WARREN, Maine — Editor's Note: The video above aired Jan. 15, 2019.
The University of Maine at Augusta (UMA) and the Maine Department of Corrections (Maine DOC) held a virtual celebration for the opening of the Doris Buffett Higher Education Center at the Maine State Prison (MSP).
The ribbon cutting ceremony marked the end of the renovation project at MSP and was a celebration of the 15-year partnership between UMA, Maine DOC, and the Sunshine Lady Foundation, which provided the grant funding for the $500,000 improvements, according to Maine DOC.
There have been 130 graduates of the degree program since 2006, which is when UMA began providing educational opportunities at the Maine State Prison, according to Maine DOC. This grant from the Sunshine Lady Foundation extends the legacy of the late Doris Buffett, who passed away in August 2020. She was the moving force behind the initiation of the degree program.
The renovations undertaken at the MSP resulted in dedicated physical space for educational programming with improved technology. SMRT Architects and Engineers designed the project and Penobscot Construction completed the renovations, within budget and on time, according to Maine DOC. Classes in the renovated space began last week.
“We are honored to receive this support from the Sunshine Lady Foundation,” Deborah Meehan, executive director of UMA Centers, said in a release. “This funding is an acknowledgement of the long-standing partnership with the Maine Department of Corrections and our mutual goals of improving the lives of Maine’s DOC residents.”
"Doris was personally committed to the UMA college program at the Maine State Prison and she would be thrilled to have this improved educational space created in her honor," Mitty Beal, executive director of the Sunshine Lady Foundation, added.
Also taking part in the event were Sunshine Lady Scholars Charlie Jones, who received a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies from UMA in 2016, and Daniel Porter, who is anticipated to receive a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies from UMA in 2021, according to Maine DOC.
“What’s happening here, the education, the partnership, the investment in an individual’s future should never be in short supply,” Maine DOC Commissioner Randall Liberty said. “Through the commitment of Mitty Beal and the Sunshine Lady Foundation, along with the dedication of the UMA faculty and staff, it will never have to be.”
Most recently, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, through its Future of Higher Learning in Prison grant program, awarded UMA a $941,000 grant in support of its Prison Education Partnership.