Executive Director Bruce Noddin, and his team at the Augusta Recovery Reentry Center, gather for a photo on Thursday, Jan. 13. 2022. From left are, Noddin, Courtney Allen, Judy Colomy, Marshal Mercer, Brandon Tobey and Tim Roy. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

A Maine organization that sprang up in recent years to help former prisoners navigate the tough road back to society has won a major federal grant to beef up its efforts.

The $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice reflects the key role the Maine Prisoner Reentry Network now plays in the state’s effort to curb the number of Mainers who eventually return to jail or prison, said Bruce Noddin, who helped found the nonprofit as a volunteer in 2017.

Noddin had been volunteering at the Androscoggin County Jail when he noticed how many of the same people kept coming back. And he knew firsthand how his son, who is incarcerated at the Maine State Prison, struggled to get back on his feet after stints behind bars.

“What are we doing for these folks?” he wondered. Not a lot, he realized.

The network he helped found now serves as a statewide resource hub that did not previously exist.

It brings together organizations across Maine that focus on what people need as they’re rejoining society — housing, jobs and social services — and coordinates with people who are leaving correctional settings. Its small staff comprises people who have firsthand experience with the obstacles people face, including those inside Maine’s prison system that act as peer mentors.

“I call it a living, breathing resource guide,” Noddin said.

Bruce Noddin sits in a meeting room at the Augusta Recovery Reentry Center on Thursday Jan. 13. 2022. The organization just received a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

In a measure of how much the group has grown, as many as 80 people a week — from district attorneys to social workers to recovery experts — now attend a Zoom meeting to discuss the most pressing issues facing people trying to restart their lives. Before the pandemic forced it to go virtual, the group convened smaller, in-person meetings in communities across the state.

The recent federal grant is the largest sum of money the group has ever received by a longshot, Noddin said, and represents about 10 times the nonprofit’s typical annual budget.

The money will primarily go to hiring more staff, taking on more work and tracking the  success of its efforts. In particular, the state doesn’t have a lot of information about people who cycle in and out of jails, compared with prison, Noddin said.

“I couldn’t be more happy for MPRN,” said Randall Liberty, commissioner of the Maine Department of Corrections, when he learned about the grant. “What Bruce Noddin and his team have accomplished on behalf of and with the justice-involved is remarkable.”

Callie Ferguson

Callie Ferguson is an investigative reporter for the Bangor Daily News. She writes about criminal justice, police and housing.