Making change at Warren prison with new thinking

Posted:  Monday, January 20, 2014 - 3:15pm

AUGUSTA — Earlier this month five prisoners in the maximum security building at Maine State Prison in Warren were the first to graduate from a new program geared to help them accept their past in order to redefine their futures. The 12-week ACT program is adapted for prisoners from a program to help military veterans handle post-traumatic stress disorder. The MSP graduates, Care and Treatment Workers, MSP and administrators are all breaking fresh trail with the program.

Martha Boynton is one of four MSP Care and Treatment Worker who spent "two full days" at Togus Veterans Hospital in Augusta, training to teach ACT, an acronym for Acceptance, Commitment, Therapy. The four case workers then adapted what they learned about military veterans to prisoners.

"A lot of these [prisoners] have their own post-traumatic stress from their childhood or maybe their crime,” said Boynton in a news release. “The idea with ACT is: How do you bring your history into your future? Rather than fighting it, drowning it, trying to quiet the noise -- how do you bring that past, that history, into your future? By making it your friend."

Deputy Warden Michael J. Tausek, told the graduates. "There's one mantra I try to live by with you guys. You will all transition. You will move on. Moving on with change so you don't come back here ever again? That's a choice you guys have to make. Everyone wants you to succeed. Everyone sees that value each and every one you hold.”

One graduate, on behalf of them all, presented Eric Bueno, the Care and Treatment Worker who led them through the ACT program, with a plaque and the inscription:
"In recognition of your valuable contributions and willingness to show that there's a true person inside you who cares about personal growth...we as a community have grown to appreciate your opinion and we have also come to learn to respect and value your direction."

Maine State Prison Warden Rodney Bouffard then invited Corrections Commissioner Joseph Ponte to speak to the graduates. Commissioner Ponte reminded them that when he was first Commissioner, about three years ago, prisoners told him they wanted more opportunities and case workers to help them prepare for productive lives in the free world. The ACT program, said Commissioner Ponte, is one answer to that request.

Ponte noted: "This is the first step in a process. This program is really a commitment about change for those guys who want to change. The program teaches you a different way to think. And what you see in the role of these case workers today is a role I can see for all of our caseworkers over the next couple of years.”

"You're trying to move on and change in a positive way," Ponte continued. "It's a constant fight for you guys. When you're in a cell block with 60 or 70 inmates it's a challenge every day. I congratulate you guys on being the first ones to step up and say, 'Hey, I want to participate.'"