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Stories for Life
a program of
Maine Humanities Council and Maine Department of Corrections

Stories for Life is a reading and discussion program for probationers. Scholar-led discussions of short stories provide participants an opportunity to reflect on their own lives and the choices they have made. Probation officers work with the scholar to co-facilitate the group sessions. In a milieu where all ideas are carefully listened to and considered equally, probationers learn that they may have the ability to stop and think about their actions and thus affect the course of their lives.

Stories for Life represents a particular rehabilitative approach not often seen in corrections work nationwide, one that urges the individual to think for him or herself and to evaluate the ideas of others in a realistic way. The project has been covered in the media in the last year by: Lewiston Sun-Journal, Fox TV News, Bangor Daily News, and Maine Public Radio (Maine Things Considered).

Sixteen Stories for Life programs have been held in 2001-2002 in sites around Maine. In each site, a lead probation officer gathers a group from among his caseload and those of colleagues working out of the same office. Each group participates in five sessions of discussion led by a scholar/facilitator. Participants may or may not continue on to further sessions.

We use short stories because of their accessibility for participants who may not read very well or who are generally not in the habit of reading. Participants receive two books of stories to keep, in the hope that they will continue to read after the program is over. So far, Raymond Carver has been our most popular, discussible, author; we have also used books of stories by Ernest Hemingway, Annie Proulx, and Tobias Wolff.

The success of Stories for Life is reflected in the following comments from participants:

"I found it a very good experience - learned a lot about myself - change the way I think and perceive things about others and myself."

"A chance to be a part of something, and complete it."

"...you learn alot about yourself and others and learn not to make quick judgments; makes you take a look at the Bigger picture!"

"...it must go on to help others on decision-making to also make you think."

"It helps to encourage people, to plan for a future-to also live for a new day-there's so much to consider."

Probation Officers have said:

"They actually got into relating some of the material to their own situations and lives. I thought it was done in such a way that the individuals could relate specifically or theoretically, as they felt comfortable, and benefit equally well."

"Both the participants and myself...gathered insight from the group discussions, about ourselves, each other, and life. ... [The reading group] has given me a new and valuable insight into the people we deal with - facets of their daily lives we are generally not exposed to. This is a help when trying to put together a case plan as to how to best help the individual be rehabilitated."

"No right or wrong is often a strange concept for my clients. As soon as they find that it is a safe place to be, and that their views are acknowledged and discussed, then most feel it is a good place to be. We all became participants. I was impressed with my clients. Of course I know they are much more than the Probation Order I have, but this program actually gave me a chance to see that in them. ... I find myself better able to look at the whole person and not just the thumbnail sketch presented in police reports and Court hearings."


Photographs are by Daryn Slover, Lewiston Sun Journal

 

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  The Maine Humanities Council
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