By Carrie Sullivan
So well aligned to RJP Maine’s mission, the overarching goal of CBCR grant is to reduce crime, increase mutual trust, and improve community safety as part of a comprehensive strategy to build strong, thriving neighborhoods and communities. The grant allows 18 months for a planning phase which results in the submission of an Action Plan to the Bureau of Justice Assistance, that once approved guides the remaining years of the grant. The Action Plan is informed by data, grows partnerships, and engages community members in the planning process, which is exactly what RJP Maine has been working to do since early spring of 2020.
The plan asks us to define “hotspots” or places where problems of crime or wrongdoing are concentrated. We are learning that crime problems look different in rural communities than they do in urban settings. Rural “hotspots” cluster more around root causes that underlie wrongdoing rather than the actual incidents of violence and crime. Based on the information we’ve collected to date (from law enforcement and elected officials, numerous citizens and community-based organizations, and local citizens and volunteers) a key hotspot for Midcoast Maine is the need for more community-based support for individuals who cycle through the justice system, whether that be incarceration or frequent jail time.
Defining Our Hotspot – a snapshot of what’s been collected during planning
While there was a broad range of needs and desires expressed by Knox County citizens for a Community Justice Center, the overwhelming sentiment revolved around reentry—both helping people re-establish themselves afterward or prevent them from becoming incarcerated—both can be achieved through a set of community supports and services. Source: Knox County Community Interviews
Knox County Leading The Way
Another requirement of the planning phase is to demonstrate that our solution is viable through an Early Action Project. To that end, Knox County has been serving as our demonstration project. Despite the challenges COVID has presented in this planning period, Knox County continues to make strides in the growth of local community justice efforts:
RJP Maine looks to complete the CBCR planning phase in early 2021. We are excited to bring the CBCR grant resources to bear in a moment that compels us to reimagine public safety and justice, and to work alongside so many partners to grow restorative practices throughout the communities we serve.
I am incredibly grateful for my seven months working with RJP Maine. This was my first field experience as a graduate student in social work and I really didn’t know what to expect. Luckily, I landed in the midst of a highly principled, hardworking, mission-driven group of exceptional people who manage to deliver services far beyond the expected reach of an organization of this size. One of the advantages of being placed in an internship like this is the variety of experiences that can unfold in a relatively short period of time. When you add in Covid-19, you get a recipe for a truly unforgettable experience.
Through my involvement in the community resolution conferencing process, I observed adolescents redirect their paths and avoid further involvement with the juvenile justice system as they were able to take responsibility, repair the harm they caused, find their best selves and define their own way forward. I now better understand the need for youth to have opportunities to nourish connections with peers and supportive adults. I met individuals who were harmed and heard them speak about their experiences. I saw individuals empowered and communities strengthened by convening in-person, and even via Zoom, so that repair agreements could be imagined and delivered. I witnessed healing, growth and connection.
At the other end of the spectrum, I witnessed the ways in which restorative practices positively affected adults who had been incarcerated by providing a network of support as they reentered their communities.
Along the way, I met sheriffs and other members of law enforcement, attorneys, victim advocates, parents and guardians, mentors, volunteers, legislators and community members, who each had an important role in this process.
I participated in meetings to provide support for the development of the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) pilot in Knox and Waldo County. The goal of the LEAD pilot is to address issues such as conflict, substance use, mental health or housing in order to connect folks with resources to address their needs prior to or in lieu of their involvement with the justice system. This pilot is the result of listening to the community to understand its needs and then developing a plan to work together to contribute to the well-being of all members of our community.
A community is like a fabric. It is only as strong as the manner in which each of the threads that make that fabric are woven together. Strength, resilience, warmth, and empathy come from the combination of all of those individual, interconnected threads. RJP Maine works at the center of this, weaving together these individual elements to create a stronger fabric through which our communities can thrive.
I have learned to truly listen and better recognize the importance of making time to authentically engage with others. I understand the importance of meeting people where they are and learning from their lived experience. For me, social work is not about rescuing people. It is about providing support and working with individuals to allow them to discover their own strength, resilience and capabilities.
Through all of my work at RJP Maine, I have developed a new appreciation for the importance of relationships. I have hope for the future. Anything is possible if we can come together to make things better for our communities and we can do this through our effort to build and sustain relationships with one another.
I will be carrying all that I have learned with me as I complete my last year of the graduate program in social work at the University of Maine. Looking back, I know my life has been changed by this learning adventure. It was an honor to be a part of this organization and I will remain dedicated to the expansion of the use of restorative practices in the state of Maine.
RJP Maine is excited to announce that we have successfully acquired funding allowing us to hire our first fulltime Knox County Coordinator. We have high hopes that this is just the beginning to a greater presence in all four of our main geographical areas: Waldo, Knox, Lincoln, and Sagadahoc Counties. This is huge news for us and we can't be happier to announce the arrival of Erica Buswell.
Erica came to Maine in 2004, chasing visions of Winslow Homer’s winter ocean. She landed in Belfast, where what was intended to be a temporary gig at the Belfast Co-op blossomed into 16 years of work in the Maine food system, including 10 years of service at Maine Farmland Trust. She’s excited to bring a mixed skillset in collaborative leadership, facilitation, program development, and data analysis to support the work of RJP Maine. A Montana girl at heart, Erica originally came out east to attend the College of the Holy Cross, where she discovered a passion for social justice and community development. She feels fortunate to care for a small, off-grid homestead in Searsport, where she and her husband, Scott, are cultivating abundant food and joy.
Get To Know Erica
by RJP Maine Knox County Volunteer, By Molly Mulhern
“We’ve forgotten how to be in community,” states Erica Buswell as we near the end of our zoom interview. She was reflecting on the retraining that she sees us all going through as we relearn what has always been a primal instinct- “taking care of each another.” Wise words from RJP Maine’s newest team member, who started with the organization the week after Thanksgiving.
Erica’s official title is Knox County Community Justice Coordinator, a new position designed to weave together RJP Maine’s work in prevention, intervention, diversion, and reentry in one geographic support location- Knox County. Erica comes to RJP Maine most recently from Maine Farmland Trust, where she was VP of Programs. Working in the areas of food sovereignty is not such a far leap to the work she hopes to do for RJP Maine; both are united by a thread and strong belief in the power of communities and their individuals to creatively work out “what will be best for them.”
Erica’s beliefs have been informed and influenced by several years as a volunteer for Wabanaki Reach, her formal education in Religious Studies (“Liberation Theology”), studies in Zen Buddhism, years living off the grid, much literary exploration, as well as training as a facilitator. When I spoke with her in her Searsport office, she recounted how last spring she felt a need to take some time without paid work to explore how she could best bring her gifts and passions to her community. Her months of reflection included reading, gardening, obtaining a certificate in data analysis, and deep listening. What emerged was a notion that her next career chapter would involve restoration. She wanted to find work that would strengthen community, create transformation through relationship building and thus bring about deep impact. And as she was coming to these understandings, RJP Maine began its search for the Community Justice Coordinator. This new position and her interests aligned perfectly; social justice has always been a strong thread in her interests. Erica remarked, “It feels good to get back to some roots.”
Erica credits Winslow Homer, or rather his art, on the walls of the Worcester Art Museum (home of Holy Cross, where she attended college) with instilling a curiosity about seeing and living in Maine. As she wound down a cross country road trip Erica asked herself, “the winter ocean, I wonder what that looks like?” and she headed East to find out.
With her home off the grid in Searsport, and a new office eventually in Rockland, we hope Erica will have many happy opportunities to ponder that ocean, in all its seasons.