BELFAST — Norman Kehling remembers what it was like to be newly released after a long stretch in prison. One of his first encounters with the way the outside world had changed while he was inside for three decades came when he tried to operate an electronic gas pump. “Before, you would just flip the handle and pump gas,” he said. “I couldn’t do it and had to ask for help.”

The first issue of a free newsletter called Helping Incarcerated Individuals Transition, which aims to help people reenter society after prison, hit the streets for distribution this week, via email and printed copies. The purpose of HIIT, according to Kehling, who edits it, is to let men and women serving time know there are people who care and networks in place to help them succeed when they reenter the community.

At a monthly HIIT meeting, Larraine Brown of AIMe (Artivism In Maine) said experiences like the one Kehling had with the gas pump are common among people who have served long sentences.

The heightened frustration level he experienced after being released led to frequent panic attacks for Kehling. The first time he experienced an attack, he said, was after being incarcerated for 26 years, when he had been released to work in the community, volunteering at a Goodwill store. “I walked in, and it was so big and wide, I panicked,” he said. “It felt like the wind had been sucked out of me and every hair on my body stood up. It was a shock to me.”

With the help of Brown and Robyn Goff, director of community justice at Volunteers of America Northern New England, Kehling said, the newsletter took shape. Also under the VOANNE umbrella is Project Connect, located in downtown Belfast, which helps former inmates reintegrate.

Project Connect provides recovery coaches, restorative arts, substance use counseling and employment and education assistance. Brown said Kehling did most of the work to develop HIIT. “I saw a need for HIIT,” he said, and felt an obligation to the men inside to help them get educated. Kehling said his goal is to meet people at the door when they are released to help them get into support programs so they can function in the community.

Backpacks for Reentry, another pilot program for those leaving Maine Coastal Regional Reentry Center and Knox County Jail, was introduced in HIIT’s inaugural issue. Goff had the idea that guys coming out of incarceration could use a backpack with items to aid in their transition, he said.

The backpacks are tailored to the individuals returning to society with items such as literature about area services, fentanyl test strips, hand sanitizer, hygiene items, hats, gloves, blankets and information on how to obtain Narcan and exchange needles. Eventually, if the program can afford it, Kehling said, they would like to include cellphones and gas cards. Ten backpacks were given to Knox County Jail recently.

Life after incarceration can be overwhelming, he said, and it would be easy to go back and get high. “Inside you lose control of what you eat, your whole schedule is dictated,” he said. “That became normal to me.”

The newsletter also features original submissions from inmates, including poems, stories and commentary. A new column currently under development is called “How-to with Miranda,” and explains the intricacies of pumping gas, how to write a check, how to start a bank account, how to cook a meal for one, how to interview for a job, and how to handle oneself on the phone, among other skills of living on the outside.

Kehling has received help in many forms and he is grateful for community partners like Maine Coastal Regional Reentry Center for its programming, Sarah Mattox at Restorative Justice Project for connecting him to the Reentry Center, and his attorney, John Whitman, of Portland, who took his case pro bono, and has stood by him “through all of my stumbles,” he said.

Kehling is especially proud that his publication will now be available on tablets at Maine State Prison in Warren, and in communities throughout Maine. He said he interviewed with Corrections Commissioner Randy Liberty about the possibility of distributing the newsletter at the state prison. At first, Liberty said he needed to run it past his administration. He then called back shortly after, Kehling said, and gave his approval. Kehling hopes to have the newsletter accepted at the Knox County Jail in Rockland and the Reentry Center in Belfast as well.

For more information or to get on the mailing list to receive HIIT, contact or, or write by postal mail to HIIT ℅ L. Brown, P.O. Box 1090, Belfast, ME 04915.