WINTHROP — “I’m just grateful to be alive. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

That’s what Bryan Massey, 28, said during remarks at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Community Breakfast at St. Francis Xavier Church in Winthrop on Monday. The Newport man, who is recovering from a substance abuse disorder, was one of several speakers who shared their stories about substance abuse in hopes to break the stigma about drug use and incarceration.

Massey stood at the front of the room with his mother Karen Hardy, an addiction counselor from Belgrade. Dozens of attendees gave a standing ovation when he said he was 28 months sober, his longest period of sobriety since a previous 60-day period. Massey told the story of a friend from Florida who died six days before he planned to fly to Maine for treatment.

“I’m beyond sick of burying young people,” he said. “I’ve lost more friends than the rest of my entire family combined since I was 20.”

Massey encouraged people to “remember to love everyone” and remember that people dealing with addiction are not bad people, but people who are “hurting.”

“It’s not like they’re just being stupid,” he said, “it’s a life or death situation.”

Chrissy Cataldo, the pastor at Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ and member of the Winthrop Area Ministerial Association that co-sponsored Monday’s event, said King’s legacy is one of service and advocacy. She said the U.S.’s war on drugs has demonized people who use drugs and caused a stigma that disconnects people from their communities.

Alyssa Marcellino discusses her struggle and recovery from substance abuse Monday during a Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast in Winthrop. Several people spoke about their recovery during the event. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy Buy this Photo

“If we want to address the issues that come with addiction and substance abuse, as well as what it means to reenter the community once you’ve been in prison, we have to create a loving community,” Cataldo said. “We have learned, as has been articulated by our speakers today, separation is not what heals people; connection is what heals people.”

State Rep. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, said he attended Monday’s event to honor the legacy of King. He said a lesser-known facet of King’s work was with prison reform, and he wanted to eradicate “the kinds of poverty that send people into addiction.”

“We know that mass incarceration is a really big problem in our nation and that we put people behind bars instead of giving them treatment,” Hickman said. “We just need to stop doing that.”

Among the speakers was Alyssa Marcellino, of Winthrop, who said she began using heroin after being prescribed opiates following a car accident in 2014. Marcellino was operating with a suspended license during that crash, which killed the passenger in the other vehicle. She called her actions “unforgivable.” According to a Kennebec Journal report from September 2015, Marcellino was sentenced to 32 months in jail.

Marcellino said going to jail and being accepted into the Criminogenic Addiction & Recovery Academy at Kennebec County jail saved her life. Since then, she said, she has been making strides in her recovery, though she has relapsed. Marcellino said she is beginning classes at the University of Maine in Augusta and is also a member of the Maine Coalition of Sensible Drug Policy.

“I still make mistakes, but each day it’s easier and easier,” she said. “Courage doesn’t always roar, sometimes it’s a little voice at the end of the day saying ‘try again tomorrow.'”

Hickman said Marcellino’s journey from battling with substance abuse and becoming a productive member of society after the 2014 crash shows there is hope in the future for people who “find love and get clean and sober.”

“Life is found in terrible places,” he said. “Human beings make mistakes, but redemption is what we’re here for.”

“It’s a testament to the resilience of the human spirit,” Hickman added. “There’s nothing better to do to honor the legacy of King than to participate in something like this.”

The event was also sponsored by the Maine Prisoner Re-Entry Network, which aims to reduce the state’s rate of recidivism.

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