Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, August 25, 2019
You may have heard me tell the story about a good friend visiting me the summer after we moved to Maine. “I never realized Maine was so religious” she observed. “It’s not,” I replied, “Maine is the least religious state in the least religious part of the country.”
“Then why do I keep seeing all these Redemption Centers?’
Friends, I believe that every county jail and prison in Maine is a redemption center. Our new Commissioner of the Department of Corrections says publicly “I am in the redemption business.” Randy Liberty, yes, that is his last name, is the former warden of Maine State Prison, the former Sheriff of Kennebec County, a veteran who has PTSD and the child of a formerly incarcerated person. He and his staff are changing the way we operate the Department of Corrections, with help and oversight from the legislative committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety.
This committee used to be comprised of former law enforcement, prosecutors and correctional professionals; now it includes social workers, defense attorneys and advocates for those incarcerated. And we are seeing the difference. In my work with Friends Committee on Maine Public Policy, Maine Prisoners Advocacy Coalition and the new Maine Prisoners Re-entry Network, I can say after almost twenty years of doing this work, that we are seeing new possibilities in our approach to justice in the prison and court systems. Lifetime law enforcement leaders are stating that “we cannot arrest our way” out of the opioid epidemic; addiction but no treatment centers, mental illness without adequate care and treatment. County sheriffs will tell us that they opearte the biggest mental health facilities in the state. And, as of last April, there were only 16 detox beds for the entire state. So, where do most people detox? In our jails.
As part of my chaplaincy work, I am now working with people leaving incarceration and re-entering our communities. Over 90% of the folks in our prisons and jails in Maine do return and if they do not have good employment, stable housing or community support we know they end up back where they came from, in the same circles that put them inside to begin with.
I have been working with Sophia’s House and the Maine Prisoners Re-entry Network to recruit and train community mentors who will visit, support and meet with returning citizens prior to and after their release. It’s a program that some of us tried to initiate ten years ago, when we trained over 70 volunteers but the Department would not work with us. That is not the case now. I have been working with Maureen and Cush Anthony, if you are interested, please speak with one of us.