Portland nonprofit taking 'inside' voices out to Michigan

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PORTLAND — At Maine Inside Out, the play is more than the thing.

“I had a big passion for wanting to change what was going on in the system. Doing this filled a part of my heart,” MIO member Joey Munsey said March 16 after a meeting on Munjoy Hill.

Munsey, 22, is one of 20 MIO members and facilitators who are taking their show “Love is: Alternatives to Incarceration” to Michigan as resident artists in the 23rd annual Art Exhibition by Michigan Prisoners.

MIO, formed about 12 years ago, “is about helping communities evolve to new ways to address harm,” co-founder Tessy Seward said Monday.

With meetings and open mic nights held in the city, Lewiston, Biddeford and Waterville, the nonprofit is growing throughout the state. The week-long trip to Michigan includes visits to at least four facilities holding juvenile offenders, and the group is performing at the University of Michigan on March 28.

“This trip is really special … it will be hard … there is a lot of stuff we will get stressed out about,” MIO co-founder Chiara Liberatore said Friday as members discussed details of the trip.

Liberatore, once a volunteer with the University of Michigan’s Prison Creative Arts Project, was instrumental in getting MIO the residency, Seward said.

MIO is within $1,900 of its $10,000 fundraising goal for the trip, which members are viewing as a part of the mission to help people rethink incarceration, punishment and redemption.

“I do this because when I was their age, there was nothing like this,” MIO  program facilitator Joseph Jackson said March 6.

Jackson served 19 years in prison after a 1995 manslaughter conviction and said he wants to help people out of bad cycles in their lives.

“We are not giving people the opportunity to learn and make mistakes. We forget there are no perfect people,” he said.

Seward said MIO members often come to them while serving at the Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland, but MIO is open to anyone who has also been free after serving.

Facilitators use physical exercises and games to open members to performance arts. The annual production becomes their work, in their chosen medium.

“They bring personal stories to the work and use the tools we have to create the powerful images,” Seward said.

Munsey said he reads a poem he wrote about having a gun held to his head when he was 7 years old.

“What really empowered me is, I want people to know there are ways to overcome trauma. You can’t predict it and people treat it differently,” Munsey said.

Mike Prue, 27, was offered a chance to join MIO about seven years ago and declined. He said he felt ready to take part last year and now jokingly calls himself the MVP of the group.

“Not every door is a locked door,” Prue said. “Our goal is to show there are other doors.”

Seward said it takes trust and work to get MIO members to open up and perform, but Prue said doing it is rewarding.

“I had a big ol’ relief of accomplishment,” he said.

Skye Gosselin, 19, said she already had a love of performing, and being in MIO feeds her desire to help others.

“It means a lot to me personally, I had a bit of a rough childhood,” she said. “I’m using getting in trouble with the law in a positive way.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

MIO co-founder Chiara Liberatore, left, and program facilitator Joseph Jackson listen to a leadership group discussion March 16, a week before members go to Michigan to perform.

MIO program facilitator Joseph Jackson said the approach for helping troubled youth reach their potential is something that could have benefited him. “I do this because when I was their age, there was nothing like this,” he said March 16.

Joey Munsey says performing and serving with MIO helps fill his desire for activism. “I want people to know there are ways to overcome trauma. You can’t predict it and people treat it differently,” he said.

Skye Gosselin and Mike Prue are two of about 20 members and staff from MIO headed to Michigan this week to perform “Love is: Alternatives to Incarceration” in the Exhibition of Art by Michigan Prisoners.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.