4,300 men and women are imprisoned in the state of Maine. Reverend Stan Moody, Director of the Columbia Street Project says, “People have been in prison for a long time. 10 or 15 years, life has passed them by like Rip Van Winkle coming out and trying to get acclimated to society.”
There are many programs to help inside the bars, but upon release the transition for many inmates is difficult.Troy Morton, Sheriff of Penobscot County says, “One of the most concerns for all involved is where does a person go and how will they be successful when they’re released? If we only put conditions on them and send them out the door without any direction, we’re setting them up for potential failure and they’ll only come back.”
Moody says, “Corrections has a responsibility to try to give somebody a step up while they’re in there, but when they come out they’re stepping out in the environment and it’s just like going from black to white. It’s a huge transition.”
Although Maine’s incarceration rate is the lowest in the country, recidivism rates remain fairly high.
The Columbia Street Project is a faith-based organization dedicated to helping inmates upon release. Timothy Rogers, a mentor for CSP says, “We’re really trying to help people with hands up, finding a pathway, utilizing people’s strengths and ability, not just giving things out.”
Reverend Stan Moody is the President of CSP and has been working with prisoners since 2009.
But he says working with these individuals is challenging.
He says, “When they were in there it’s such a tight system, that I always joke that you only have to make two decisions a day. When you come out here you’ve got 200 decisions to make a day and nobody cares whether you make them right or not. Working with prisoners is a very interesting project. You do it one-on-one and my sense is that if you’re working with 10 people and one of them really comes to life, it’s a win.”
CSP is a young program created in 2014, located in downtown Bangor. They work with multiple agencies to help provide whatever services are necessary to assist transitioning inmates.
Rogers says, “We’re not here to duplicate services. We work with community care and community health and counseling services and a lot of other services where we have somebody that may need mental health services and help get people connected.”
Reverend Moody says the CSP is really about just being there for each individual. He says, “The biggest problem they face when they come out is, does anybody want to listen to me, does anybody want to know me? Is there anybody I can talk with that really understands? So, we work with them, we walk with them, when they get into trouble they call and we check in on them periodically and just knowing somebody is there to listen, that’s 90 percent of it.”
Law enforcement officials agree that programs like CSP are a major asset for the inmates as well as the state.
Morton says, “It’s important to reach out to this organization and others so that we make sure when someone’s being released from our facility, that they still have that same structure in their lives that will help make them successful.”
Randall Liberty, Former Sheriff of Kennebec County says, “As a community, as taxpayers, as people that just care about other people, it’s important for us to see that they get that treatment and they get the transition resources that they desire and need or they’ll come back.”
Reverend Moody says it will take the collaboration of corrections and the community to really make a difference. He says, “We’re not doing a good job of correcting people, no matter what we do. So, it has to be a liaison. It has to be involvement, collaboration with the community.”
Liberty says, “I think the future is bright for collaborative work in transitioning inmates out.”
The CSP is working with The United Farmers Veterans of Maine to create a plan for employment and housing for former inmates. They are currently holding technology-based classes to teach former prisoners skills that could be transferable to many different jobs.
While these programs are helpful, Reverend Moody says there is still much work to be done to really make a dent in recidivism and make for smoother transitions.
In Part II, two former inmates explain their transition struggle after spending more than a decade behind bars.