We Are An Ordinary Family

A story by Catherine from 2021

I come from an ordinary, middle class, mostly professional family: military vets turned airline pilots, small business owners, educators, managers, real estate agents, a couple of stockbrokers. We are Black, white and Latinx. We are beneficiaries of the GI Bill, rising real estate values in white neighborhoods, and gentle policing. Several of us have been incarcerated.

Drugs were the primary culprit. Possession, using, distribution. Homelessness (because of addiction). Soliciting (because of addiction). Theft (because of addiction). One lost their kids, one of whom also went to prison for drugs. Two died before the age of 50, their bodies broken by addiction. One fled the country after release and we don’t know where they are. One, arrested in another country, talked their way out. One, arrested in a political protest, doesn’t yet know if they will be charged.

Even though all these arrests happened in other states, the Justice Policy Program at USM estimates that 60-70% of Mainers have been impacted in some way by the criminal justice system. As I said, we are an ordinary family. What does it feel like, to be ordinary in this way? Parents struggling to find good care and support for their addicted children, dreading those phone calls from jail, trying to step in to parent when a parent goes to jail. Eventually, feeling guilty about feeling relieved when a loved one is incarcerated, because at least that means knowing where the loved one is living – and that the loved one is living. Death coming soon after release, as the body is unprepared for a return to substance use.

My story relates to Maine because it is here where I finally began to find answers to my questions about how we use incarceration in this country to deal with all kinds of issues, forcing families to engage with carceral forms of control and punishment rather than social forms of support and nourishment. The clarity of young people denouncing Long Creek, because a prison cannot offer the support young people need to find their way toward a healthy adulthood; the voice of ME-RAP and their allies calling for a rational and caring response to substance abuse rather than cruelty; the work of MPAC to humanize incarcerated people to the society that has made them invisible and expendable – these are the approaches to addressing social problems that resonate with me. These approaches model the kind of society I want to live in, the kind of society that might have offered my family something other than decades of cycling through prisons.

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