USM Free Press News Feed
By Sarah Tewksbury, Staff Writer
The student senate met Friday, April 28 on the Gorham campus in Upton Hastings Hall. The start time of 2 p.m. was delayed by an executive board meeting in which a Violations Inquiry Committee (VIC) recommended that Liam Ginn, former student senate chair, issue a second and separate apology for alleged Islamophobic comments.
According to VIC evidence, three witnesses to the incident, the accuser, the accused and an eyewitness bystander, all had different versions of the story. After lengthy deliberation, the VIC made their recommendation to the student senate. Once the weekly senate meeting was officially called to order, Ginn issued one public apology to satisfy his punishment.
“I’m deeply sorry for any ableist comments and Islamophobic comments that I have made,” Ginn said. “I’m sorry if I have offended anyone.”
Following Ginn’s brief words, the meeting began with its usual formalities: attendance and introductions. As individuals in the room introduced themselves, it became clear that President Glenn Cummings was present to speak to students.
Cummings began by thanking the students who had chosen to participate in the senate, particularly during this intense academic year. He noted that this was a difficult and “rugged” year that hopefully would not be repeated in the future.
It became apparent that Cummings was there to issue a series of apologies. The first was in regards to how he felt the administration had failed the student senators. It was obvious that Cummings did not believe the administration had provided the student senators with the tools to combat the wide variety of issues that they saw.
“It is so important to have significant training,” Cummings said. “The administration did not train you for what you had to face this year.”
Switching gears, Cummings then apologized for not making his role more clearly known to senators and students at large. As the leader of the university, Cummings believes he has no say in how the senate is run and that in order for the governing body to exercise its power freely, he has to let it run without his influence. Though he acknowledged the fact that he has the right to suggest changes to the senate, Cummings fully admitted to his desire to allow the students to autonomously govern the USM student body.
Leading into the discussion of free speech, Cummings disclosed his upset over not having taken a stronger stance during the issue of Larry Lockman visiting the campus. Concerned about who was affected by the controversial speaker, Cummings issued several strong statements.
“I’m not sure I protected the people I was meant to protect. Larry Lockman was given a microphone to spread hate speech against the people I’m paid to, and want to, protect,” Cummings said. “If we have another conservative speaker at USM, we won’t have them up there alone—spewing their hate. We’ll have [them] debating the dean of the law school. There are ways to limit their microphones.”
Stemming off of this, Cummings went on to ensure those in the room that he is still learning how to deal with these kinds of situations. The motivating factor that led to Cummings’ presence at the meeting was a conversation with a student in which the student calmly explained why they were taken aback by the way USM handled the Lockman event.
Ending with optimism, Cummings proposed that the new senators for the 46th Senate work together with him to create policies that protect the rights of all individuals at USM and determine who can and cannot come to speak.
“We’re the university of everyone. You don’t have to agree with me because I’m the president, but I want you to know that you’ve gotten my attention — and more importantly, my respect.”
Growing up, we look to our mentors for guidance and support, particularly from role models such as family and close friends. But what if we don’t have the support system we need to thrive as young adults, and turn to criminal behaviors as a way to cope with the struggles of our upbringing? For some young adults, the reality of a crime record will follow them throughout their life.
A report by the Muskie School of Public Service, published in March of this year, explored how the issue of unsealed criminal records for minors can have implications for individuals in Maine with a juvenile record.
The 82-page report, “Unsealed Fate: The Unintended Consequences of Inadequate Safeguarding of Juvenile Records in Maine,” delves into the misconceptions surrounding the practice and ultimately aims to highlight how, regardless of rehabilitation efforts, these unsealed record can have consequences for minors beyond their time served.
“People were experiencing consequences and punishment beyond what was handed down to the courts and I think common sense would tell you that’s what happens to people who are incarcerated,” said Mara Sanchez, a graduate assistant at the Muskie School of Public Service who helped with the research presented in the report. “Everybody is telling each other and believing that records are automatically sealed in one way or another and that just isn’t the case.”
The whole system, she stated, is very confusing: When a juvenile commits a crime, the records are not sealed away from the general public, and these records are taken into consideration in various aspects of their lives as they grow older, especially when applying for college or jobs.
“College, housing, employment, getting a loan, buying a car, getting a cell phone to a certain extent, you gotta fill out an application…” she elaborated.
For one Portland local, Steve, the reality of a criminal record has followed him throughout his life. As a young adult, he was abused by his parents, who were both alcoholics. He experienced various forms of severe abuse and turned to criminal behavior as a cry for help.
“I’ve been through some crazy stuff, staying outside, running the streets at eight years old and couldn’t get back in. My mother would be drunk and lock the door and wouldn’t let us in,” Steve said. “As a teenager, I mostly committed simple assaults. I fought all the time.”
Sanchez explained that Steve’s experience isn’t unusual, as many of those who commit crimes are likely victims of crime themselves, especially of assaults.
Maine Inside Out, a community based organization in Portland, aims to work with Maine prisons to help young adults released from Long Creek re-enter the community. According to Danielle Layton, a research analyst at the Muskie School and intern at Maine Inside Out, the organization operates on the philosophy of transformative justice that works for kids who have been in the justice system.
She personally helps to co-facilitate the groups in the girls unit at Long Creek twice a week with another facilitator, who is currently working on an original play to highlight some of their own personal struggles with their juvenile crime experience.
“The target of the organization is to change the public perception of criminality and to change the way we go about justice and punishment, because it gives hope for a restorative transformed relationship with the community,” she said. “Even when harm occurs, we want to work to address the gaps or disconnections that preceded that harm.”
She also noted that many young adults with criminal records are labeled as the problem, but in reality, they went through a great deal before making those decisions. She explained that the theater performances act as a way to express those frustrations, and they become an outlet for the young adults to process what occurred and move forward in a way that can benefit themselves and their community.
“Nobody ends up in the juvenile system if they don’t have a difficult past. There is a strong intersection between being a victim of violence or a witness to violence, and to becoming involved in the criminal justice system yourself,” said Layton. “I see that intersection over and over and over again here at Maine Inside Out.”
Making a life outside of prison walls is difficult. Steve, who knows the criminal justice system first-hand, believes that the stresses that come with being integrated back into society are a large reason those who commit crimes go back to their old habits.
“A lot of people promise you the world, I promised everybody in the world, ‘Oh when I get out this is my last time, this is never gonna happen I’m gonna do this I’m gonna do that’ because in prison you have a clean mind because that’s what you want to do,” he stated. “Unfortunately it goes back to not having money, a place to live, or direction when you get out.”
Layton explained that the stigma around those who commit crimes never goes away, which only worsens the exclusion of those with juvenile records. She said that the root of criminal activity is often issues at home. If unaddressed, the choice to commit a crime only adds more stress. When records pile up, opportunities are lost, and it can become hard to stay out of the system. Steve knows this first hand after attempting to apply for jobs that don’t require a college degree.
“I couldn’t work at a regular job, I couldn’t work anywhere there are cash registers even though I’m a different person. They see that [I have a record] and say ‘oh no, no, we don’t want you.’”
The cycle of perpetual punishment forces young adults who commit crimes to pay the price for the rest of their lives, rather than propel themselves into a future where they could be a benefit to society.
“There is a lot more that needs to be explored, but we couldn’t because it’s extremely difficult to talk to people who have juvenile records. We can’t just call them up, [and] there is no database we can get at,” said Sanchez.
While he is unable to make up for his lost time in jail, Steve hopes that one day, he can provide inmates like himself a place to reintegrate into society in ways he never had the chance to.
“If [people] were given a chance to get out here, get taught a skill, and have a place to live and learn the value of money and how to manage money and everything else, [they] would have a much better shot to make it out here.”
* To protect the identity of individuals involved, the name of the Portland local was substituted to keep this individual’s anonymity.