“We have come together, together to change our lives through honoring the value of ourselves, our loved ones and our community.”
The words bounce off the concrete walls of the cell block and amplify the voices of the nine men who recite them. They stand shoulder to shoulder in matching maroon shirts tucked into khaki pants. One after another, they step forward and recite a different part of their mantra.
“We must accept.”
“We must be mindful.”
“We must yield.”
These are the inmates of CARA, Criminogenic Addiction Recovery Academy, a program at the Kennebec County Correctional Facility that works to address the source of addiction and criminal behavior in Maine’s habitual offenders. Started in 2010 as the brainchild of Kennebec County Sheriff Randall Liberty, the unique program segregates a male and female group of inmates from the general population for 5½ weeks of extensive group therapy and skill building.
“We realized that warehousing people is just not the answer,” said Edward Anderson, a Kennebec County corrections officer who works in the CARA unit and helped develop the program. “We were looking to find something that worked.”
Inmates come to the program from jails across the state. Usually they are at the end of their sentence and their repeated criminal behavior has been linked to drug abuse. The male CARA group at the time, the 24th such group to undergo the program, ranged in criminal background, drug of choice and age. The youngest participant was 19 and the oldest was 37.
CARA groups maintain a rigorous daily schedule of classes including criminal thinking, anger management, drug abuse counseling and even parenting skills. Their day starts at 5 a.m. and typically lasts till 11 p.m. The program is designed to have inmates recognize the root of their addiction and the triggers that cause them to use and commit crimes. They must memorize and recite the CARA creed three times a day as a reminder of why they have come to the program.
But the most unique aspect of the program is the focus on building a community within the unit. CARA groups must hold community meetings three times a day where they address individual’s concerns and make decisions as a group. The success of the program hinges on the ability of the individual interact and grow within the group, Anderson said. But it isn’t an easy process.
“There is a lot of hurt, a lot of anger, that goes on internally,” he said. “A lot of them don’t know how to ask for help. You have to develop a trust level. They have to learn how to trust one another.”
Anderson said there is a visible transformation in the inmates’ attitudes and outlook as the progress through the program, but success isn’t guaranteed. Graduates of the program have relapsed and returned to jail after getting out.
The program can only give inmates the tools. It is up to them to change their behavior, Anderson said.
“I tell them that everything you left out there is still out there. The difference is what are you going to do when you get out there,” he said.
In the cell block, the last inmate steps forward and bellows the final line of the creed:
“We have come together. Together to be accountable members of the community and live the potential that stands before us.”