CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Inmates from Ke Alaula at the Women's Community Correctional Center performed for relatives and friends yesterday afternoon. The hula project by Na Wahine o Ke Alaula was titled "The Awakening" and featured 50 inmates expressing their struggle with drug addiction, abusive relationships, treatment and forgiveness through dance. CLICK FOR LARGE
Inmates tell their stories with hula
True life intertwined with dance as Garilynn Jellings, an inmate at the women's prison in Kailua, portrayed a teenager seeking comfort in drugs and alcohol to cope with the death of her addicted single mother.
Jellings and 49 other inmates at the Women's Community Correctional Center participated in a hula project yesterday that dramatized the consequences of domestic abuse and drug addiction through chants and dance.
The narrative for the performance, entitled "The Awakening," was written by the inmates based on their own life experiences.
For nearly two hours, the women traded their pale blue prison uniforms for elegant gowns and leis, turning a faded basketball court into a stage where they told, through music and dance, their journey from addiction to recovery.
As about 200 people watched, including relatives and friends, Jellings was consumed with sadness and grief, but soon discovered her drug habit brought only temporary relief. She became homeless and turned to stealing to get her fix, a practice that landed her in jail.
Then came the hardest part of all: taking the first step toward recovery.
"It's every woman who goes on the path of addiction and destruction -- it's every woman's story. Every woman," Jellings said after the performance. "We are just characters in something so much bigger than us."
The project, in its sixth year, is put together by WCCC's Ke Alaula therapeutic community.
The inmates, all of whom were once addicted to ice, marijuana, alcohol, cocaine or other drugs, had six months to prepare and rehearse before yesterday's performance, said project director Aulii Aweau.
"We tried to put a little bit of everyone's story in there," she said about the narrative. "It was almost like acknowledging what they've done, some of the struggles that they've grown up with as children and making that choice to go down the path of addiction."
The women chose to impersonate elements like earth, wind and fire to display their emotions, Aweau said. The performance begins with storms that lead to the formation of the islands, then touches on the special relationship that Hawaiians have with the land and their child following the miracle of birth. In the performance, however, the stress of being a single mother, played by inmate Shaunna Mendiha, leads to domestic violence and drug abuse.
Aweau noted that many of the incarcerated women were already born in risky households as daughters or granddaughters of past inmates. She said women who performed in recent chants at the correctional center say they carry the message home to help them remember the consequences that drug addiction could have on their families.
Mailelaniliilii Bent, who played Mendiha's young daughter, said she'll live by that message when she is released.
"Until we know something better, we are unable to know anything different than what we do when we are out there," she said. "This experience saved my life."