The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
Courtney Allen is policy director of the Maine Recovery Advocacy Project and a graduate student at the Muskie School of Public Policy. This column was written in collaboration with a network of advocates and reflects their views and expertise and does not speak on behalf of her university. Allen is a member of the Maine chapter of the national Scholars Strategy Network, which brings together scholars across the country to address public challenges and their policy implications. Members’ columns appear in the BDN every other week.
The Maine Recovery Advocacy Project is made up of grassroots organizers in the recovery community coming together to redefine and reimagine justice, access, connection and recovery in Maine. First and foremost, we are committed to raising the voices of our community members, which includes people in recovery, people who use drugs, family members and other supporters of the recovery process. Some of our members are at the Hancock County Jail and in other places of incarceration across the state.
As a growing statewide movement, we are writing to thank the Bangor Daily News for exposing the recovery coaching controversy at the Hancock County Jail. The actions taken by Sheriff Scott Kane last summer should have never occurred. He abruptly and unilaterally ended the life-saving and hope-instilling services of recovery coaches provided by the well-regarded nonprofit, Healthy Acadia. He jeopardized the lives of the people he is trusted to protect and he did this as a knee-jerk reaction to an entirely appropriate statement posted by Healthy Acadia on its website in support of Black Lives Matter, following the death of George Floyd and revelations of other atrocities last summer.
For months, the sheriff then stubbornly refused to engage in meaningful discussions with Healthy Acadia to resolve the matter. He had a misguided view of Healthy Acadia’s important message and he stuck with it, despite the harm it caused people in our community. Not until the BDN brought the matter to light did real progress occur. Even then, the sheriff left the virtual public meeting held by Hancock County Commissioners and refused to hear directly from the people who elected him about their distaste for his actions. This entire situation should never happen again — in Hancock County or anywhere else in Maine.
Recovery coaches offer hope, support and connections to resources. They are among the most beneficial services we can offer those who are incarcerated, especially in this present moment in our nation’s history — a moment when the entire world has been forced into extreme isolation, unable to see family, participate in community activities, and struggling with our own uptick of mental health concerns. This is a moment when we should all be able to relate to people who are incarcerated because they have been facing these challenges much longer than us.
Except the difference is that they are locked in a tiny, stark room and have even less contact with the outside world. Many also have underlying, preexisting mental health and substance use disorders caused by changes to their brain. Now, add the fear and anxiety all of us are feeling, knowing that there is a global pandemic killing people throughout Maine and the world. It’s truly a dreadful combination of factors.
We are calling on the people of Hancock County to hold their sheriff accountable for his actions against our community. Even if that just means remembering this moment next election season and voting him out of office. We need your help to protect our community.
Moving forward, every jail and prison in Maine should welcome recovery coaches and continually seek to expand their use. In this time of COVID-19, steps must be taken to ensure they are able to do their important work of building connection and community with people who are incarcerated.
The Maine Recovery Advocacy Project will speak out about these and other issues of concern. We will seek to develop a constituency of consequence because change happens when we hold our elected officials accountable for their actions. We will advocate for policy reform in the Legislature. We’ll seek to inform, address misconceptions and reduce stigma. We hope you’ll join us on this journey to redefine and reimagine what recovery means and how it’s embraced in our state laws, county policies, municipal ordinances, schools, workplaces, and in our daily lives.