AUBURN — With the assistance of three community leaders, the Maine Humanities Council on Thursday brought together more than a hundred people for a forum aimed at spurring discussion about a single question: “What if we go on this way?”

For two hours at the Hilton Garden Inn Auburn Riverwatch, participants online and in person sought some answers as well as mulling the nature of the question itself.

Program Coordinator Meghan Reedy said the program is part of an annual initiative to focus on a single question to encourage critical thinking and community conversations.

Cuba Jackson, right, coordinator for the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition, discusses Thursday the need to reform the corrections system during a forum on critical thinking and community conversations at the Hilton Garden Inn Auburn Riverwatch. Listening are Ayesha Hall, social emotional learning and equity resource coordinator for Lewiston public schools, and Craig Saddlemire, cooperative development organizer for RAISE-Op Housing Cooperative in Lewiston. Screenshot from video

Three people offered specific thoughts on the query: Ayesha Hall, social emotional learning and equity resource coordinator for Lewiston public schools; Craig Saddlemire, cooperative development organizer for RAISE-Op Housing Cooperative in Lewiston; and Cuba Jackson, coordinator for the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition.

Speaking about the necessity of change in the educational system, Hall said that post-pandemic, “the sun may be setting on the standardization era” that too often treats students as a commodity.

Replacing it could be a “new dawn of educators” who want to see a different approach that helps young people embark on a lifelong learning journey that is personal, with cultural diversity valued “inside and outside of the walls of traditional classrooms,” Hall said.


Prisoner advocate Jackson said the question raised by the humanities council requires “really heavy lifting.”

He said that instead of relying on jails and prisons to punish criminals, society needs to turn to restorative justice concepts and eventually to a more transformative system that won’t resort to locking people away in a misguided embrace of punishment.

Jackson said that for men and women who are locked up for crimes, the time behind bars often does nothing to help anyone adopt a new outlook on life. Except for some rare, introspective souls, former inmates wind up going home with a bus ticket and $40 to the same communities where they got in trouble to begin with.

“We’re failing,” he said, and will keep on failing “until we change” the prison-oriented approach.

Jackson said society needs to consider the radical idea that “we need to stop incarcerating the way we do. We need to stop sending men and women to these facilities” and we need to explore better alternatives.

Saddlemire said all the issues that arose during the forum “are super interconnected,” including the one he focused on: the need for housing for everyone.


Calling housing “a human right and a basic need,” Saddlemire said many people are constantly worried they could lose what they have.

Saddlemire said housing should be “a stable foundation” on which people can raise families, find a job, start a business and “just live life without that fear component” because they always have a home to fall back on.

He said there are successful models of housing that aren’t costly and precarious, including the cooperative ownership his nonprofit features, and that offer better outcomes than most of the housing development pushed nationally.

At the end of the evening, which also included small group discussions, Hall said she felt better about the prospects for improvement.

“Looking around,” she said, “I feel the hope.”

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