In an ordinary month, community organization Maine Inside Out would be hosting its regular first-Monday open-mic performance at Local Sprouts Cooperative on Congress Street in Portland.

There, Maine Inside Out participants – youth who are or who have been incarcerated – deliver short pieces they have written based on social and personal issues they have confronted in their lives: substance abuse and addiction, racism, homelessness, domestic violence, masculinity, mental health.   

But November 2016 will be different, as the organization presents “an especially significant event,” in the words of Margot Fine, Maine Inside Out co-founder and co-director.

“It’s the first time that our annual performance has been created and hosted by community participants,” Fine explained.

“More than 40 kids, no longer incarcerated, who live in Biddeford, Lewiston or Portland have been meeting and are collaborating to create and perform a play that was developed through their real-life stories.”

“Do You See Me? All Who Struggle, Salute,” will be staged from 7:30-9 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 10, at Hannaford Hall in the Abromson Center on the University of Southern Maine campus in Portland. A short film by Smooth Feather, showing the cast rehearsing  and preparing for their performance, will premiere.

“The play outlines, very clearly, real-life examples of police brutality, homelessness, addiction and racism, and within that, Islamophobia,” Fine said.

Much of the occasion’s significance derives from the performers’ being no longer incarcerated, but still continuing their involvement with MIO.

“Too often, the resources to help kids are no longer available once they walk out the (Long Creek Youth Development Center) door,” said Chiara Liberatore. She and Tessy Seward are Fine’s co-directors at, and co-founders of, MIO, which has grown to add two part-time, community group facilitator staffers, Abdulkadhir Ali and Joseph Jackson.

“One goal – and I would call it one of the biggest successes of the organization – is kids outside the facility continuing to be engaged in their home towns and in their community. That successful reintegration sees them become agents of change in their own world,” Liberatore said.

IMO participants come from all over Maine. At present about half of the 86 residents at Long Creek are in the year-round, voluntary program – one group of girls, and two groups of boys, younger and older. All LC youth are able to view the performances.

Three times a week, Seward, Liberatore and Fine, who have extensive backgrounds in social work, theater and related  disciplines, meet twice with each group at Long Creek to help facilitate the kids’ 15-20-minute scripts, which are fluid and very “live,” always allowing for improvisation.

It is the groups who determine “what message they want to get out to the community,” the co-directors stressed. The circle process – in keeping with the core value that “every voice is as important as every other’” – is used in the script-building workshops.

Trust and peer support build as group members discover their shared experiences. In energetic performance, those “short and powerful,” pieces are followed by dialogue with audience members, Seward said: “They are engaged, not passive, audiences.” Exchanges with performers can be “extremely moving and emotional” for both sides, she noted.

And educational for both, as well.

“Another very important and positive effect we have seen is that the stigma of incarceration, which is very deep, can be removed,” Fine said. “The kids see themselves and are seen in a different way – as artists, each with a story and a voice.”

For more information, please visit maineinsideout.org (look under Events to purchase tickets for the Nov. 10 performance); and find Maine Inside Out on Facebook.

For more information, please visit maineinsideout.org (look under Events to purchase tickets for the Nov. 10 performance); and find Maine Inside Out on Facebook.

These monthly profiles are brought to you by Lee Auto Malls. The Lee family is committed to supporting local organizations that work to sustain Maine communities.


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