Many items in Calvin Dube’s tiny Lewiston apartment are not his. 

There is a chair that Dube sits in to write, but does not belong to him. There are stacks of neatly folded clothes that he does not wear.

But two items that do belong to Dube are a letter opener and a pen that lay next to that chair.

While waiting for the owner of the clothes and the chair to return and collect, Dube connects to the owners through pen and paper.

A box of letters belongs to Dube as well. Each letter has one thing in common with the others. The return address reads: Maine Department of Corrections.

Dube’s pen pals are inmates. Some from as far away as Florida, but most from the Maine State Prison in Warren and the Maine Correctional Center in Windham. “I love getting mail from them because I know outside of the letters they have nothing. They absolutely have nothing,” said Dube.

“Most days there is mail in the mailbox,” said Dube. “There is always someone writing to me.” Dube has been writing in return for 15 years and shares letters with about 15 inmates regularly.

Many pen to Dube “I don’t know what to do” or “I don’t have family” or “I’m afraid.” I get a lot of letters saying, “I didn’t do it,” said Dube.

Dube’s letters have led to more advocacy work on behalf of inmates. He collects clothes for inmates getting out of prison and will often be waiting at the bus station to help released inmates adjust to life beyond their jail cell. He has a small bank account set up just to offer inmates a hand.

“It’s an awful feeling to get off the bus and have nowhere to go,” said Dube. “It’s a shock to be out and free.”

“They always have this sense that somebody is looking over their shoulder,” said Dube.
“I try to help and walk people through the steps.”

“Many can’t manage their money. Many are blacklisted by landlords,” said Dube of released inmates. “Anyone with felony after their name, forget it. It’s very hard.”

Dube feels there is a huge need for a place to sleep for released criminals. Dube’s dream is to open a home for former inmates who suffer from mental illness. His contact at the Maine Correctional Center said Dube could fill a house overnight. Dube would like to call it the “Dorothy Day House” after the author who wrote about caring for those in need. Dube plans to live alongside the residents, but opening the home has been a 10-year struggle.

“Not everyone agrees with working with prisoners,” said Dube. “A lot of people in the city are a little edgy, and I understand that. But this house needs to happen sooner than later.”

Dube worked face-to-face with homelessness and mental illness for 12 years while running the soup kitchen at the Trinity Jubilee Center in downtown Lewiston. It’s the experience and compassion he gathered while working with the men and women who live on the streets that comes out in much of Dube’s letters and poems for “The Other Side,” the newsletter of the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition that Dube helps publish. 

The newsletter is one more outlet for Dube, mostly through his poetry on mental illness and not having a place to call home. “The nature of mental illness is pretty grim,” said Dube. But he and the other contributors try to inject some lighter insight. “It’s very important to have humor in the newsletter. There is not too much laughing in prison.”

Dube recently opened his mailbox, and the return address was not from a
state prison or a county jail, but from a nun. Inside the envelope was a Christmas
card designed by a prisoner on death row. The nun
wrote and thanked Dube for what he is doing. “The care needs to
continue after they are released … and that is what you are doing!
Love and Prayers,” wrote Sister Betty Donaghue.

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal
Calvin Dube of Lewiston
reads a letter he received from a prison inmate. Among the letters sprawled
out on Dube’s bed are stories and poems that he has written for “The Other
Side,” the newsletter of the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition.

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