'Now I'm shooting for the moon'

Re-entry center resident reflects on past in quest to start over
By Tanya Mitchell | Dec 13, 2012
Photo by: Tanya Mitchell Shawn Adams, a resident at the Maine Coastal Regional Reentry Center in Belfast, performs community service at the Belfast Free Library Saturday, Dec. 8.

Belfast — Shawn Adams has experienced many highs and lows in his 35 years, and he said many of the adversities he faced were the result of his own actions.

"I couldn't get myself to the bottom fast enough," Adams told the Republican Journal Thursday, Dec. 6.

Adams, a resident at the Maine Coastal Regional Reentry Center in Belfast, said he's now doing what he needs to do to adjust to life after incarceration. Thanks to the programs available at the facility, Adams is now doing something he said he hasn't done in years — looking forward to his future.

"I'm changing the expectations I used to have for myself," he said with a smile. "Now I'm shooting for the moon."

'I grew up young and fast'

Adams grew up in the Windham area, and his mother worked two jobs to support him and his younger sister.

"I grew up young and fast," said Adams. "...There was nobody to tell me to be home at a certain time."

Because of his experimentation with LSD, mushrooms and marijuana, Adams had been in two drug rehabilitation programs before he turned 18.

Adams eventually dropped out of high school, after which he started following the Grateful Dead. Once that era ended, Adams said, his friends returned to their old lives. Adams, however, wasn't ready for the party to be over.

"The drugs started to get harder," he said. "Then I found a new home in the rave scene."

Adams cleaned up for a while in his early 20s. He worked on a farm, and earned his GED in 2001.

"That was the beginning of me trying to do things differently," said Adams.

But, Adams said, life continued to present tough situations that he didn't always know how to cope with. That led Adams down a path that included criminal charges and incarceration, which he said were directly linked to his addictions. The charges Adams acquired, which consisted of thefts and burglaries, brought him in and out of the correctional system for the better part of a decade.

And life continued to present its challenges. When Adams was sharing a jail cell with his older brother in 2002, his brother died of a drug overdose.

"He just went to sleep and he never woke up," recalled Adams.

When Adams was released, he tried to start over again, but then he suffered the loss of a child and soon his inability to cope without the drugs led him back behind bars.

Adams was released from prison in late 2008, after serving 26 months. He then started his own business, bought a truck and built a home for his family, but he continued to struggle with his addictions.

Adams started drinking more, and soon he went back to using. He crashed his truck while intoxicated one afternoon. After that, Adams said, he lost his business and his ability to support his family. He struggled to find work.

"I started going back to what I knew, which was burglary and theft," Adams said.

This time, Adams said, he stole firearms during a break-in, a move that eventually brought members of the Maine Violent Crimes Task Force to his doorstep and led to a slew of new criminal charges. At that time, Adams was ordered to serve four years on a total eight-year sentence in 2010.

"When I went back this time I just felt older, and more defeated," he said. "...But then, I had the chance to come here."

Turning the corner

Adams arrived at the Reentry Center in August, and said he's come a long way since.

Like his fellow residents, Adams has provided volunteer labor to organizations like Waldo County Habitat for Humanity, the Belfast Soup Kitchen, Waldo County YMCA and the Belfast Free Library.

Adams is also participating in the College Connection program, which has resulted in his earning two scholarships and starting classes at the University of Maine Hutchinson Center.

"My goal is to work with at-risk youth," said Adams.

Adams has been involved with programs administered through the the Restorative Justice Project of the Midcoast, as well as a series of classes through the Reentry Center that have helped him learn the skills he needs to survive after he is released. He recently found work at a local restaurant, and is looking forward to executing the skills he's learned once he is released next spring.

"I feel like I have way more going for me now," he said.

Waldo County Correctional Administrator Ray Porter said Adams' story, while unique, has many of the same elements as those of his fellow residents.

As part of the risk assessment tool the Reentry Center uses to gauge how likely a candidate is to end up back in jail, Porter said, the results give the staff an idea of what problems led the candidate to crime in the first place. Porter noted that the Reentry Center takes only those who are at medium or high risk for recidivism. No sex offenders or violent criminals are permitted.

"They have numerous areas in their lives that they need to work on, or improve on," said Porter. "It could be substance abuse, family and relationships, their attitudes and the way they think."

Porter is one of several players involved with the Reentry Center, as the program represents a partnership between the Waldo County Sheriff's Office, the corrections division and Volunteers of America.

Program Manager Jerome Weiner said the center differs from a typical incarceration facility, because each resident follows a schedule of classes and counseling that is tailored specifically to him.

"We teach cognitive behavior therapy," said Weiner. "...If we can change our attitudes and beliefs, we change our actions."

And the classes and programs at the Reentry Center — there are more than 30 — are designed to do just that. Weiner said some courses help residents learn how to bounce back from life situations without the aid of drugs and alcohol, while another course teaches the residents how to cook for themselves.

Waldo County Chief Deputy Jeff Trafton said, while the program is doing good things for the residents and the community, it is not 100 percent successful — some have returned to jail. In the first year of operation, Weiner said, the recidivism rate was about 24 percent and about 27 percent in the second year. But Porter noted that since the Reentry Center deals with an exclusively high-risk population, he would not consider those figures high.

"We know who we're getting when they come in," said Porter.

Trafton said even if there are a few who re-offend, the majority of residents have earned the trust of the greater community through their actions and the relationships they've fostered along the way.

"And we hold that community trust very precious," said Trafton.

Over the last fiscal year, Porter said, the Reentry Center has served 45 residents. Of those 45, Weiner said, only two left without jobs.

All residents are expected to obtain employment, and Weiner said their income goes toward building a foundation for a successful transition. The state takes 25 percent of their earnings to pay any fines or restitution and 20 percent for room and board. Ten percent of their paychecks is socked away in a savings account for the resident to use when he is released.

"Most guys leave with enough money to hopefully make their first month's rent; it's just to get them started," said Weiner.

While Weiner said the center suggests that each resident perform at least four hours of community service per week, they typically go above and beyond that requirement. According to the center's records, residents provided 3,988 hours of volunteer work between July 2011 and July 2012 and served 35 local nonprofits.

Adams credits the program for helping him reestablish his relationship with his children, who he said he is looking forward to spending more time with after he is released. He also said he's been excited to obtain his education because it has allowed him to see his future in a more positive light.

Overall, Adams said it's been good for him to "give back to the community, as opposed to taking from it," and attributed much of his progress to those experiences.

"I owe it to the community service I've done, and the friends and positive people I've surrounded myself with," said Adams. "And my own willingness to be different."

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