Thursday, March 5th, 2020
It can be difficult, as we move at a frantic pace through all the work that needs to be done, to find a moment to take stock and document exactly where we are in our efforts. It is, however, an important conversation to have, especially as one of our primary goals is engaging the community at large and securing their assistance in this task. So we’re adding this section to the site in an attempt to do so. Hopefully we can make updates here regularly.
Why We Fight
For our first entry, it seems worth talking for a moment about why we do what we do. Certainly there’s a personal aspect to it – we’ve all had loved ones deeply impacted by the way that our society currently deals with those who have criminal histories. But it’s more than that; each of us has had to step back from our personal situation and ask whether or not we are allowing our “bias” to make us see a problem where there isn’t one. Unanimously, we’ve come to believe that the struggles are very real and the work would definitely be worth doing even if we had not been impacted personally by the way things currently stand.
There are many reasons why supporting someone with a criminal history is the right thing to do:
Compassion: Certainly, basic human decency compels us to see peoples’ struggles lessened. While most people with criminal histories have undoubtedly earned them, and there is an argument to be made that any struggles they encounter in reintegrating into our communities are struggles of their own making, such an argument ignores a lot of fundamental truths about the human condition. People are not fixed at one static level of virtue, and who a person was is seldom an accurate reflection of who they currently are.
Moreover, those who ascribe to the philosophy of punishment rather than rehabilitation must concede that people reintegrating into society have, by definition, already served whatever period of incarceration deemed appropriate by society for their offense. Whether such incarceration was “too much” or “too little” or indeed even appropriate for the offenses committed is simply beyond the scope of our mission as an organization.
In his remarkable self-help book Life 101, Peter McWilliams prescribed unnecessary life experience as his definition of what evil is. “To cut off a dog’s tail, when necessary,” he posits, “is life. To do it an inch at a time is evil.” Incarceration, probation and parole are often necessary. But preventing ostensibly rehabilitated people from decent housing, worthwhile employment, and a support system to address underlying conditions that may have caused their criminal behavior in the first place goes beyond that.
Self-Interest: Even if one ignores the moral and ethical arguments for making it easier to reintegrate into society, there is a certain obvious gain for the community. There is no logic in expecting a former thief not to steal again, for example, and then making it prohibitively difficult to earn money in any other way. There is no logic in expecting someone prone to violence when drunk to stop drinking, and then offer no path to assist them in recovering from their alcoholism. There is no logic in expecting a former sex offender to express their sexuality in legal, healthy ways, and then make it virtually impossible for them to form any kind of close relationship.
When we help a reformed person succeed, we provide a safety net between who they used to be and who we want them to be. The people who benefit most from that safety net are us.
Prosperity: Far from just protecting ourselves from potential re-offense, our general quality of life is improved when we accept the challenge of helping people build better lives. Maine, in particular, is a state with unique challenges when it comes to maintaining our workforce and growing our population. As communication and travel options improve, more and more of our youth make the decision to relocate, seduced by the appeal of warmer climates with all the extra activities inherent in the more condensed populations of metropolitan city centers. Our government does a fine job of combating this by incentivizing business and highlighting all that is great and wonderful about the Pine Tree State. However, compared to other states, we still have a bigger struggle when it comes to keeping our businesses staffed and our population on the rise.
Making Maine the Second Chance State can have long term economic and cultural benefits for us. Reintegrating individuals are a humongous untapped resource with a wide diversity of talent and potential, and it would be shrewd of us to make that resource our own.