DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Prison inmate Brian Wong wrote most of the songs on the CD "The Cry of Your Heart," made by the Kulani Christian Fellowship. The album has been nominated for a Na Hoku Award.
Hilo inmates reach out with music
The men's album of religious music is up for a Hoku award
In November 2004, 10 inmates at Kulani Correctional Facility, located south of Hilo, transformed a prison chaplain's 3-by-7-foot office into a recording booth and produced a CD of religious music.
Their album, "The Cry of Your Heart," is among the nominees in the Religious Album of the Year category of next week's Na Hoku Hanohano Awards.
"It's been my biggest dream to make a CD ... and to do it from prison -- I never imagined," said inmate Brian Wong, who wrote nine of the 10 original songs on the CD that he and nine other members of the Kulani Christian Fellowship performed.
"A lot of guys put on a mask when they first get here (prison), but when the doors close, it doesn't matter how big you are, your heart hurts -- the loneliness and the pain of who you've hurt by your actions," Wong said yesterday at a press conference at the Laumaka Work Furlough Center on Oahu, where he is awaiting parole.
The Kulani Correctional Facility inmates received help and support from the Hilo community.
Prison chaplain Mike Sidman, who has experience in the music recording industry, guided the group through the entire process.
"We had no idea what we were doing," Sidman said. "But we kept going forward and things just kept falling into place."
Sidman's friend, Delis Estabilio of Cool Breeze Studio, volunteered his time and equipment to help record the album.
"He dragged all of his equipment up the mountain 20 miles," Wong said. "I remember six of us crammed in that little room surrounded by pink padding trying to listen through two headphones."
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
During a press conference yesterday on Oahu, Wong became emotional talking about his family and being in prison.
The Hilo community donated more than $3,000 to cover the cost of producing 1,000 copies of the album, which was released in early 2005.
The album was originally sold for $10 each after performances at the Seventh Gate Christian Bookstore and at the New Hope Christian Fellowship Bookstore in Hilo and Oahu.
However, since the group decided to produce 1,000 more copies of their CD, New Hope Christian Fellowship Bookstore began selling the album for $12 each, using the extra $2 to help underwrite the cost of production.
Music from the album can be heard on the Big Island's local Christian radio station, KCIF, and at churches around the island.
"The lyrics line up with the scripture and the music is very congregational-friendly," Sidman said. "When you first hear it, you feel like you've sang it for years."
"The Cry of Your Heart" is one of five albums nominated for the award presented at Hawaii's version of the Grammys.
"Winning a Na Hoku award is a great honor, but what's important is that people's lives can be helped," Wong said. All the proceeds benefit the Crime Victims Compensation Commission.
"We come into prison and we get everything we need: help, assistance, guidance. But we found out the victims don't get anything," said Wong, who has served nine years of a 20-year sentence for sexual assault. The parole board is expected to hear his case next month.
Wong believes the CD has also touched the lives of his fellow inmates.
"It has been an opportunity to share our lives and what God has done for us," Wong said. "Me sitting here just talking about a Na Hoku (award) proves there's hope for anybody."
Wong said he is not sure if he will attend the award ceremony May 31 at the Hilton Hawaiian Village because he needs to request to extend his 9 p.m. curfew.
Wong hopes to pursue his passion for music and to soon spend time with his wife and three children.