The Art of Healing: Abolition now

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Long Creek Youth Development Center, Maine’s only youth prison, was almost closed earlier this year. But the bill was vetoed by Gov. Janet Mills after it passed the Legislature.

Although the closure wasn’t set in stone this time, the progress made by the bill was a victory in itself. At the moment, the institution still exists. But the question now is, for how much longer?

Muntaha MohamedLast week, news broke that in the wake of several violent incidents at the South Portland prison, a criminal investigation has begun while senior supervisory officials have either left or been removed from their positions. Although there seem to be actions in response to the latest incidents, as long as Long Creek exists, it will continue to harm and generate violent cycles of abuse. 

I wonder how people thought imprisoning developing minds would be a productive solution. The idea of a “youth prison” foundationally seems like a conundrum. Instead of rerouting funds to help heal the root causes of harm caused by youth in the first place, the state of Maine is still prioritizing the abandonment and harmful structure that is imprisonment.

Imagine what Maine could do with the money that is disproportionately funding prisons and police. We could invest in building a robust network of accessible mental health resources and restorative justice practices, which are desperately needed. We could make sure that innate needs like safe shelter, healthy food, and a warm community are met and other necessities like agency, creativity, and expression are accessible to young communities. 

I recently wrote about failure, and about how allowing failure to exist non-judgmentally throughout our personal journeys will allow us to find our pathways to success. I think our society’s punitive approach to harm and trust in zero-tolerance policies contributes to the dependence our country has on prisons. 

The world would look very different if communities were taught self-awareness tools to keep themselves safe while undergoing accountability and healing processes. But because we are not shown during our formative years in public or private education how to go about true accountability or how to hold space for ourselves while holding space for others, we are left at a disadvantage. We are left scrambling once we leave formal education and are “out in the real world.”

There is just more chance for us to follow where we are being led, instead of carving our own paths. 

What does that say about our society?

To me, it’s another example of how everything is created for the sole purpose of making capital. For-profit prison systems are an incentive for mass incarceration. It is time to dismantle white supremacy inside and outside of ourselves. We need to dismantle white supremacy in how we conduct accountability, and in how we view our contributions to our communities.

Do we want to carve a path towards healing and safety? Or do we follow where we are led, toward harm and abuse?

Muntaha Mohamed is an artist and activist who works for Portland Empowered, volunteers with Black POWER, and sits on the board of Mindbridge.