Every month PelotonLabs founder Liz Trice interviews a community member for The West End News. This month Liz caught up with Kasandra Thach, a core leader for Maine Youth Justice and the founder of the Butterfly Project, which works with the unhoused community.
Maine Youth Justice says their goal is to end youth incarceration, shut down the Long Creek Detention center, and reinvest the $18.6 million dollars currently being spent to lock up Maine’s youth. What’s broken about youth incarceration and how do we fix it?
The most important thing to realize is that our country has normalized the idea of jails which furthers the notion that once someone has done something bad, they need to go to jail and pay for the consequences. Maine Youth Justice and I do not believe that jails are true justice. What we need is to reinvest into our community and bring resources to the people who need support.
As of now, there are about 20 children in Long Creek, most of which are in for petty crimes. Our goal is to start guiding those youth back into communities and create a new perspective of a world without prisons. Oftentimes, people are really struggling and see no path for themselves; throwing kids in jail and looking away does not help deescalate anything. If anything, doing this is placing more harm and trauma onto the individual and leaving the community to deal with the aftermath.
I am half Asian, and I work with the homeless community, so it was important that my take on the recent attack was heard. What happened last week was awful, and my heart goes out to those who were severely impacted by the attacks, but I will not sit here and blame the man who is filled with anger and confusion, because hurting and punishing will only insinuate more harm. No one will grow from this incident if we just look away after punishing. There are other underlying issues that influenced that man to act the way he did. This does not justify his actions, but it is important that we look at this from all angles. He is clearly at risk of catching Covid, and probably has no access to shelter and/or healthcare. Portland shelters have struggled with providing through the pandemic, especially with social distancing.
It’s important for people to know that the youth are the ones advocating for certain issues like these during this chaotic time. We understand the importance of supporting the community through education and activism, and demonizing does not fall into that.
How did you get into this work?
I recently graduated from Waynflete and am now a current student at Clark University. Thanks to Sue Stein, a beloved Waynflete teacher, I was able to find my passion for social justice. I emceed for the New England Youth Identity Summit all four years of my high school career and was able to make a lot of connections there, including Ali Ali from Maine Youth Justice (MYJ). A couple years later he asked me to join MYJ which eventually led me to a platform for my own mission: the Portland Butterfly Project. This is where I work with the youth and seek to aid the homeless during the pandemic.
This all came about when one of my coworkers posted on her social media asking for donations to help people at the current encampment. I decided I would do the same thing. My uncle was the first to donate $100, and I took that opportunity to show others what I could do with that much money! Eventually, my posts went viral leading me to a large amount of donations from all around America! This is when my project ignited.
How much money have you raised through the Butterfly Project, and how do you distribute it?
In almost one week, I made over $1,000 in donations! Every dollar I have raised has gone directly to the unhoused community. At the encampment, I followed the Portland Housing Coalition’s Instagram to see the lists of what was needed each day. My job was to use the donations to get what was on the list. Eventually, I reached out to Milestone to distribute my projects packages, because I knew they could do it better than I could alone. It was full-time for a while, but now I mostly help spread information through social media and flyers, and it’s just me, my mom, and one friend. Nonetheless, we still continue to make our small packages of essentials to hand out to people in the unhoused community. These include things like snacks, socks, undergarments, masks, drinks, hygiene projects, and butterfly shaped messages of hope.
I’m curious about your personal story. Did you face challenges in your own life before starting this work to help others?
Going to Waynflete was an extreme privilege for me, and I did not realize that when I was younger. Despite the obstacles I faced when I was a child, Sue Stein, Lisa Libby, and Hannah Chappel were incredible teachers whose support always helped me persevere. Nonetheless, the transition from my old school to Waynflete was extremely difficult, and many of the kids I grew up with did not understand that. They all assumed I had changed and that I had it all. When in reality, it was really hard for me – feeling like I didn’t belong in such a prestigious and put-together environment.
In middle school, I was often very angry and that really was a trauma response to everything that was going on, but those teachers saw right through me. It took me a while to trust them, but over time, I found my way and eventually learned how to carry myself. Waynflete was always really understanding with my situation and even allowed me to stay as late as 10 p.m. after school to study. Thanks to their commitment and trust, I was able to find my calling.
I want to embody what these teachers did for me, for my community. I believe that if the kids I grew up with had the same community and care I got at Waynflete, their lives would be completely different. This kind of support should not be a privilege. No child asks for the life that they are given. They cannot control where they live, the trauma that is inflicted on them, or when their next meal will be. All of these issues are just some of the many that lead to mental health issues, pervasive homelessness, and incarceration. My goal is to make sure that every human knows that they can create a new story for themselves regardless of what life has given them.
How can readers help make the changes they want to see in our world?
The first thing you should do is ask yourself this one question: What privilege do I have and how can I use that to help others? If you care about an issue, start supporting organizations like Maine Youth Justice and the Butterfly Project. Donate through our Instagram page, @portlandbutterflyproject. Reach out to city councilors and legislators. I even provide email templates on my platform for my followers to use! Your voice is really important. My biggest advice is to always say what you think, no matter what others think. If you believe it, speak it! Curiosity and knowledge are power.
Find Kasandra Thach on Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/kkthach/
Find The Butterfly Project: https://www.instagram.com/portlandbutterflyproject/?hl=en
For more on Maine Youth Justice: https://www.maineyouthjustice.org
PelotonLabs is a coworking space in the West End of Portland, Maine with a mission to connect and encourage people working on their own to manifest their visions without fear.
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