PORTLAND — Zack Gregoire spent three years inside the Long Creek Youth Development Facility, where he went through all the routine counseling required.
However, Gregoire, now 18, also found a different kind of therapy that helped him get through while inside, and even have fun.
In 2013, he and seven others began participating in an organization called Maine Inside Out, which collaborates with incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people to create and share personal theater.
“That changed my experience there, because it gave me something to look forward to everyday and everyday they came in gave me something new,” Gregoire said.
Gregoire is now a co-director of the organization, helping with event planning and keeping in contact with participants still incarcerated and those on the outside.
Maine Inside Out was established in 2007, when it operated from project to project. Now the organization runs a more consistent programming schedule; most recently, it wrapped up an event at One Longfellow Square called “Coming Home After Lockup.”
The organization is mainly focused on the boys and girls at Long Creek on Westbrook Street in South Portland. It provides workshops, typically 10 two-hour sessions, that culminate in original, public performances.
Gregoire said it is an important service for the adolescents, but also for the community.
“It definitely helps kids to open up more and in a sense be more vulnerable to people by expressing themselves through performance,” he said. For the community, he added, open mindedness is important in understanding “that kids are being reintegrated into the community, not just reentering it.”
Margot Fine, co-director and co-founder of the organization, said in 2007 she and the other co-founders saw a need for a program that uses art to engage the community and have the community “see people who they might not have had contact with in a different light.”
“Art does that in a very different way,” Fine said. “We thought the work did could reach that goal and we went for it.”
Fine said the Nov. 17 event at One Longfellow Square was not only packed, but something really never seen before.
“That event was unique because we brought a group from inside Long Creek,” and gathered up participants who had been released as well, Fine said. She said prior to the event at Longfellow, “it was unheard of for released people and currently incarcerated people to get together in same room” for this type of event.
“It opened a lot minds in the community,” Gregoire said of the event.
The community plays a pivotal role in all the performances. Each performance is usually 10 to 15 minutes, Fine said, and the bulk of the event is community dialogue. The participants will remain on stage and answer questions from the audience, not just about the creation process of the performance, but also social issues. Fine said reintegration was a major topic discussion at the Longfellow Square event.
She said the organization has done programming at the former Women’s Re-entry Center in Bangor, and is planning on doing programming at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham and the Cumberland County Jail. In the spring, Fine said, the Maine Inside Out will be at North Yarmouth Academy.
The organization also has a fast-approaching fundraising goal of $25,000 by Dec. 31. Fine said $10,000 has been raised.
Fine said the performances are about more than just getting on stage. She said by participating and continuing to participate, the kids gain practical skills like public speaking, stretching comfort zones and interacting with others.
Fine and Gregoire both said Maine Inside Out is an avenue to prevent kids from going back to the same situations that got them incarcerated in the first place.
“If I’m released from a facility and I don’t have anybody in the community I can talk to or any supports or anything like that, I’m just going to go back to the same old stuff and basically wreak havoc,” Gregoire said.
Perfomers from Maine Inside Out, an organization that works with incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people to create original performances, line up backstage at Westbrook High School