Finding Voice, Power, Joy

  • Penobscot County Jail Storytelling Project (II)

14” x 18”, acrylic on panel and text, 2021.

Ryan’s Story

Ryan describes himself as someone who loves fishing, camping, snowmobiling, hiking, and helping others, is part of the AA and NA communities, and is proud to hold 14 certificates in recovery education, including certification to teach AA, NA, and Smart Recovery. He has also been incarcerated inside Penobscot County Jail on and off for six long years, making it difficult to get his life back on track.

Like so many others, while incarcerated in Penobscot County Jail, Ryan was denied access to his prescribed mental health medication that he had previously been stabilized on. Many reports from inside the jail describe a system of healthcare delivery in which jail medical staff decide that certain medications will not be available to those incarcerated regardless of their efficacy or appropriateness for that particular patient. It’s a reminder of the profound disruptions in healthcare that can result from an incarceration.

“Some meds I was taking, Ritalin and Xanax, PCJ would not allow me to keep taking at PCJ even though MaineCare would have paid for them,” Ryan explained. “I would say PCJ should allow inmates to stay on meds they have previously been stabilized on.”

Ryan also faced an additional healthcare worry while inside the jail. “In 2017, when I was a kitchen trustee, I was given a new roommate who developed scabies,” Ryan told Monique. “I got them, too, after he became my roommate. I asked for help at least eight times to be treated for scabies.”

Unfortunately, Ryan’s plea for treatment for the highly contagious and irritating condition was ignored. “I was told repeatedly that it was probably an allergy to dish soap in the kitchen where I was working or reaction to something in the laundry detergent being used at PCJ,” he explained. “When I was released, I went to PCHC walk-in care and was told it was scabies. I got treatment. Not complicated!”

During his interview, Ryan reflected on another healthcare denial as well- being denied access to rehab for his substance use disorder because he was also a dealer, revealing a two-tiered system about who the court decides “deserves” a chance at treatment. “I needed to be in a recovery rehab program. I was told by Eric Lagasse, the probation officer who ran drug court, ‘Drug dealers don’t need rehab.’ I was found twice OD’d behind the wheel of a car. I asked for help and was willing to go to rehab and still do my time. Denied.”

Sadly, Ryan was re-incarcerated shortly after this interview on a probation violation. In his interview, he reflected on the ways that the community could have offered the services and care he needed to stay out of jail. “There should be more help for people with active drug and alcohol issues as well as those who have active mental health diagnoses,” he said. “[It] should not be made difficult to access these programs, or medical providers when you need healthcare.”

Interview by Monique Gautreau/Editing by Zeraph Dylan Moore.

Artist Statement

The Penobscot Jail Storytelling Project is a community-based, multidisciplinary project raising up the voices and priorities of people who have been jailed in Penobscot County, Maine. We are currently a team of 13 interviewers, transcribers, artists, organizers and advisors under the umbrella of community group No Penobscot County Jail Expansion. Learn more here.

Artist Bio

Portrait artist Lizzy Schule, a Martha’s Vineyard painter, is a part-time art teacher and full-time English as a Second Language teacher who hopes that this project will jump-start more community-based efforts to keep people out of jail.