Maine Inside Out, a group of young performers who have been incarcerated, returned to Bowdoin’s campus for a third time to lead a workshop for students and preform an original production, Love Is: Alternatives to Incarceration. The group has performed in high schools and detention centers throughout the country, as well as on the US Senate floor.
The group’s mission is to educate viewers on the struggles of young incarcerated people and present a re-imagination of youth incarceration. In its own words, Maine Inside Out is “committed to dismantling all forms of oppression and building a movement for transformative justice in our communities.”
Bowdoin alumnus Noah Bragg ’15 is Maine Inside Out’s program coordinator. Current student Grace Cawdrey ’20 played an important role in bringing Maine Inside Out back to campus.
After seeing the group preform at Bowdoin, Cawdry said that a “combination of a deep love for Sister Helen Prejean (a preeminent opponent of the death penalty), my family members’ encounters with the law, and a keen interest in government policy” led her to pursue an internship last summer with Maine Inside Out. She taught mindfulness and meditation to a group of high school boys incarcerated at Long Creek Youth Development center in South Portland.
Before their performance, Maine Inside Out held an interactive workshop and discussion groups with Bowdoin students at Reed House. Participants played high-energy theater games, then split up into smaller groups to talk about topics such as youth incarceration and racism.
The members of Maine Inside Out bring their own stories, struggles, and triumphs to the theater production, which touches on many similar issues to the workshop. Twenty percent of incarcerated youth in Maine are people of color, and nearly one-third have been diagnosed with a mental illness. And, as the performance stressed, many come from difficult family situations and may feel lost or helpless.
“[The show’s] therapeutic, and gives more than just one voice,” said Skye, a member of Maine Inside Out, in an interview after the performance. The show weaves poetry, song and movement into a series of short vignettes about life before, during, and after incarceration. The poetry included works from youth still in detention centers, some who Cawdrey worked with last summer.
Cawdry said the show, Love Is, “demands that audiences view [the performers] as supportive friends, political movers, dedicated parents, and so much more.”
After the performance, members of the audience were invited to share their reactions and engage in a dialogue with members of Maine Inside Out. “Youth incarceration doesn’t work,” Skye said, as fellow member of Maine Inside Out, JP, nodded. “Locking away a child for years on end doesn’t work,” JP added. “It doesn’t help anyone.”
Cawdrey stressed the importance of the event for Bowdoin students, many of whom might not encounter this topic outside of an academic setting. “Maine Inside Out brought a perspective that is often missing from conversations about incarceration,” she wrote in an email. “A perspective that I hope motivates students to take a stance and affect change in a knowledgeable way. “