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Anna Diaz is a member of the board of Maine Inside Out, a nonprofit organization through which facilitators and incarcerated youth collaborate to hold theater programs at Long Creek Youth Development Center. She wrote this column on behalf of the board.
When our young people are incarcerated, removed from their communities and families, it is a wound that is difficult to heal. As members of the board of Maine Inside Out, we all followed different paths to the organization, which holds theater programs at the Long Creek Youth Development Center — but with the same dedication to transformative justice and in support of youth impacted by the criminal justice system. We are committed to healing the wounds of a carceral system, and we implore lawmakers to do the same.
Justice for the young people of Maine who experienced the carceral system means listening to their solutions and acting upon them. We know that this practice may feel uncomfortable.
The idealism of our mission to build a world where everyone matters and belongs took each of us time to connect with. Can we create a world where everyone matters and belongs — even the people who harm us? Not only do we believe that we can — but that we must. We can do the work of imagining something better, for all of us, through difficult conversations, acknowledging harm, and working to keep harm from happening again.
The Maine Legislature could still override Gov. Janet Mills’s veto of LD 1668 in order to acknowledge a system that has harmed more than it has helped. The creation of a community center and housing at the site of Long Creek wouldn’t erase history, it would give us a place to speak about what was and what can be. A reinvestment of money that once caged children could carry them through the difficulties life throws at all of us and support them in ways we know are possible if we were willing to do things differently.
LD 1668 does not ask Long Creek to close tomorrow, but in two years. That’s two years in which we can thoughtfully implement systems that are not jail cells, but that actually serve the needs of children in crisis.
We recognize that mass incarceration in the United States is a deeply complex problem. However, there are times when the right thing to do also offers a simple solution: This is one of those times. In her veto letter, Mills states that with the closure of Long Creek, “Maine would become the only state in the nation without a secure facility to serve the needs of youth who require detention for some period because they represent a risk to themselves or others.”
The governor and state legislators should imagine standing up in front of the nation and the world and proudly saying: The State of Maine does not put children in jail. Being the only state without youth prisons should be a badge of honor that Maine proudly wears.
As a board, we welcome the challenge of following where Maine Inside Out’s youth lead. It’s our job to clear obstacles from their path as they build a better world. We ask the 130th Legislature to do what Mills would not: Show brave leadership to a nation that craves not only acknowledgment of systems of oppression, but repair as well.
There is a path forward. The passage of LD 1668 could still be a turning point for Maine. Where we bravely lead, others will follow. Maine lawmakers should not let this moment pass. They should commit to real change by overriding the veto of LD 1668.