From Human Sacrifice: “Brannon [a former Corrections Guard at Maine State Prison] said, ‘Dechaine gets more room and leeway than anybody I’ve ever seen in prison. He’s the only inmate I ever witnessed come and get keys. They don’t allow anybody to even view keys, much less touch them. Except for Dechaine.”
“Top guards had a list, Brannon told me – prisoners they’d release if the power was theirs. ‘There were three inmates on that list. One of them was Dennis Dechaine.’” (Human Sacrifice, p. 322)
Letter from Jeffrey D. Merrill, Warden of Maine State Prison, sent to Dennis 8/27/97:
“Dear Mr. Dechaine: Captain Groton had told me about the extent of the work and sacrifice of free time that you men have put into the garden project this year. The results are truly amazing. I am sure that everyone, staff and inmates alike, appreciates the beauty of the flowers and this expression of thoughtfulness, things that are sorely needed in this environment.
“We all know that the Maine State Prison is a unique place in many ways. Hopefully, each of us contributes to this community in a positive way. The garden project is certainly a major contribution and I want to thank you for it.
“Sincerely Jeffrey D. Merrill, Warden” (Letter contributed by Carol Waltman)
From Carol Waltman: “The newsletter [Article from Maine State Prison Quarterly, July 1997, titled "MSP's FLOWER SHOW SPECTACULAR"] was even printed in color to show some of the flower beds around the prison. If I recall, way back then, Dennis had begged for years to let him grow flowers. They never wanted to contribute to the project.
[The article states: “Have you ever seen anything like this? Everybody at MSP says 'thank you' to Dennis Dechaine, Dennis Nile, and all the others who volunteered their time and helped make this extravaganza possible. Thoughtful planning and planting will supply vivid color from now until frost. The variety rivals floral landscaping of any place in the area."
(Page 1, MSP Quarterly, Vol 16, No. 2)] “So Dennis started to order flowers through me and I would have them sent to the prison. That was too costly. Finally, Dennis and I started to solicit flower companies from all over the world. Never thought to hear from them, but we were persistent and finally all these boxes of bulbs, shrubs, etc. were being delivered to the prison. There was nothing more but to let Dennis plant what was coming in. Some companies were sending boxes of stuff. Dennis was in heaven. The yards grew to be so beautiful. One of the Captains even went out of his way to take pictures to give to Dennis so he could show me what he had accomplished. Before you knew it, they let him build a little garden shack and he had 10,000 seedlings in this 10′x66′ space. Dennis would really get excited about the rose bushes. I remember one company had sent him over 50 in one shot. The gardens grew from there.” (As summarized by Carol Waltman in a 6 Feb 2003 email)
From Human Sacrifice: letter from Dennis Dechaine to lawyer Tom Connolly, September, 1990. “… This place keeps getting smaller, the company keeps getting worse and the feelings of hopelessness and abandonment loom ever larger. I seem to be drifting through life rather than living it… Sometimes I think I’ll die in here, an ocean of frustration wells up in me at my total impotence to change my lot in life. Only one thing could frustrate me more – to have to fill your shoes and be saviour to a bunch of hopeless wretches…. Take care of yourself, Tom, and give my regards to Ida” [Secretary to Tom]
(Human Sacrifice, p. 181) Describing his prison life: “In the year 2000, Dennis Dechaine’s cell in the West Block faced south into the prison compound. His corridor housed eight men and a shower. Every morning at 6:30, a scratchy recording of reveille blared through the prison loudspeakers. Guards lumbered thunderously across the grated walkway above his cell on their way to the dorms and the mental health unit.
“At seven o’clock, his cell door opened. Sometimes he’d go to breakfast. More often, he’d eat a banana in his cell and take a morning shower before work. At eight, he’d head to his job as a clerk in the upholstery shop where ten men worked, ‘a good group,’ he says, ‘happy to have something creative to do and comfortable with each other.’ He prepared job packets for upholsterers and refinishers from assignments received through the prison store. He helped keep track of backlogs and inventory. He ordered supplies.
And, he said, he earned ‘enough to cover living expenses with a bit left over to bank. I also get to keep a few houseplants there which pleases me more than I can say – a huge spider plant, a variegated philodendron, Christmas and pond lily cacti, an ancient poinsettia, a kalanchoe and several shorter-lived species. To have such beautiful things to care for is good for my soul.’
“But inmates were awaiting transfer to a new prison [built in nearby Warren], currently under construction. ‘Sadly,’ Dechaine said at the time, ‘shop plants will have no place at the new prison. Our production will be more streamlined in a building that has no windows.’
“His persistent complaints and suggestion to the warden regarding the housing arrangements planned at the new prison earned him several write-ups, but the only ‘charge’ thus far was that of being ‘an administrative burden.’ Although later dropped, the threat of it persists.
“He worked a six-hour day and considered work ‘a gift in a place like this. The mind-numbing monotony, the stress and ignorance – all of it often makes me wonder how in God’s name anyone can exist here for any length of time.’
“And yet, immediately after this brief detour into the misery of his surroundings, he’d say, ‘This place also gave me the chance to tinker with flowers and especially rose bushes, which I love (probably comes from growing up where only a handful of varieties could survive the sub-arctic winters). I am conflicted when it comes to growing anything in here. Beauty in such an ugly place is sometimes unsettling and my rebellious streak makes it hard for me to participate in anything that makes my keepers look good…. Some day I hope to lay to rest the pettiness that causes me to think like this and enjoy a rose for its sake instead of mine. I’ve got a ways to go.’
“But he could also describe the reality of prison life. ‘The truth is that the day to day drudgery of prison does not begin to express the myriad of emotions evoked by being in a place that is at once intensely social and cruel. I struggle to find balance here, never knowing how human to be, who to trust, who to avoid. Every day, I know the stress of surviving a day in prison and I am so weary of it, so indescribably weary. When I open my eyes from a night’s sleep to see the bars that cage me into my 42 square feet, I feel anger, sadness and sorrow. What a damn waste, what a damn shame it is to suffer years of diminished opportunity, friendships lost and never known. I try not to dwell. I open my eyes every morning, beat back the cascade of emotion and begin occupying myself in any way so I don’t have to think about the tragedy of my imprisonment. Thankfully, most of my dreams are a satisfying departure from this place.’
“He kept a picture in his cell titled, ‘Brooklyn Boat Dock Window.’ Inscribed beneath the photo are the words, ‘How wonderful the window is that frees our sight to find, the country all behind the wall that otherwise is blind…’
“Twelve years: 4380 days, 4380 nights. Twelve Christmases. Twelve birthdays. He was thirty when he entered the state system. He had a loving wife, friends, a beautiful home, a farm, a good life. He turns forty-three in 2002. He has new friends – felons convicted of almost every crime imaginable who’ve come to give Dennis Dechaine more respect, more kindness, more protection from harm than have our official organs of virtue and integrity. While guards once allowed him to soften the iron and concrete habitat with flower beds, that work generated antagonism among those corrections officers who didn’t believe a prison should harbor anything that wasn’t harsh and ugly.
“Dennis Dechaine had come to terms with his fate. He could hate those who did this to him, but he said hatred only hurts the hater. So he works at forgiving them.
“How far he’s come from the ‘Mouse’ he once was. Today, he has an inner strength like steel. I admire him enormously. After making a career in dealing with mobsters, murderers and terrorists, taking guns and bombs away from the vicious predators I could find, I thought I was tough. Until I came to know Dennis Dechaine.” (Human Sacrifice, p. 369-371)