Don't make prisoners' keiki pay for the actions of their parents
THE Star-Bulletin's call for an increase in our islands' prison capacity (Our opinion, Aug. 1
) highlighted the long-range effect of recidivism on our community. Steeper rates of recidivism put each of us at increased risk for becoming victims of crime and economic adversity. However, recidivism is only part of the story.
As a member of a hula group from the Olivet Baptist Church, I recently visited the 174 Hawaii female inmates at the Otter Creek Correctional Center in Wheelwright, Ky. We were told by some inmates that they had come to appreciate the prison, where educational and counseling opportunities have helped them make positive changes in their lives. Some recognize that distance from Hawaii also means distance from some of the negative influences that led to their downfall. We saw inmates celebrating their Hawaiian and Tahitian cultures with pride as their halau performed for us.
YET WE also know that a great percentage of these women (some reports are as high as 95 percent) are mothers whose children are being left to the care of grandparents or other relatives, or to complete strangers. If they are fortunate, these inmates are able to see their children once a month, via television feed. Having made the arduous trek to the prison, we know it is not easily accessible, and the nearest hotel accommodations are nearly an hour away. Travel costs and long-distance telephone rates are exorbitant, especially for those families for whom the inmate may have been the main breadwinner.
What will happen to the children of these incarcerated mothers? Their caregivers, much like one 82-year-old grandmother I have spoken with, have been doing their best to raise them. But how does one rebuild a relationship with a child she has barely seen or touched for years? How do we ensure a stable environment for these children, who someday will mature into adults who will have their own effect on our society?
Yes, these inmates are imprisoned for crimes for which they must be held accountable, but at what price to their children and the future of our community?
WE WERE able to speak face-to-face with the inmates and learned how much they miss their island homes. We laughed and wept with them; within minutes they became sisters to us. And that is a key issue in all this bantering about of the prison issue -- these women are our ohana. They are our mothers, our sisters, our aunties, our nieces, our daughters and, yes, even our grandmothers. They belong here with us.
Let us allow our Hawaii to be a place of hope, and start building prison facilities here, where they are so desperately needed. May we be a people of true aloha, and welcome our brothers and sisters home.
Danette Kong Poole lives in Honolulu.