GARY T. KUBOTA GKUBOTA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Maui prison inmate Paea Tasini held his 1 1/2-year-old daughter, Tui, yesterday during a special visit to the Maui Ocean Center to celebrate Father's Day and his graduation from a correctional parenting program.
Day out with Dad
An outing caps a course where inmates learn parenting skills
WAILUKU » Father's Day came early for six Maui prison inmates who spent yesterday with their children at the Maui Ocean Center accompanied by guards and nonprofit organizers.
"This is great. This is the best thing ever," said Paea Tasini, 30, an inmate celebrating with his three children. "It takes the bitterness away from your heart. Sometimes when you have to do jail time ... it sort of puts a callus on your heart."
The occasion yesterday marked the celebration of six inmates graduating from the nonprofit No Na Kamalii Program, a 10-week course teaching them parenting skills, including supervised play with their children at the Maui Community Correctional Center each week.
Accompanied by their 14 children, the inmates wore prison garb of white T-shirts, blue denim pants and sneakers. The group toured the various above- and underground exhibits, including a nearly 360-degree glass tunnel where sharks and manta rays could be seen swimming above them.
Inmate Terrence Vasquez, 36, convicted of manslaughter in a drunken-driving incident on Maui, said he was transferred to an Oklahoma prison for five years and corresponded by mail with his 10-year-old daughter, Tiara.
Vasquez said he returned from Oklahoma and joined the parenting program. Celebrating his graduation with Tiara was a "blessing," he said.
Acting Warden Alan Nouchi said he approved the day-long excursion because it helps the inmates make the transition back into society.
"It's not about what they were convicted for. It's all about the kids," Nouchi said. "It's basically establishing the father-child bond prior to release."
Nouchi said the six inmates, who would probably be released within the next two years, were not classified as dangerous. The guards were not armed while visiting the aquarium.
He said inmates and children have met sometimes for family days at community centers, but this event was the first time a group of them have been at a visitor attraction.
Na Kamalii Executive Director Venus Rosete-Hill said since her group's start in June 2004, 42 fathers have participated in the parenting program, including 24 fathers and 39 children in the play group.
Yesterday's event was sponsored by the No Na Kamalii Partners, including the Neighborhood Place of Wailuku, the Queen Liliuokalani Children's Center, the Hui Malama Learning Center and the Keiki O Ka Aina Program, she said.
Rosete-Hill said her group's mission is to prevent child abuse and neglect by strengthening families.
She said her group knows that while the fathers made "lousy choices" to end up in prison, children are more likely to do better in the future if they have a relationship with their dads.
Rosete-Hill said some of the children were born while their fathers were in prison.
"There's a lot of anxiety about going into a home with the children really knowing who their father is," she said. "Through this program the children are able to come in, build a bond with their dad, build their relationships so when they transition back into their homes, it's a lot smoother."
John Paneto, 37, accompanied by three of his children, said he has learned patience and how to discipline his children by talking with them.
Paneto, serving time for drug felonies, said before the program, his 5-year-old son, Domingo, would cry and want to be with his mother.
Now, Domingo wants to be with Paneto as well.
"I just hope they keep this thing going because a lot of fathers need this kind of thing," Paneto said.