ROCKLAND, Maine — A week before Cedric Butler was due to be released from the Bolduc Correctional Facility in Warren, he still didn’t know where he was going to go after he got out.
Butler was wrapping up a two-year prison sentence for drug trafficking, but he wasn’t leaving the corrections system as the same man who went in.
He was leaving the minimum security facility a sober man after battling with an addiction to heroin for about a decade. He was also leaving without any intention of returning to his former life of selling drugs, which led him to the predicament in which he found himself.
Without a stable place to go, he knew the strides he had made during his incarceration toward living a drug- and crime-free life might be in jeopardy.
“It was nerve-racking,” Butler said. “One of the things they say [about recovery] is that you have to change everything, the people you’re around, your environment.”
His mother was begging him not to go back to his native Boston out of fear he’d fall back into old habits. Despite having a daughter in Bangor, he knew going back to where he was arrested the last time wasn’t a good option either.
Butler was stuck.
But with just one week left until he was going to be released, he finally learned that there was room for him at a newly established recovery residence in Rockland — The Friend’s House.
The Friend’s House
The residence is run by the Midcoast Recovery Coalition and aims to help men who are struggling, or who have struggled, with substance use disorder have a safe and drug-free environment.
The residence opened in July and can house four men at a time, though managers are making improvements at the house in hopes of housing up to 12 men. It’s not a permanent living situation, Midcoast Recovery Coalition Executive Director Ira Mandel said, but a place for residents to live for two to six months as they work on their recovery and try to stabilize their lives.
“You need to be in a healthy environment to work on your recovery,” Mandel said. “Having a warm bed, a place to wash up, prepare your meals and be surrounded by other people working hard to stay sober and [are] supporting you.”
The residence is open to anyone who is interested in living in a “safe, supportive and sober environment,” Mandel said, whether they are coming directly from prison or jail, from a medical setting, or just from the community.
The application process includes an interview with a four-person admissions committee, as well as background and reference checks.
“We screen them pretty carefully because we want to make sure they’re highly motivated for the recovery, because that’s what it is all about,” Mandel said.
Aside from simply providing safe housing, The Friend’s House also offers residents support from coalition staff members that spreads into all areas of their lives, Mandel said, including their physical and mental health, their recovery, their occupation, as well as their educational, spiritual and social needs.
Each person living at the residence has an individualized wellness plan that aims to address the challenges they are facing. The Friend’s House is not a treatment facility, Mandel said, so any counseling or treatment worked out as part of the wellness plan is not administered at the house. Staff work to connect residents with resources that will fulfill these needs.
The men stay in the house until they’re ready to go out on their own, Mandel said, but after the men leave the house, the coalition will continue to stay in touch with them to make sure their recovery is going well and provide further support if needed.
Out of the first group of four men to reside at the house, one has successfully completed his stay and moved out. Three other men are currently living there, including Butler and Jerome Doyle, who both shared their stories with the Bangor Daily News.
Mandel said he receives about an inquiry or two every week from people looking to live at the house, and they are in the process of filling the current vacancy.
For Doyle, who is completing a prison sentence on house arrest, the safe living environment provided by The Friend’s House allowed him to jumpstart his integration back into the community.
“This was a tremendous help,” Doyle said. “It’s a really good place, it’s got a good vibe, it’s positive. The staff here, they’re approachable, and you can talk to them, and they give you good sound advice. They try to get you on the right path if you’re not on that track. They’re tolerant and they’re patient.”
Embarking on a new path
The moment of realizing that a lifestyle change is in order is not the same for everyone. In Doyle’s case, that moment hit like an instantaneous flip of a switch.
At age 48, Doyle admits that he spent the majority of his life doing things he probably shouldn’t have.
“I’ve been in prison all of my life … it was all drugs charges,” Doyle said. “Now that I’m on the outside looking in, it was ludicrous, it was like, ‘What kind of life am I living?’”
Being immersed in the world of selling and using drugs was normal for Doyle, who is from Philadelphia but moved to Maine about a decade ago to live in Lewiston with his wife and three children.
He doesn’t blame his actions entirely on the environment he grew up around, but he says it certainly played a role in setting him on his life course.
At the time of his last arrest in 2014 on a charge of drug trafficking, Doyle said he was not using drugs, though he had in the past.
After his arrest, his wife came to visit him in jail and brought their 2-year-old daughter. His daughter couldn’t understand why Doyle was behind glass, or why he couldn’t pick her up and hold her.
His heart broke.
“I started crying. I mean bawling crying. My wife is crying, and the baby doesn’t know what’s going on,” Doyle said. “It was at that moment where I decided I am never leaving my family again.”
Doyle was convicted on the trafficking charge and sent to the Maine State Prison in Warren, where he started setting small, but attainable goals that would help him be the only thing he wanted to be: a good dad.
While in prison he worked to get things he never had before — a state ID, a driver’s license, a bank account. When he was eligible for work release, he got a job at a restaurant in the area — where he still works as a cook — so he could save money to move his family from Lewiston to the midcoast.
When he became eligible to finish his sentence on house arrest, he applied to live at The Friend’s House, where he has continued to work on his goals. He is able to see his family more regularly and is able to attend his children’s school functions.
“It’s really hard to put into words. But I appreciate the fact that they accepted me here and allowed me to come here under my circumstances,” Doyle said.
For Butler, the realization that he needed to turn his life around was more gradual.
He had a criminal record prior to using heroin, but when he “started using drugs, everything went bad fast,” Butler said. “My addiction just alienated me from everyone I cared about.”
“That’s one of the things that woke me up, was just seeing the trail of just messed-up things that I was doing. Not only to myself, but I owe it to these people to do the right thing,” Butler said.
Following his arrest in 2016, he was convicted and sent to the Maine Correctional Center in Windham. There he participated in a recovery-based program with 40 other inmates that focused on re-entry.
“It was pretty intense,” Butler said. “But it ended up being the best thing that has happened to me.”
After four months, he took on a leadership role in the program, helping with the recovery of the other members. “Being there and addressing issues just made me know that I wanted something different, that I didn’t want to do it again,” Butler said.
By taking part in that program, Butler was eligible for work release when he was moved to the Bolduc Correctional Facility and worked in nearby St. George with a landscaping company.
Being able to move into The Friend’s House upon his release in July “was everything” for Butler. “Up until that last week, I didn’t have a clue as to where I was going. Even though I didn’t want to go back to that [former] lifestyle, it’s always an option. It’s always right there.”
A second chance
Butler is now the resident-manager of the house, playing a role similar to the one he played in Windham. He works long hours at the Dragon Cement plant in Thomaston and is enjoying his stability.
“I just believe that if I keep doing the right things, that all of these things will fall into place,” Butler said. “I like where I’m at right now. I’m not stressed out; I’m healthy; I’m not addicted to nothing.”
Butler and Doyle hope that more opportunities like The Friend’s House become available for people in their situation, as the house has helped stabilize their recovery and ease their re-entry.
The Midcoast Recovery Coalition gave them a second chance, and they hope more people in their positions are given a second chance by society as a whole.
“Give a person a chance,” Doyle said. “Don’t be so judgmental; we all make mistakes. Give people a chance to redeem themselves.”
Mandel encourages people who might have concerns about this type of program in their community to attend an open house.
“They should come in and meet the men, and they will find out how wonderful and grateful they are,” Mandel said. “I think that more people will open their eyes and take a look and be receptive to understanding that the past doesn’t define who they are now.”
Throughout his incarceration, Butler wrote letters for his young daughter. He hasn’t sent the letters yet. He keeps them in a journal and writes new ones when he gets a chance. He said he will send them when he thinks the time is right to re-enter her life, “to let her know she was thought of all this time.”
Her told her something he wants everyone to know about people in his position.
“One of the things I said to her was, ‘Good people make mistakes,’” Butler said. “I consider myself a good person, and I’ve made mistakes for a long time, but it’s never too late to figure that out and correct yourself.”