Stories of Incarceration: Portraits from the Penobscot County Jail Storytelling Project

Stories of Incarceration: Portraits from the Penobscot County Jail Storytelling Project
  • Penobscot County Jail Storytelling Project

Institution: Railroad Square Cinema / Maine Film Center

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 twenty storytellers, interviewers, transcribers, artists, organizers, and advisors under the umbrella of community group No Penobscot County Jail Expansion.

Through this project, interviewers meet with participants — storytellers —  who have been incarcerated to learn about their experiences in the community and inside the jail. We connect by phone, in person, over video chat, and by letter with people who have been, or still are,  imprisoned.

Through these interviews and conversations, storytellers respond to a central question: What did you need at the time of your arrest or incarceration that you did not receive? The lived expertise of people who have been incarcerated sheds light on what our communities could do differently and what our communities could become if they were places dedicated to care, dignity, and freedom rather than criminalization and punishment.

Interviewers then request a photo of the storyteller or take the photo on the spot. A volunteer transcribes the interview, and an artist creates the portrait, incorporating their insights from reading the interview to capture the storyteller’s likeness.

The heart of this project comes from the expertise, labor and courage of the storytellers themselves. The project is also supported by the work and love of its volunteer team:

Zeraph Dylan Moore, who founded the project and serves as co-coordinator, interviewer and portrait artist is a queer, disabled trans man living in central Maine. His dream is to see Penobscot County become a nationwide model for transformative healing and justice.

Kayla Kalel is the project co-coordinator and an advocate for harm reduction and substance use dependency treatment. She is completing her undergraduate degree in sustainable communities and criminal justice reform at the University of Maine. As a former drug user who served three years at Maine’s women’s prison, she is passionate about changing norms and laws that have allowed overdose deaths to increase; advocating for accessible, stigma-free treatment; and fighting for every person’s right to lead a dignified, fulfilling life.

Portrait artist Lizzy Schule, a Martha’s Vineyard painter with family connections to Maine, 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.

Portrait artist Teresa Lagrange is the current art director of Islandport Press, a small book publisher in Yarmouth. She enjoys traditional and digital art and hopes to see the Storytelling Project educate people on the value of all life.

Our volunteer team also includes transcriptionist Ruth Elkin, oral history advisor and interviewer Meredith McEachern, community advocates Breann Bear and Rikki White, and interviewers Chelsea Putnam, Lexi Gray, Brian Pitman, Martin Chartrand, Monique Gautreau, and Maureen Walsh. 

This exhibition is on view September 13 — October 18, 2021 in the Railroad Square Cinema lobby, located at 17 Railroad Square, Waterville, ME.

Featured Image: “Scotty.” Lizzy Schule. 12″ x 18″ framed print. Original: Acrylic on panel. 24″ x 30″. 2021.