“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!