SOUTH PORTLAND — When drama practice is over for the day, the seven young men working on their lines will head for home. Since practice took place inside the Long Creek Youth Development Center, they’re already there.

For the last month, a group of residents from the high-risk unit here have been working on producing a short play based on their experiences. With the help of Maine Inside Out, an organization that focuses on using the performing arts to initiate social change, the young men in the juvenile detention center have crafted a story.

It shows, they say, that they once were more than just a number in the system, and can be more when they are released. A performance for friends, family and others is scheduled for Thursday at Long Creek.

“I think it does good showing people how we feel,” said Justin Wyman, 18. “It shows people we can accomplish something.”

Last week, Margot Fine and Chiara Libertore, facilitators with Maine Inside Out, worked with the group as they walked through scenes and tried to fine-tune dialogue.

“You guys are doing a great job going off the cuff,” Fine said.

The play consists of a series of vignettes depicting the life of a Long Creek resident on the outside and how he’s met in the community.

Mike Holland, 19, said the residents wanted to create a story about their lives, yet also touch on themes like respect and ideas of masculinity.

But the project wasn’t for everyone. When it began a month ago, the group had almost double the people it has now, said Derek Smith, 18.

It’s taken many hours of work, beginning with simple theater exercises to get the young men used to acting out motions and projecting their voices on stage, said Fine.

“We’d create a silent scene with a beginning, middle and end and start with one line of dialogue and add,” she said.

One thing that wasn’t difficult, she said, was getting the young men to open up.

“It’s an opportunity to tell an audience or a community who you are,” Fine said.

Created in 2007, Maine Inside Out pursues a mission of giving a creative outlet to people who are or have been incarcerated.

It has also done work with community and high school groups to create productions based on life experiences.

The organization is supported by the Maine Community Foundation and the Maine State Housing Authority.

“Everyone here will be outside at some point,” Fine said. “What as a community are we going to do to support them?”

Scott Janosik, a program manager at Long Creek, said the month-long residency by Maine Inside Out has had a positive effect on the young men.

“For these kids it’s an opportunity for them to find some normalcy, something kids outside get on a normal basis,” said Janosik.

Normally the young men would be doing homework, playing board games or watching TV after their daily classes, but instead they chose to work on the play, Janosik said.

He said he hopes the project will benefit the young men, especially because they are in the high-risk unit.

“It’s a chance to take a sense of pride in what they do. It’s exciting,” Janosik said.

Scott Miller, 18, said he had always had some interest in acting but never had a chance to pursue it until now. Miller said it’s been a good opportunity to get to know other residents and learn how to work together.

For Thursday’s performance, Long Creek staff won’t be the only ones in attendance, as each of the participants is able to invite family, friends or others, such as probation officers or judges.

Joe Giusti, 18, said the residents can’t help but be a little nervous, but the chance to tell the story they created is a powerful motivator.

Ryan Benoit, 19, said they’re proud of themselves and what they’ve done together.

“No one drew up our lines. We created this. It’s self-directed,” he said.

 

Staff Writer Justin Ellis can be contacted at 791-6380 or at

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