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Ryan by Elizabeth Schule


Stories and portraits from Penobscot County Jail

“I am convinced that imprisonment is a way of pretending to solve the problem of crime. It does nothing for the victims of crime, but perpetuates the idea of retribution, thus maintaining the endless cycle of violence in our culture."

Howard Zinn

the project


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. The Project was formed to listen for unmet needs in the community which cause people to be incarcerated, and to better document inhumane conditions which have been repeatedly described within the jail.

The stories recorded by the Project can be disturbing, revealing a jail in chaos where human dignity and basic rights are routinely pushed aside and medical and mental health crises are constant. Many individuals suffer long-lasting traumas following their incarceration.

To assess those problems and to act in solidarity with people who are or have been incarcerated at PCJ, as well as to inform the public, influence decision makers, and put human faces and stories to the problems which affect our community and its jail, the project conducts respectful interviews with incarcerated and previously incarcerated people.

Along the way, we hear stories of fears, hopes, growth and compassion that reinforce our shared needs, fears, and hopes as human beings.

the process


Our project reaches out to community groups, networks, recovery communities, jails and prisons to make contact with people who have experienced incarceration inside Penobscot County Jail within the last three years.

A trained interviewer meets with the participant in person or remotely and listens to their story. The participant has the option of sharing a photo of themselves, or they can have one taken on the spot by the interviewer. An artist paints a portrait of the participant to pair with their story.

Our process emphasizes the comfort and consent of participants and interviewers (who may be one and the same, at different times). Our formation as a group was supported by a licensed clinical social worker and oral history advisor. We prioritize the care of our well-being and mental health as we engage with these difficult and powerful stories.

We seek to share stories in many ways, including on social media, as public testimony for bills and policy changes, via our email list and in public art exhibits. We encourage venues which host stories to schedule complementary programming around the themes of the exhibit.

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