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Blending culture and community to combat addiction — Bangor — Bangor Daily News — BDN Maine

Blending culture and community to combat addiction — Bangor — Bangor Daily News — BDN Maine

Greta Rybus | Pine Tree Watch

Greta Rybus | Pine Tree Watch

Courtroom members handle each other to present encouragement and help, and act as a sounding board for points or struggles.

By Chelsea Conabay, Pine Tree Watch •
August 25, 2018 1:00 am

Jon Loring’s neighbors have been afraid of him.

A burly man with a historical past of authorized hassle, Loring had been utilizing medicine for greater than 20 years — pot then tablets and on to cocaine and heroin — when, in August 2016, drug enforcement officers in hazmat fits seized the steep-roofed home on the Penobscot Nation reservation the place he had been cooking methamphetamine.

He went on the run earlier than he was arrested final yr and convicted of working a meth lab. As his jail time period was ending, Loring requested to be admitted to the Penobscot Therapeutic to Wellness Courtroom, the tribe’s intensive and culturally delicate drug courtroom. The courtroom’s selections primarily are made by consensus amongst a group of community leaders. They stated no.

Loring endured. The daddy of six, then 41, wrote in a letter to the courtroom final September that he’d thought lengthy and exhausting about his life decisions and was “deeply sorry for the impact to my children and the future generation of our people.”

The Penobscot drug courtroom shares most of the primary features of Maine’s six Grownup Drug Remedy Courts, began in 2001 to direct individuals with substance-use issues from a punitive judicial system right into a court-run program aimed toward fostering restoration and decreasing the speed at which individuals reoffend. Just like the state drug courts, the Penobscot program offers intensive case administration and counseling for a yr or extra, frequent drug testing, and a stability of sanctions and incentives.

In different methods, the tribe’s courtroom is markedly totally different.

Every of its periods begins with a prayer and a smudging — burning sage and different conventional medicines are carried from individual to individual, and the smoke washing over them is supposed to cleanse and floor them initially of a ceremony. Members are also anticipated to attend common drumming circles, language courses or different Penobscot cultural occasions. And, maybe most significantly, the sentiment expressed in Loring’s letter — that what occurred to him would set the trail of generations of tribal members to come — is a central tenet of a program that’s targeted as a lot on community therapeutic as it’s on particular person restoration.

At a time when students are calling for the U.S. judicial system to be extra responsive to cultural variations, the Penobscot courtroom has grow to be a mannequin for restorative justice in a tribal context. Courtroom leaders have been requested to share their methods at nationwide conferences. They function formal mentors to tribes creating their very own packages. And Loring, who finally was admitted to the drug courtroom beneath a cloud of doubt, has turn into one among its greatest ambassadors.

For starters, he persuaded his brother to be a part of this system. Kris Loring, 39, additionally was arrested for operating a meth lab in reservation housing, one his brother had began. Each males finally have been launched on probation on the situation that they full the drug courtroom program. It meant returning to a spot the place individuals have been deeply cautious of them.

Whereas Maine’s state drug courts hear instances from throughout an entire county, Penobscot Nation’s serves a small, clearly outlined community. The tribal nation has 2,399 members, about 430 of whom reside on Indian Island.

Having the courtroom situated instantly within the community signifies that island residents typically see the brothers coming and going from the courtroom workplaces, housed within the previous parish corridor of historic St. Anne’s Church, simply off the bridge that connects Indian Island to Previous City. They’ve interacted with them at community occasions. They’re seeing them change.

Kris Loring, who lives in Bangor, had been a firefighter with the tribe, so his meth lab arrest stunned many who knew him in that position. “They slowly let you back in,” he stated. “You can tell they really don’t trust you fully, I guess you could say, but they trust you more than they did, that’s for sure.”

Incorporating conventional practices enhances this system

When the newest iteration of the Penobscot Therapeutic to Wellness Courtroom launched in 2008 with longtime civil rights lawyer Eric Mehnert as decide, it seemed very similar to a standard drug courtroom. Attorneys sat at tables dealing with the decide’s bench. As within the state courts, individuals labored their approach via 4 phases, beginning with extra intensive monitoring and ending in a part that emphasizes planning for the longer term.

Three years later, Rhonda Decontie was employed as clerk and ultimately started suggesting modifications based mostly on her expertise as a woman tagging alongside together with her Algonquin father, a substance-use counselor who included conventional practices together with his skilled ones.

At the moment, program individuals typically have been referred to converse to a tribal elder, however Decontie knew it will be troublesome for individuals newly in restoration to hunt down that assist for themselves. She advised getting assist from the tribe’s cultural preservation workplace, and ultimately the courtroom started organizing occasions that would convey the community collectively extra naturally, together with a month-to-month sweat lodge ceremony, a gaggle ritual involving prayer and a standard steam tub.

Decontie instructed naming phases 1 by way of four for conventional medicines — tobacco, cedar, sage and sweetgrass — and presenting members with these medicines as they advance in this system. And what if the courtroom eliminated tables, she provided, and invited individuals to sit in a circle, with everybody given an opportunity to converse?

Mehnert and case supervisor Brianna Tipping credit score Decontie, now a cultural adviser to the courtroom, for altering the character of this system. At the moment, she additionally volunteers to drive individuals to night restoration conferences and sews regalia — ribbon shirts for males and shawls or skirts for ladies — for program graduates.

“This isn’t rocket science,” Decontie stated. “I didn’t create this. I just implanted it into a program that needed it. … I’m just a message carrier.”

With help from the restoration program, Jon Loring reached out final yr to Tim Shay, a religious chief. It wasn’t a simple name for him. Shay had been Loring’s next-door neighbor earlier than the arrest. He had witnessed Loring stroll away from his residence after investigators seized it.

Loring’s authorized historical past included stints in state jail for theft and within the county jail for housebreaking and assault. Shay stated he knew that folks within the community needed to see Loring locked up.

However Shay additionally acknowledged one thing in Loring.

“I just realized, you know, it’s a soul sickness,” Shay stated. “I understood it.”

He invited Loring to attend peyote ceremonies, the place members collect to drum and sing via the night time whereas ingesting peyote cactus, a hallucinogen and a sacred drugs. Loring started serving to Shay, a sculptor, in his studio. Shay inspired Loring, who’s unemployed, to discover his artistic expertise as a way of supporting himself and of connecting to his circle of relatives legacy. Frank Loring, Kris and Jon’s grandfather, was a longtime recreation warden for the tribe and an completed carver.

“You take something away from somebody who has been dependent on it for so long, you have to replace it with something,” Shay stated.

Towards that finish, Jon Loring spent about 80 hours this summer time making a ceremonial eagle feather fan. Drug counselor Dale Lolar had given Loring the feathers after Loring informed him he was feeling frightened he might slip up and use medicine once more.

Specializing in the fan — taking it aside and remaking it once more and once more till it was good — shifted his focus, Loring stated: “Medicine talks to you.”

For Kris Loring, whose two youngsters stay in Milford and who picks up work when potential as a landscaper, the religious element of the courtroom has been much less central. However he stated the relationships that he has constructed are profound.

He has lengthy liked to canoe. When he was utilizing, his canoe turned a spot to do medicine. Now, he stated, it’s one factor that helps maintain him sober. Earlier than his current transfer to Bangor, he paddled virtually day by day, placing in at a spot close to the Milford house he shared together with his brother, with the courtroom constructing seen simply throughout the river. Within the spring, Decide Mehnert and others from the courtroom joined him for a paddle across the island.

“They talk to you like they’ve known you forever,” Loring stated.

Feeling shunned by household, associates and neighbors is a serious roadblock to restoration, Mehnert stated. An individual who feels alienated is extra doubtless to self-medicate, “and it becomes a downward spiral,” he stated. “If we can reintegrate that individual back into that community … we find that those supports exist beyond the time period of the program.”

There’s power in carrying on constructive traditions

Reintegration could also be particularly very important in Native American communities, which have lengthy struggled with substance use and have seen a startling rise in overdose deaths prior to now 20 years.

American Indian and Alaska Native individuals dwelling in rural areas of the USA skilled a greater than a five-fold improve in such deaths between 1999 and 2015, probably the most dramatic improve of any race or ethnicity measured by the Nationwide Very important Statistics System. In 2015 in that group, there have been almost 20 such deaths per 100,000 individuals, a barely larger price than amongst rural white individuals.

There’s little purpose to consider the state of affairs is any much less dire for Native People in Maine. The state’s general fee of overdose deaths was among the many highest within the nation in 2016, and it stored climbing final yr whilst different states noticed the demise price start to sluggish.

Efforts to stem drug use amongst Native individuals — amongst any group, it might be stated — can’t focus solely on equipping a person with expertise to handle the triggers of addiction or on altering long-standing patterns of dangerous conduct, stated Spero Manson, a professor of public well being and psychiatry. Native People, typically, take a extremely sociocentric view of personhood, stated Manson, who directs the Facilities for American Indian and Alaska Native Well being on the College of Colorado Denver. An individual’s self-identity, he stated, is inextricably linked to the standard of their relationships and to the overall well being of the community.

The historic trauma that tribes skilled throughout colonization and the diploma to which they have been separated from their cultural roots continues to undermine their well being, Manson stated. ( A 2013 paper on tribal drug courts described substance use and addiction as “lingering symptoms of conquest.”)

As well as to being hunted, fairly actually, for many years within the 18th century, generations of Penobscot have been pressured to assimilate to white Western culture. They have been enrolled in faculties the place they have been punished for talking their native language. They have been shamed for his or her cultural practices and pressured into foster care. The Wabanaki confederacy, of which Penobscot is part, continues to expertise “cultural genocide” via underlying discrimination at state establishments and ongoing authorized disputes over land and water rights, a Wabanaki-state fee present in 2015.

That “marginalization steals from [Native people], if you will, many of the sources of individual and collective support that are so important to youth’s ability to navigate the pressures of contemporary life,” Manson stated.

Most of the roughly 130 Therapeutic to Wellness courts operated by federally acknowledged tribes inside the USA create a type of suggestions loop, stated Lauren van Schilfgaarde, an lawyer with the Tribal Regulation and Coverage Institute in California. Seeing fellow tribal members “sort of come back from the darkness” is therapeutic for the community at giant. So is possession of a judicial system that precisely displays their culture, particularly for tribes that, even inside their sovereign nations, have been required to undertake Western types of presidency.

Then there’s the power that comes from educating traditions which were misplaced to many individuals.

“Penobscot is tapping into that,” van Schilfgaarde stated.

A a lot wanted mild within the community

It’s troublesome to say precisely how profitable the courtroom’s cultural elements or its general strategy have been.

The tribe didn’t launch the recidivism fee among the many program’s graduates, although given the small measurement of the grownup program — it may possibly serve up to 10 individuals at a time — that determine is probably not statistically vital. However researchers have repeatedly discovered that well-run drug courts are efficient at decreasing recidivism and selling long-term restoration.

Penobscot’s cultural strategy “can only help the model,” stated Aaron Arnold, director of technical help on the Middle for Courtroom Innovation in New York.

Drug courts are recognized to do one thing else, too: get monetary savings.

A yr’s value of programming on the Penobscot courtroom prices about $7,500 per participant, not together with the price of any required residential remedy. The worth tag on a yearlong jail keep? About $40,000, Mehnert stated. That distinction issues to the tribe, which pays the county to incarcerate individuals for crimes dedicated on the reservation.

The Penobscot program is value efficient partially as a result of most of the community leaders who make up the “wellness team” are employed by different departments inside the reservation, together with social providers, housing, schooling, medical and behavioral well being, and the police division. They do that work at no further value to the courtroom.

Different tribes run comparable drug courts, however is it a mannequin that would work elsewhere? The Penobscot courtroom shouldn’t be so totally different from a community courtroom, Arnold stated, designed to work within the place the place the individuals who come earlier than the decide reside, with ample wraparound providers. Their numbers are rising throughout the nation, although they’re unusual in rural areas.

Tipping, the case supervisor, would really like to broaden the courtroom’s attain however is hamstrung, for now, by cash and geography. She hopes to safe funding that permits this system to settle for anybody from inside the Wabanaki confederacy, which additionally consists of the Micmac, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy and Abenaki tribes, in the event that they stay inside attain.

There’s been speak of beginning different tribal courts within the area, however in probably the most rural elements of the state, a scarcity of mandatory providers, akin to Alcoholics Nameless conferences, prescribers of suboxone — a drug generally used to deal with opioid addiction — and substance-use counselors, makes that troublesome.

The large dream? To start out a residential remedy facility, the place Penobscot and different Native People from the area might obtain culturally related care.

“We know the need in our community is so high,” Tipping stated.

Shining instance of what this courtroom can accomplish

Within the months after Jon Loring’s residence was seized, his Eight-year-old son Lydon returned to the neighborhood to play with Shay’s son. He stood in Shay’s driveway, Shay recalled, and seemed over on the home he used to stay in.

Concern concerning the youthful members of Penobscot Nation weighs heavy on Shay. He’s president of Nibezun, a cultural change middle situated on the banks of the Penobscot River north of Indian Island, in Passadumkeag, the place the sharing of conventional methods is seen as highly effective drugs in itself. Shay stated he imagines the Penobscot and different Native People standing at a 50-yard line. Behind them, are a whole lot of years of oppression. In entrance, the subsequent seven generations. With them, they carry all the intergenerational traumatic stress that historical past has wrought.

“It’s all one-in-the-same sickness, but it has many symptoms,” Shay stated. “We’re looking at it now. What’s the answer to the problem? The answer is to put the culture back into the next seven generations at every level that you possibly can.”

This summer time, Jon Loring picked sweetgrass alongside his brother in a marsh close to Bar Harbor, whereas Lydon and Mehnert looked for crabs close by. With assist from the courtroom employees, he related with a nutritionist to study extra about how to handle his diabetes. He started planning his “give-back,” a last community challenge, as he approaches commencement. And he talked with the courtroom’s attorneys about turning into a mentor within the juvenile drug courtroom.

“You have this pipe dream of what this program can offer somebody,” Tipping stated, “and he’s living it.”

At a courtroom session in July, Loring stood inside the circle, palms clasped behind his again as he listened to Mehnert reward the craftsmanship of the feather fan he had introduced in to present the courtroom. Then Mehnert advised him what a robust instance he had turn out to be for his youngest son.

“He was going to follow you, whichever path you chose,” Mehnert stated. “So, thank you.”

Loring responded, “You’re welcome.”

Chelsea Conaboy is a Contributing Author for, a nonpartisan, nonprofit information web site based mostly in Augusta. Pine Tree Watch is a product of the Maine Middle for Public Curiosity Reporting.

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