Gazing at a college audience similarly aged to their selves, members of Maine Inside Out performed a skit that expressed the surprisingly small disparities between their lives and those of Bowdoin students. 

Maine Inside Out is an organization that works with incarcerated and formerly incarcerated youth to create and perform original theater. The program benefits both participants and audience members, combating stereotypes of incarcerated youth and providing an outlet for expression.

This past Wednesday, the group came to Reed House to present a short video which included a news segment about the organization as well as a documentary about what Maine Inside Out has to offer to its participants. Once the video was over, the group performed a short theater piece that they had prepared themselves.

Before taking questions from the audience, the participants went down the line introducing themselves and explaining how the organization has impacted their lives. 
One of the members, who has continued to participate for years after he was released from prison, said that Maine Inside Out is different from the other facilitated programs that are offered to individuals while imprisoned. 

“The reason we keep coming back is because we have a connection with it,” he said. 
Unlike other courses such as counseling or anger management, in which inmates participate either because they are required to or allow for an earlier release date, the members of Maine Inside Out chose to join because it was a place for them to openly express themselves.
According to co-director Tessy Seward, the primary goal of the organization is to drastically reduce, if not eliminate, the incarceration of youth. 

“I think we can demonstrate that communities are safer and more connected and better places to live when restorative and transformative justice is explored,” said Seward. 

She explained that the organization chose to convey these ideas through theater because it provides a way of communicating with words as well as physicality.

“There’s feeling and thinking at the same time. I think that’s unique to live theater as an art form,” she added.

The group was invited to Reed House by Victoria Lowrie ’18, programming director of the house. She is also the co-president of Bowdoin’s chapter of College Guild, an organization that sends educational material to prisoners who would not otherwise qualify for accredited education courses. 

“They use theater to work to build empathy and [cross] borders that aren’t normally crossed,” said Lowrie. 

While the Maine Inside Out members joked that most of them only became involved for the free food at meetings, they also each shared specific and personal reasons for why they joined the organization. In addition to providing an outlet for expression without judgement, Maine Inside Out helps members combat issues like anxiety, fear of public speaking and an inability to express emotions.

By sharing their personal experiences and opinions with large audiences, the members hope to convey that they are just like everyone else. As a result of an emotional, impactful performance, viewers often question their preconceived notions of incarcerated youth. 

“I help people by helping myself when I get on that stage,” said another member of Maine Inside Out.

Lowrie felt that the originality of this group’s mission would provide for interesting discussion, noting that she hadn’t seen an event like this on campus prior to Wednesday’s presentation. 

“If we are talking about mass incarceration, it’s a very academic discussion,” Lowrie said. “So I think it is going to bring something new actually having formerly incarcerated young individuals who are going to share their stories and their lessons.”

“I think it’s going to be a great step forward in terms of maybe getting people to think about being more empathetic to people that they wouldn’t normally relate to,” she added.