Jenna Golub, Community Engagement & Communications Coordinator
Restorative Justice Project Maine is excited to be bringing the Open Table model of community transformation to Maine as part of an effort to build out re-entry supports for people returning to community life in Knox and Waldo counties after a period of incarceration. We had over 30 attendees at our first Open Table informational session on January 21, hosted in partnership with Open Tables Director of Community Engagement, Rachelle Butler.
The Open Table Movement was born from one church’s chance encounter with a homeless man in 2005. Today it is a nationally trained model equipping faith and other organizations to transform communities through sustainable, long-term relationships with people experiencing economic and/or relational poverty. The Open Table model gives community members a way to invest their own social and relational capital in the lives of others to help them achieve the better lives they envision for themselves.
A "Table" is 6-8 volunteers working alongside an individual or family in need for approximately one year. Together with the "Friend," they implement the Friend's Life Plan, and together all live into their human potential. If you are looking for an opportunity to draw on the power of your social network and community relationships to support and transform the lives of those in our community who have been incarcerated, please reach out to Erica Buswell, Knox County Community Justice Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will contact you with an invitation to attend a future info session.
Leigh Anne Keichline
LA: What brought you to RJP Maine?
Dennis: Six or seven years ago, a dear friend and local mentor Mariellen Whalen and I were talking about a specific case in Waldoboro.
It was our first introduction to restorative practices, and it prompted us to extend an invitation to Sarah Mattox. She came and spent time in Mariellen's living room, and described the general mission and philosophy. Shortly after that, I completed mentor training.
LA: Tell me about your mentoring work.
Dennis: I've had 8 - 10 mentees over the years. The first one was a school-based referral. I continue to have a relationship with that young man who is now in his 20s. I learned a lot through that process, and that relationship continues to enrich my life and my family's life. The young man still has a relationship with two of my boys, hiking together.
LA: What advice would you offer new mentors? What have you learned through your years of mentoring?
Dennis: The most important lesson is to listen. You're not there to fix things. It's more important to build a relationship, as best you can, that's trusting. Too many of our young men in our communities don't have male relationships that are built on trust. For me, it's a matter of taking the time to be an active listener and try to come to an understanding of how they've come to the place that they're at. From there, it's much easier to be a positive force in their life.
Other than, the basic fundamentals are providing a guiding force to work on the repair agreement. It's more of just being a presence with an individual that is comforting, reassuring, positive -- you're not there to offer quick and easy solutions. You're not there to moralize.
They've all been incredible learning experiences for me -- every one of them -- even with varying degrees of "success."
To be invited into people's personal lives has been a gift for me. The curtain is pulled back sometimes for some very personal stuff -- that's a privilege. I try to be really sensitive to what's being shared with me and what I learned.
I come from a very privileged place in my own life. I think about how much I get in return from these interactions. Some of the struggles I've had in my own life really pale compared to what others go through. It's an incredible way to stay grounded.
LA: What have been some challenges during COVID?
Dennis: The biggest issue for me, especially during COVID, is that communities are being torn apart. There's health care issues, there's economic issues, income inequality, the COVID numbers are off the chart, people without health insurance. THe inability to get together as we were pre-COVID is more aggravated.
The institutions we trusted are no longer living up to their missions. Drug, alcohol issues are off the charts. It shouldn't be a question as to why that's happening.
RJP Maine, even if in a small measure, and in increasing measures, can help reverse those trends and rebuild community. That's exactly what it was set up and designed to do.
LA: What are your thoughts as we look ahead?
Dennis: I'm excited, it's a great time for me to be on the board as a volunteer. RJP is in a position to do some incredible things. RJP Maine has deliberately gone out of their way now to have a more equitable distribution of board representation throughout the district that we work in. That's encouraging to me. There's a ton of opportunity for us to have an incredible impact to strengthen communities on the Midcoast. The CBCR grant gives an opportunity to work in a more proactive way, rather than just responding to harm.
From a personal philosophical perspective -- I've always been drawn to issues around social justice and RJP Maine is in a great place to address issues around social justice. It's hard to address any form of justice without addressing the root causes. These days the fabric of our society is being torn apart at an increasing rate. Health care, income disparity. RJP Maine is an organization with an incredible position to help reverse those trends.
Before joining the RJP Maine board in January 2021, Dennis has been a longtime mentor and facilitator for the organization in Lincoln County with a focus on youth, court diversion and community conferencing. Dennis and his wife, Christine, have six children and one grandchild. He enjoys hiking, camping, reading and quality time with his large, extended family. Other civic and volunteer interests include board membership on the local school committee and numerous other small nonprofits. He has a BA in philosophy from St. Anselm college. Dennis owns and operates a landscape design/ build firm serving midcoast Maine.
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.
RJP Maine is excited to announce that Kyle White, a former resident of the Maine Coastal Regional Reentry Center (MCRRC), has joined the team at RJP Maine. Kyle was accepted into the Goodwill Industries Job Training Program this past October, while finishing his residency at the MCRRC. The job training program provides opportunities to learn new job skills with support from Goodwill Workforce Solutions. This opportunity will help Kyle transition into a Vista Volunteer position at the beginning of December. Both programs are offered by Goodwill Industries of Northern New England (GWI-NNE). We are thrilled to have Kyle onboard!- RJP Maine
My name is Kyle White and I am pleased and excited to be working with RJP Maine this fall. I am just finishing up an 18-month sentence at the Maine Coastal Regional Reentry Center, which is where my passion for RJP Maine originated. Starting in 2018, with a strong repairing- the- harm circle, I became more deeply moved by the healing circle process. Through the experience of rebuilding a relationship with my grandfather that I thought would never be restored, I realized how powerful the restorative process was, and I knew I wanted to be a part of it going forward.
A year later, I had the opportunity to co-facilitate the Introduction to Restorative Justice course with Louise at the re-entry center! I greatly enjoyed teaching and being so involved with my fellow residents from the reentry center. I left the course hopeful to have inspired the guys to repair harms they might have made in their own lives. I have also been a part of other restorative conferences within the Juvenile diversion program. All of these experiences have taught me so much and I look forward to becoming more involved with the process.
I would like to use my experiences with the criminal justice system, together with my experiences with addiction and recovery to help others in their journey; moving beyond incarceration, poverty and addiction towards freedom, community and recovery. I hope to become an apprentice facilitator in the near future, and eventually a facilitator. I would like to be involved with implementing Restorative Justice and Restorative Practices in schools, as well as becoming involved with youth being released from Long Creek Youth Development Center. I would like to assist adults being released from reentry and from other Department of Corrections facilities in general. I look forward to being part of the creation of the Waldo County Community Justice Center as it engages communities across Waldo County.
On a personal note, I am 28 years-old, born and raised in the Belfast, Waldo County area, and graduated from Belfast Area High School. I have been painting houses most of my adult life, as well as welding. Currently I am enjoying my part time job with Pinkerton and Sons Disposal. Riding on the truck and throwing trash is actually a blast! I enjoy four wheeling, snowmobiling, driving, walks/runs outside, preferably with a dog, enjoy my time in the gym, hanging out with friends and family and reading. I enjoy working and keeping busy!
I’m grateful to be working with the Restorative Justice Project Maine I’m hoping that this new path will help me continue on my recovery path and reentry. With over a year in recovery, I hope I can support others I interact with to continue moving forward.
Autumn is an MSW student at the University of Maine, Orono. She holds a B.A. in Psychology from Thomas College, also located in Maine. In her free time, Autumn spends as much time as she can outdoors - hiking, fishing, and gardening (just a few of her favorite hobbies). Autumn has lived in Waldo County her whole life and she cherishes the small-town feel that the community holds strongly. Waldo County community members have helped her and her family in a variety of ways throughout her life and Autumn strives to give back and help others while working with RJP Maine.
RJP Maine is so grateful to have Autumn with us; she is not only intelligent and kind, but her empathy runs deep. She has been and will continue to work closely with Sarah Mattox (RJP Maine Program Manager/ Community Resolution) in a variety of ways such as data management and assisting in organizing training, but Autumn is especially interested community resolution and hopes to become a facilitator or mentor.
Did you know, that the Lincoln County Sheriff's Department operates an initiative called the *Alternative Sentencing Program (ASP) for individuals charged with non-violent offenses, such as Operating Under the Influence?
The program is offered twice each year. Rather than serving time in a jail facility, judges can sentence eligible participants to serve their time in a secure group at an alternate location, such as a local camp facility. There, they participate in daily community service and educational programs. The programming includes a variety of topics, such as addiction recovery, mindfulness, positive choices, and impact on others. RJP Maine participates in the ASP education program by offering a two-hour segment on restorative justice. Participants get an introduction to a restorative circle format, an overview of the philosophy of restorative justice and related topics such as growth mindset, and an overview of RJP's work in Lincoln County.
"At the end of our time together, we did a round of reflection on what the group found to be interesting takeaways from the ideas of restorative justice. The concept of shame versus guilt came up several times, as well as growth mindset. Wrestling with "I did something wrong" (guilt) versus "I am wrong" (shame) seemed like useful concepts -- along with the idea of growth mindset, that mistakes literally make our brain grow, and we actually need mistakes in life to learn and grow."- RJP Maine Facilitator, Leigh Anne
For more information call 207-922-3898
*ASP used to be run by Maine Pretrial and was run in multiple sites and formats around the state. However last year, Maine Pretrial decided to give it up and the Lincoln County Sheriff's Department took it on.
Penny Linn became involved with the Restorative Justice Project Maine in 2009 after retiring from Winslow Middle School as a guidance counselor. Bringing her sense of adventure, get it done attitude Penny engaged in all facets of the organizations work throughout her time as a school trainer and board member.
Penny was introduced to RJP Maine while at Winslow Junior High School (WJHS) when Margaret Micolichek, representing the Restorative Practices Collaborative of Maine was invited by Penny to discuss what it would take to bring restorative practices into the school. Her goal was to offer training to teachers on circle practices that focused on relationships with students as well as between students in the classrooms and beyond. In addition, she worked with the administrative disciplinary team to implement restorative interventions to better support students through difficult times, provide learning opportunities and avoid suspension or expulsion.
Shortly after her retirement, Penny joined the Restorative Practices Collaborative of Maine as a trainer. As a member she was invaluable, she understood circle practice and could speak to the struggle of changing school culture to becoming more restorative. She trained with the team for about three years. In the spring of 2011, most likely on the tennis court, Penny was recruited by Jay Davis (her tennis buddy and former member of the RJP Maine board) to join the RJP Maine’s Board of Directors.
As a board member Penny was someone who got things done. She liked it when decisions were made and things could move forward. Never wanting to be the fundraising board member she used her networks to support the organizations through thick and thin times. Her commitment and generosity shone throughout her 9-year tenure with the board.
Penny, although not far from us will be greatly missed at the table and in those board meetings!
Travel far and wide Penny, wishing you all the best!
The images below were taken in Swanville, ME., at RJP Maine's appreciation circle for Penny! Penny was gifted a talking piece, a driftwood etching of an owl created by a local artist.