Since last summer, Maine has found itself under the glare of the national and even international spotlight at times, ever since the story of Alexis Wright's Zumba studio of ill-repute became public. For residents of Kennebunk — heck, for a lot of legitimate Zumba instructors everywhere — this prostitution story can't die soon enough. Now that Mark Strong Sr. is currently doing 20 days in the county lock-up for his role as a pimp, an end may eventually be in sight . . . well, maybe after Wright gets her sentencing, at least.
No matter where you go in Maine, everyone has an opinion on this case. Many believe it was a victimless crime, while others believe that Wright and Strong should be hand-in-hand in steel cuffs (minus any kink-style whips), stuffed away in dark dank cells for a very long time. I have a strong opinion, too: That no matter what one thinks, this case reveals that even in picturesque New England towns, we aren't that different from folks in big cities.
When most of America thinks of our small and humble state, they think lobster, they think lighthouses, and they even think Stephen King. What one does not visualize (not even those who live in it) when thinking about our relatively safe and very homogenous state is a one-woman prostitution ring spearheaded by a middle-aged pillar of the community.
Living just a few towns over from the scene of the action, I have found myself engaged in more than a few conversations about this case; as someone from away, it's been interesting to hear how many people were stunned that such a thing could happen in a place like this.
But why is anyone stunned? Crime is equal-opportunity and doesn't lurk only in large urban areas.
Maine's size and relative lack of diversity are often held up as examples of why this is such a "safe" area, as if the "sameness" of color and culture protect against crime. Yet in a time of changing economic tides, people will do whatever people need to do to put food on the table. Sometimes crimes happen because people are trying to eat; sometimes people are trying to escape their problems by any means necessary and to fund those means they turn to crime.
Officials may overblow this tendency, but that doesn't mean it's not there. This week's Maine Sunday Telegram, for example, cited state officials blaming a growing foster-care crisis on a growing drug epidemic. It's far from clear whether "bath salts" or official laziness is really to blame for that crisis, but the fact does remain that drugs are a growing problem here. In fact, Maine has the highest prescription opiate addiction rate in the country, and has ever since 2000 — but when we talk drug use in this country, no one is talking about Maine.
So crime is real, crime is here, and while Maine may not be in the running as the murder capital of the US (like my hometown of Chicago) let's not pretend we don't have our issues. When I moved here a decade ago, I recall many news stories of stores and even banks being robbed at knife-point. Just because guns weren't a commonplace tool of crime didn't make the crimes less severe or less violent.