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A Culture of Community - Dismas of Vermont helps the formerly incarcerated form meaningful connections with society

06/07/2024 02:13PM ● By MARIE EDINGER


Founded in 1976 in Nashville, Tennessee, Dismas House  was brought to Vermont in 1986 by a team that included Burlington resident Richard Gagne. Richard served as house director of Dismas of Vermont, Inc. from then until mid-April 2024.

In addition to its Burlington Dismas House, located at 96 Buell Street, Dismas of Vermont has locations in Winooski and Hartford, plus two Houses (one for men and one for women) in Rutland.

“When a person commits a crime, they break the community’s rules and damage their relationship with their neighbors,” Richard explains. “As a consequence, they’re incarcerated, which further isolates them.

“That sense of alienation causes people to begin to see themselves by the label they’re given—convict or criminal. There’s a sense of brokenness that accompanies that, which Dismas House seeks to heal.”


Students, international volunteers and former prisoners live together and share weekday dinners with staff and volunteer cooks from the broader community.  


Burlington Dismas House on Buell Street. 


One important way they do this is to host family-like dinners every weeknight, connecting residents with members of their community. Volunteers from church groups, civic organizations, school groups, or sometimes individuals or couples host the dinners and often stay to enjoy the meal with the house residents, helping them feel comfortable and welcomed.

“If incarceration says, ‘You’re no good, we reject you,’ the presence of the volunteers at the evening meal says, ‘You’re worthwhile. You’re worth knowing.’”

The word Dismas House uses for this process is “reconciliation.” Their mission is to reconcile prisoners with society and society with prisoners. 


At Burlington Dismas House, there are no restrictions on who can apply for residency, regardless of the crime they were convicted of. Potential residents are interviewed by the House team, who determine whether they seem like a good fit and are committed to reentering society.

Conducting those interviews was a big part of Richard's job as house director. But he says one of the things he loved most about the concept of Dismas House is its simplicity.

“It didn’t start because a criminology or sociology professor had a theory based on research about how to transition people back into the community. It wasn’t that complicated,” he says, laughing. “The first Dismas House was started because two groups of people encountered each other.”

At the original Dismas House, he says, university students and volunteers simply saw that men leaving prison needed a place to live and, at the same time, needed support. That concept carried over to the houses in Vermont.

“They were open-hearted enough to do something about the problem,” Richard says. “An open mind and an open heart. That’s really what’s necessary.”





Residents, staff, and volunteers from the community build lasting relationships while participating in activities like planting a garden, carving jack-o-lanterns to display on Halloween, and holding summer cookouts. 


Of course, the work Dismas House does has an enormous impact on the lives of residents as they transition back into society following their incarceration. Beyond that, though, the House hopes to impact society as a whole. On the one hand, they’re helping people become contrib- uting members of the community. On the other, they hope to empower the community to support reconciliation and acceptance.

All the Dismas of Vermont houses hold special events during the year. Proceeds from these events support formerly incarcerated people returning to the community.

If you would like to volunteer or donate, visit them at


Burlington Dismas House

96 Buell Street

Burlington, VT

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