Making the transition from prison to freedom

Former inmate tells his story of redemption, thankful for transitional housing in Rockland
By Daniel Dunkle | Jul 18, 2019
Photo by: Daniel Dunkle Dunkins Pierre, 34, of Rockland, is a former inmate of the Maine State Prison living in transitional housing in Rockland. He is earning a degree and working in the community.

Rockland — Dunkins Pierre, 34, sees opportunities in his future as he works in the area as a landscaper while studying to earn his degree in pastoral theology. He leads Bible studies, gives talks and lives in transitional housing in Rockland with three other men.

He is working to put his past as a drug dealer and prison inmate behind him, but not to forget the lessons he has learned along the way.

"I tell people six years in prison sucks, but it was the best thing that could have happened to me," he said. "I needed that in order to help me change my life."

Pierre has served time in Knox County Jail, the Maine State Prison in Warren and the Bolduc Correctional Facility, sometimes called the prison farm, also in Warren. Bolduc is a minimum security center that helps inmates transition back into society through training and work release programs.

"I've been doing time since I was, like, 14," he said.

Pierre grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., with his mother and his sister. His parents divorced when he was 1 year old and his father remarried multiple times and split his time among the families.

"My struggle was not having a dad to look up to, so I looked up to the guys in my community, the guys who were selling drugs and in gangs and stuff like that," Pierre said. "I grew up in the '90s, so you know, gangster rap and stuff like that, but it was like live action where I was from. I've seen people get shot and killed, in fact, when I was 5, my sister got shot. She was 8."

His sister lived, but another little girl was killed in the incident.

Looking back, he said he now realizes there were other avenues he could have taken, normal jobs he could have done, but he was influenced by his environment.

"You're young and you're impressionable, so you go on what you see," he said. "I could have been a garbage man or a delivery driver and been just as successful, you know? That's not what I was seeing. I was seeing the younger men selling drugs and being in gangs, so that was my immediate out, or what I thought would be my out when I got older."

He said his home was the most positive part of his life growing up. His mother was a devout Christian and went to church every Sunday. However, when he stepped out the door every day, it was into a different world.

"When I was a kid, my Mom used to pray that we would make it home, and that was a reality. Not just praying like, 'Oh, my kids are safe and everybody's safe.' No, that was the reality, like can we make it home tonight, Lord?"

"I allowed fear to take over," he said. "I said' I don't want to be a victim. I'm going to join a gang,' and started doing that."

When he was 21, he moved to Portland and saw selling drugs as an opportunity to make some money.

He spent seven months in Knox County Jail on a drug charge and within 120 days of being released was caught again selling drugs. This time, the judge decided to impose a stiffer sentence of six years.

"Best thing that ever happened to me," he said. "I gave my heart to the Lord. I knew who to turn to when I had enough."

Having done time in both New York and Maine, he said New York is a lot tougher than Maine when it comes to surviving in the system, and he said Maine provided more opportunities for rehabilitation.

"In New York, you don't have places like Bolduc," he said. "I really appreciated that, that if I maintained my behavior, I could have an opportunity to go to a transitional space. A lot of times before, I came out the same way I went in."

Bolduc helps train inmates to do job interviews and helps them find jobs with local manufacturing companies, construction firms and restaurants. He said many local employers are willing to give former prisoners a chance.

Finding housing can be tougher. Some apartment owners and some programs helping people find housing will not work with felons.

Pierre is living with three other former inmates in a double-wide house in Rockland called "Freedom House." It is part of L.I.F.E. Ministries, a faith-based ministry that helps those in this kind of transition, run by Jake and Tanja Barbour.

Anyone looking to live in this home has to apply for the spot and has to agree to live under strict rules of the house, including that residents will not use alcohol, drugs or tobacco; own weapons or bring pornography or even R-rated movies into the home. They are also required to attend church weekly.

Residents agree to follow these rules voluntarily, since they have the option to live elsewhere.

"God provided a safe environment and people who could help me," Pierre said.

The City Council has been wrestling with what to do as some residents have expressed concern about the planned opening of another reentry house for former prisoners, this one on Talbot Avenue.

We asked Pierre if neighbors should fear having former prisoners living near them.

"I would say no, being one of the people to come through that situation," he said. "Because, like I said, ideally if you're at a minimum security facility, if you're at a reentry center, if you're working your way into the community, acclimating yourself to the community, you've gone through so many steps and programs, modified your behavior, because if you don't act accordingly, they send you back to prison. It's not like everybody gets a chance to go to Bolduc, everybody gets a chance to go to reentry, everybody gets a job. If you're not exhibiting that you're changing, those opportunities will be taken away from you."

This is especially true of former prisoners volunteering to live in transitional houses and abide by their rules and go through their program.

Pierre's plan is to continue to help others. He is studying at Faith Bible College International in Charleston and working with prisoners to provide prison ministry.

The Barbours, through L.I.F.E. Ministries, run both the transitional house and an activity center called The LIFE House on Limerock Street, where people can gather for meetings and events. They have pancake breakfasts the second Saturday of each month that benefit local causes and individuals in need from 8:30 to 10 a.m.

"...Everybody wants to get out with a job, with money, with the hope of change," Pierre said. "You're not in there and not hoping that you can't change. You're full of hope until you get out here."

For more information about L.I.F.E. Ministries, visit livinginfreedomeveryday.us.

Jake and Tanja Barbour, front, stand with Dunkins Pierre at the LIFE House on Limerock Street. The Barbours run L.I.F.E. Ministries, which helps former inmates transition to their new life after release from prison. (Photo by: Daniel Dunkle)
Freedom House in Rockland provides transitional housing for four former prisoners as part of the faith-based L.I.F.E. Ministries. (Photo by: Daniel Dunkle)
The Freedom House of L.I.F.E. Ministries provides a safe place for former prisoners adjusting to freedom in Rockland. (Photo by: Daniel Dunkle)
Comments (7)
Posted by: James Clinton Leach | Jul 27, 2019 15:33

Most of the thanks go’s to Tanya and Jake for without them there would be no story... ... Dare I say Christ our Lord is at the Helm we are but part of the crew......it’s one thing to be called upon, it’s another to answer and live that answer...

 



Posted by: Jim Gamage | Jul 19, 2019 09:55

I can tell you first hand that Dunkin Pierre is the real deal.  My husband and I own All-4-U Staffing and employed Dunkins while incarcerated and after he was released.  He's hard working, loves God and his family and has definitely found his purpose in life. This is a wonderful article and it's nice to see Dunkins being noticed for the exceptional person he is.  -Michelle Gamage



Posted by: Stephen K Carroll | Jul 19, 2019 08:30

Amy on occasion we do agree on certain things and this is one.  Want to add my compliment to Dan and Village soup for running such a positive story.  With so much fear, hate and division constantly being pushed by our leaders, it is comforting to know that out there in our community there are people working with others to make their life's easier.



Posted by: Colleen Richmon | Jul 19, 2019 06:39

Thank you, Daniel Dunkle, for this uplifting story.   I am happy to know that we have people like the Barbours and Dunkins Pierre  living in Rockland and helping to make a good life for themselves and others.  Congratulations to all.  This is a wonderful, moving story, and I hope that many more people will be able to follow in the steps of Dunkins Pierre.



Posted by: Amy Files | Jul 18, 2019 17:05

Thank you Dan and Village Soup for this story! It's so important to fight fear of the unknown with stories from real people and lives changed. We need more coverage like this to contrast the concerns expressed by the neighbors on Talbot and hopefully show them that their new potential neighbors are just like everyone else -- trying to get by and make a better life for themselves.



Posted by: David Magee | Jul 18, 2019 16:00

My wife, Dr. Jill Piggott, leads a college-level study group of people who were sentenced to life without parole as young teens. Her students are incarcerated in several different states. She stays in regular touch with them by mail and phone. We've both been deeply impressed by their compassion & determination to live lives of purpose and value. Prisons are called "correctional institutions" for a reason: even people who've made terrible decisions are capable of change. Our friendships with people still in prison have enriched our lives, just as Rockland's a better place because it welcomes men like Dunkins Pierre who've already served their time. We're glad that he & the Barbours are our neighbors.



Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Jul 18, 2019 14:03

Having worked in my younger years with a rehab. Alcoholic home, This touches my heart. I am sure this is the sort of rehab. halfway home, which is needed. It is hard for addicted people to jump too quickly into what is thought to be the norm.

How wonderful of the community to allow this integration.

Mary "Mickey" (Brown) McKeever +:0)



If you wish to comment, please login.