In May, I began contributing to the Sun-Journal’s Explore! feature in their Sunday b-Section. I pick a town and explore it with fresh eyes. Last month I visited Wilton, and for June, I was nosing around in New Gloucester.
I had a bit of bonus content last month about a giant and a naked man in the wilderness that I tied in to the print piece. This month, with Moxie deadlines looming, a new book just off to the printer, plus a few other irons in the fire, I wasn’t intending to post bonus material. However, since Pineland Farms is in New Gloucester, and is mentioned in today’s feature, I’d be remiss if I didn’t share just a bit about Pineland’s past, my own ties to it, and the unique destination it’s become. Plus, I’m a writer and a blogger, and I can’t help myself.
In 1981, I had just completed my freshman year at the University of Maine. I had big plans for myself. You see, I was a big baseball player back in high school, and had gone to Maine thinking it would be a stepping-stone to bigger and better things for a hard-throwing right-handed pitcher. Things didn’t go quite as I envisioned, but that’s a longer story than I’m going to tell in this morning’s blog post.
Looking to earn some money to pay the tuition not covered by a partial baseball scholarship for another year at Maine, I needed a summer job. Pineland Center was only 15 miles from my house, and my uncle told me they were hiring.
At that time, Pineland was known as Pineland Center for the Developmentally Disabled. That was a more politically-correct name than some of the prior names for an institution with a long history of warehousing people with disabilities (and some others that no one else wanted). Since this isn’t intended to be a treatise on Pineland’s past, but a past worth looking into, let me recommend Richard S. Kimball’s excellent, Pineland’s Past: The first one hundred years. Kimball published it in 2001. Kimball offers an excellent perspective on the place Pineland was before the Libra Foundation rescued it from ruin.
These days I live Durham, and the grounds at Pineland are only a 9-mile bike ride from my house. Since I’m a triathlete in various stages of training for an upcoming event, I’m often out biking the hilly back roads of Pownal, North Pownal, eventually finding my way to New Gloucester, and often, Pineland.
I love biking through the grounds of what has become a state-of-the-art business park, working farm, and terrific destination that is equidistant from Portland, Brunswick, and Lewiston-Auburn.
Back in 1981, Pineland was still an institution.
My summer job ended up being a Mental Health Worker I position, on the third shift, in Vosburgh Hall. Being 19-years-old, with little work experience, this was a job I wouldn’t soon forget. From the colorful co-workers I met, to the various stories I could tell about what it means to care for other humans in a place like Pineland at that time, the narrative could be ongoing.
What I will say is that back in 1981, things were definitely changing. A court decree had mandated moving on from Pineland’s darker past. The residents were being cared for in a different sort of way. I’ll leave it up to the experts to argue whether places like Pineland, at least in 1981 were humane, versus what happened next—the discharge into communities across the state of people who had never known anything else but Pineland.
I will say that if you’ve never been alone in a place like Vosburgh Hall, at 3:00 in the morning, with residents screaming, or showing up at your office door, covered in feces, you know very little about what working at Pineland was all about.
The experience was a worthwhile one for me. Later, I’d be able to leverage that experience and land a job working at a prison in northwest Indiana, at a time in my life when I needed that job desperately. That story can be found in the essay called “Moscow Mutual,” in my latest book, The Perfect Number: Essays & Stories, Vol. I, due out July 12.
To visit Pineland today offers hope that out of darkness, amazing results can happen if the right people and plans come together. It also highlights the key role that philanthropy can play, exemplified by the Libra Foundation. Pineland is an example of one of the most positive examples Maine has to offer.