacting our children, and rarely in a healthy way. I have 1 and 3 year old sons and I dream of them growing up in a society/community that focuses on healing as its primary guiding principle. My studies in the Master of Arts in Restorative Justice program at Vermont Law School have opened my eyes further to the indigenous roots of these practices. At the heart of these teachings is the concept of healing.
In one of my readings, the director of the Navajo Peacemaking Program stated, “Our main focus is to help the Navajo people not to depend on the court system and not to depend on the police to always resolve their problems. These are your problems, you should be able to fix it yourself. These children belong to you. These relatives belong to you. You should be able to fix it yourself.” (1). The hope for me is that one day the practice of Restorative Justice will be unnecessary. I say this with an understanding of where we are today, and how far we have still have to go. Ultimately my hope is that healing language, and the associated vocabulary, will become the norm in conversations and interactions among community members. That these healing practices might become ingrained in our everyday lives, and that my kids as well as everyone else’s will have a new understanding of empathy, community, conflict, relationships, and justice that will lead to positive outcomes for all, not just a few. My goal is to work every day to make this a reality for all people and all communities. As I often say, If it takes 100 years or more, it will absolutely be worth it!
-By Gabe Smith, RJP Mentor Extraordinaire
Improv Night with the re entry chaps and our super dedicated mentors was AMAZING! Everyone came with open hearts and minds and were on fire 🔥with their improvisational acting skills! "Thank you" to the Midcoast Regional Reentry Center, Belfast Creative Coalition, The Playhouse Children's Theater Co., and RJPs re entry coordinator, Louise! A fabulous night with a special community!
A month later, back by popular demand, Improv Night #2 took place! "Thanks" to Mark and The Belfast Maskers for providing a creative space and for participating (Mark!)! It was great, as always, to get our reentry guys together with our mentors and RJP staff. We may have all shown up exhausted from cold, busy Mondays but we left feeling energized and happy! Our super dedicated mentor, Emily, said it best- "move a muscle, change a thought."
In restorative practice, the centerpiece represents the center of the community, reminds us of our collective nature, and provides a place for participants to rest their eyes. Like the talking piece, centerpieces are even more meaningful when they represent something of value.
“Community talking circles… Just being in ‘groups’ in general; being able to express my feelings, say what’s on my mind without worrying what people think. I can be comfortable being uncomfortable. That’s huge.”
Kyle White, Maine Coastal Regional Reentry Center resident
Kyle and I agreed to meet at the reentry center, at 8am on a Wednesday morning, before he would begin his work day. It was snowing and messy out, and I was feeling terribly guilty that I asked to meet him at such an early hour before he began a full day of snow shoveling. Kyle was familiar to me and while I had heard his story before, I knew I wanted to sit down with him 1:1 not only because I found him quietly enthusiastic about life and his story interesting, but because he is currently in his last 30 days of his sentence at reentry. I wanted to understand and hopefully capture where he was at this moment in time. So, I brought Kyle a coffee as a “thank you” and I arrived a bit early at the reentry center, eager to talk and not take up too much of his day.
Kyle and Kenny, another reentry resident, entered the center together and I was greeted warmly with smiles. I’m always greeted kindly by the residents, so that didn’t strike me as anything out of the ordinary. What did strike me as special was the warmth I could feel between the men. It was snowing and wet out, and they were gathering themselves and talking about their day and getting what they needed in order. Actually, mid-way through my interview with Kyle, I saw him motioning to someone on the other side of the window (we were sitting with Louise, the RJP reentry coordinator, in a closed room for quiet)- and it was Kenny holding up a sweatshirt for Kyle. This moved me. They expressed genuine care for each other. They were working together, they were a team.
When I first met Kyle, back in October 2018, he had arrived a bit late to a community circle and he sat sort of slumped down in his chair. He was pleasant, but quiet. His eyes were down. He participated though, and I learned that he was struggling with substance abuse, similar to many of the men in circle. In October, Kyle was still in the beginning stages of sobriety. He was struggling and it showed. He was pail. I don't remember him smiling, in fact I don’t remember him lifting his head much. I now know more of his story, where he was mentally in October, and more of the specifics surrounding his time in incarceration. Trafficking charges in 2015 brought an initial sentence of 10 months, which he served in reentry. He was released in 2016 and went on to rehab in June of 2018. He credits probation for keeping him accountable to something because when he re-entered his home community he didn’t have OR apply the skills he needed to remain sober. He wasn’t prepared to re-enter the same community he had left and that community wasn't ready for him.
A probation violation led Kyle to his second incarceration, in August 2018. Kyle’s parole officer wanted him back at re-entry although in August, Kyle just wanted to clear up the violation and move forward on his own. Yet he remained at reentry, and it has now been nine transformative months. To me, someone who doesn’t see Kyle so often that I could easily overlook something as simple as the way in which he now sits up straight in a chair, he looks transformed. When I sat down with him that Wednesday, I made sure I expressed how utterly different he looked to me; he had color on his cheeks, his eyes were bright, his shoulders were back. He radiated this calm, confident, happy energy. Almost peaceful, yet not quite, as he was eager to speak and was excited to get on with his day. I wanted to know who Kyle was that day- in that moment. How he saw himself in the present and how he saw himself a year from now.
Laugher followed when I asked, “Who are you today, Kyle?” Kyle and Louise were quite humored, and to be fair, it was a very big question. Kyle rose to the question and articulately answered that he saw himself as fun and outgoing, family oriented, active. He loves to work and stay busy. He struck me as mature, focused and calmly passionate; when he talks about something he cares about he smiles and his eyes shine.
We discussed his last 30 days of incarceration and how he was using his time at reentry. He explained that he needed to handle the logistics, such as paying off his traffic violations, which amount to about $700, to obtain is license. He spoke of saving a certain amount each week and putting it towards that particular responsibility. He expressed concern about getting his car up and running, as it has been sitting unused for so long. He’s in full transition mode. He explained that he currently stays at the reentry center once a week so that he can easily meet with his case manager and parole officer. He has also been looking into college; he has a passion for welding and would love to take courses at Kennebec Valley Community College (KVCC) or perhaps stay more local and attend Waldo County Tech. He’d also love to take a business course through University of Maine at Rockland. His dream is to own a painting business. He loves painting homes and he's good at it.
Aside from the logistics to his transition, which are imperative to his success outside of reentry, he’s extremely focused on maintaining his sobriety. In order to do this, he has had to focus on his community, both inside reentry as well as outside. As a reentry resident, through extensive group work, he’s learned the value of sharing his feelings and experiences, of being vulnerable, open minded and empathetic. Kyle explained that it was through his work with RJP that he learned to use his voice which, in turn has empowered him to share his thoughts, feelings and experiences with his fellow residents and his family. He explained how much lighter and energized he feels emotionally and how good it feels to relate to others. He explained that with a clear mind, free from drugs and alcohol, he notices the little things… which is everything to him because he now knows how much he missed in life when he was using. It is what propels him forward.
Through his pro social community work, the repair circles, rehab and personal work on himself, Kyle feels that this second time through the reentry program has been utterly successful and he feels equipped to reenter society. He exercises and attends church, he reads and he loves community centered projects such as the reentry garden. He's an engaged and valued community member.
When I asked Kyle what his biggest accomplishment was during his incarceration at reentry, he immediately answered that it was the repair circle he took part in with his grandfather. There were tears, open and free discussion and profound mutual healing. Harm was repaired between Kyle and his grandfather, someone who shares his pains and his passions. Kyle now spends Sundays with his mother and he is back to welding with his grandfather.
Kyle is committed to a healthy life; he strives to maintain sobriety and his ties to the community both inside reentry and out. He knows that his support circle is key. AA is key. Starting off the day in a healthy, centered place is key. That balance is necessary. When I asked what a bad day was like in reentry, Kyle answered that there were "no bad days” because every day he learns something and that is what being at reentry is about. He was adamant that he will stay involved in the program, long after he exits, because he knows how inspiring his story could be to someone new to the program and struggling- he was once that person. Kyle continues to look towards his peers for inspiration and strength and he feels that he owes something to those who come after him. He deeply values the reentry staff and the feeling is mutual, I know, because when I ask people about Kyle, their faces light up with bright eyes and proud smiles.
Your entire community has nothing but bright eyes and proud smiles for you, Kyle. Good luck!