I miss my
By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Sarah Ah Mau is escorted outside Crystal City Correctional Center, where she will clean the grounds, by corrections officer Jose Luis Jimenez. Ah Mau is trusted outside even in fog, known as parole dust because it shrouds escapes.
Female inmates also findBy Gregg K. Kakesako
good in Texas time
CRYSTAL CITY, Texas -- The warden calls it "parole dust." It's a thick blanket of fog that hugs the countryside like a warm blanket but that also could be good cover for an inmate seeking freedom.
"Here in Texas we don't send inmates out to work when the weather gets like this," says Warden Marisela "Marcy" Regis, who oversees the 216 female inmates, 62 of them from Hawaii, at the Crystal City Correctional Center, in a remote part of southern Texas just 40 miles from the Mexico border.
So today the women will stay near the 10-acre prison compound, rather than work on "a county or city line" in this nearby Texas agricultural community of nearly 8,000 people, raking leaves, cutting brush and pulling weeds for 25 cents an hour.
Since May 28, when the first planeload of 64 inmates arrived, the women have had to endure not only the temperature, which rises to 110 degrees in the summer and drops to the teens in the winter, but also the isolation of being separated from their families and children.
Nearly all of them complained in letters to a federal judge in Honolulu that the facility wasn't ready to house convicts. Since then, however, the library shelves are stocked with books, classes are being held and the inmates have jobs.
Ninety-five percent of the women have children.
"I miss my family," said Lori Newell, who is serving a 10-year term for burglary and forgery.
Newell has three children living on the Big Island. "Any day now I am supposed to become a grandmother."
"The holidays are the hardest," said Charisse Perry, 36, whose two-year minimum sentence on a drug charge will end in August.
Mail service to the islands takes seven to nine days. Phone calls home are expensive, $15 for a 20-minute collect call. Perry now limits her calls to daughter, Amy, to one a week.
Still, despite the distance from her daughter, Perry is one of the few female inmates who would rather "pull their time" in Texas.
"I would go back only to have contact with my daughter." she said. "It's like they (children) are doing my time.... It's heart-wrenching."
Perry gets to see Amy some weekends via video-teleconferencing calls. "But it's only a little picture on a 2-inch monitor."
Linda Grilho, 47, who grew up in Papakolea, said those calls sometimes are more a curse than a blessing. "They (the women inmates) have their babies. Some of them are 8 months old. I see them (the mothers) crying at night. Sometimes it's really bad, especially after those phone calls."
Grilho, serving time for a parole violation, considers herself lucky. She was one of 12 inmates granted parole when the Hawaii Paroling Authority visited Crystal City last month.
One of the original 64 inmates sent over in May, Grilho said she had to be carried, shackled in body chains, from the Women's Correctional Community Center to the bus.
By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Thick fog - parole dust - surrounds Crystal City, making it difficult for guards in the tower to see far into the distance.
Janice Cockett, 44, sentenced to life in prison for the 1986 murder of her husband, said "goon squads in full riot gear descended" on the Kailua prison, and the women were "cuffed, belly-chained and shackled" for the 15-hour transfer.
"It was humiliating," said Newell, one of seven women inmates from the Big Island. "We were shackled for nine hours in full body irons even on the airplane. It was quite an experience."
State of Hawaii corrections officials maintain that the use of shackles is standard procedure when transporting prisoners.
"When we got here," Grilho said, "it was a mess. It was dirty and filthy. There was a 3-inch layer of dust on the bunks. The bed linens were in storage so long that they all had that odor of mothballs, and the dirt was etched into the folds.
"The water was bad. It had odor. It tasted bad. It looked like there was dirt in it."
Grilho said after she learned the prison's ice machines used filtered water, she melted ice in her cellblock's microwave and drank only that water. She still doesn't touch the tap water.
The insects and snakes also bothered the women.
Cockett's major complaint is the lack of remedial programs - "far less than what we had in Hawaii." She says the prison operator, the Bobby Ross Group, used student inmate instructors "to try to cut corners and save money."
But she praises the prison's administration. "It's a new prison. Everyone is floundering around trying to turn it around. It's the competency of the staff that makes up for the deficiency of this place."
Ashley Boyd, assistant warden, said the situation has changed for the better. "At one time inmates did help (as teachers), but that did change after the state of Hawaii suggested a change."
Hawaii inmates said other major changes were initiated after the American Civil Liberties Union inspected the prison in August.
"When we first got here," said Newell, a 36-year-old Hilo native, "the food portion was real small, not like what we're used to. Then there were only things like biscuits and grits.... Now at least we have rice."
Inmate Perry said processed turkey meat was all that was served until inmates complained; now beef is on the menu.
It has been a learning process for both inmates and administrators.
Assistant Warden Boyd said the prison draws its water from a nearby private well whose chlorine count is checked by the state once a month and has even been tested by Oklahoma officials.
"But to alleviate the questions and the hard feelings," Boyd said, "BRG is looking into tapping into the (Zavala) county water system."
Warden Regis notes that besides food, there has been the Hawaiian culture which people here have come to understand.
"Some people didn't realize Hawaiian women are more open and are more friendly."
Boyd noted that "after overcoming the 'why me' syndrome, the turnaround is astounding.... It was seeing that razor ribbon above the wire fences that really shocked them."
Regis added: "That really brought the reality to them that they are incarcerated, that it was no longer a game, and inmates started to realize that they are going to do their time."
Leona Kahue, who recently won parole after serving three years for second-degree theft, says she leaves Texas "learning how to do a lot of things" she never did before.
"I've fixed a lot of things here," she said. "I never did plumbing before. I learned to drive a tractor, a shredder and a soil tiller."
Newell says being sent to Texas "was a blessing.
"Back home I had my family. I had my boyfriend. I had so many distractions. I never had a chance to look at myself.
". . . Now I hope to take this negative situation and turn it into a positive one."
Inmates not 'lost'
for parole process
Hawaii Paroling Authority handles thoseBy Gregg K. Kakesako
in Texas just as if they were home
Despite doubts by inmates locked up in Texas, the Hawaii Paroling Authority says their cases are handled exactly as if they were in Hawaii.
"Each individual in prison is in the computer on a schedule for interviews for parole," says Al Beaver, chairman of the three-member board. "If their name comes (up) for an interview or whatever, that's how we are going to handle it."
Beaver said the board spent a week in Texas last month visiting Crystal City, Newton and Dickens correctional centers to alleviate inmate fears that they were forgotten because they were incarcerated more than 5,000 miles away from home.
Before, Beaver said, video-teleconferencing sessions were held with female inmates at Crystal City, which resulted in several paroles being granted.
While at Newton, the parole board held a telephone conference session with an inmate's attorney about resetting a minimum sentence. Dickens is the only facility where no such video or teleconference has taken place because none of its inmates are ready to be paroled.
From what he has seen of the three facilities, Beaver said, he believes they are "adequate and the people have been treated good."
Beaver, who has applied to be board chairman for the next four years, bases his assessment on the fact that the facilities are not squeezed.
"Because they are not overcrowded, the facilities can do more things with the inmates," he said. "There isn't the atmosphere of tension. You see a different type of inmate.
"He seems to be more relaxed. He is more open to getting whatever he needs to get done so he can get out of there and get on parole.
"From what I saw, I would be a strong advocate of building a larger prison here in Hawaii to alleviate overcrowding and provide more space."
Beaver also was impressed by how inmates were able to pursue hobbies and other interests. "People had the opportunity to express themselves, whether it was in art or music. I saw jewelry making. I see music displays. I saw leather-making from not only the Hawaii prisoners, but also the Montana prisoners.
"This showed me that they had rechanneled their energies to these things, and it was a very positive sign."
State is battling endlessBy Gregg K. Kakesako
shortage of prison beds
State corrections officials point out that even with the 680 new beds planned at various state facilities, Hawaii's prisons are still woefully short of beds.
Dan Foley, American Civil Liberties Union attorney, said that, short of sending another 300 inmates to Texas, he doesn't see any short-term relief to the prison overcrowding crisis. Six hundred Hawaii convicts already are housed in three Texas county jails managed by a private operator.
Foley and state attorneys will be back in federal court Jan. 29 to review the 12-year-old consent decree in which the state promised to limit the number of inmates to 850 at OCCC. A similar settlement covering the Women's Community Correctional Center in Kailua was lifted in June.
The new construction projects will mean there will be 3,700 beds in the prison system, said state Public Safety spokesman Ted Sakai, but the inmate population today already exceeds 4,000.
"We still need a new prison," he said.
More than $500,000 was appropriated by the 1997 state Legislature for corrections officials to begin the process of planning for a new prison.
No site has been designated although several on the Big Island are being considered after Gov. Ben Cayetano ran into opposition on his proposal to build a prison on a Leeward Oahu feedlot.
Sites near Hilo and in Kau on the Big Island have been mentioned.
Cost estimates have run as high as $200 million, with construction to take as long as five years for a state-built penal facility.
The V-Group, a Cleveland-based company that designs and constructs correctional facilities, has said it could build a 1,500-bed facility for $112 million and have it up in two years.
Former Big Island Rep. Harvey Tajiri, a consultant for the V-
Group, said the state could lease the prison for 20 years. His company plans to contract the Atlanta-based Corrections Corp. of America to run the operation.
By the end of year, the state plans to provide 84 new beds in the Oahu Community Correctional Center in Kalihi, and 80 beds at the Kauai Community Correctional Center in Lihue. An additional 64 new beds will be available at the Hawaii Community Correctional Center in Hilo.
More bed space is planned at the Women's Community Correctional Center, which has a capacity for 174 inmates, but whose current population is at 195. Bids were recently let out for 84 new beds. That job should be completed by January 1999.
The Waiawa Correctional Facility, which has an inmate population of 278, will get 200 new beds in early 1999. It was built to hold 184 inmates.
Also on the drawing board are 168 new beds for OCCC, whose current inmate population is 1,159 but whose capacity is 833.
Woman is turning her life aroundBy Gregg K. Kakesako
with work and faith
CRYSTAL CITY, Texas -- Until recently, Hawaii inmate Lori Newell was up at 2:30 each morning for her first job in the prison's kitchen work detail.
Housed in a dormitory with 23 other inmates in the detail, the former Big Island resident helped prepare and serve breakfast for the 216 female inmates at Crystal City Correctional Center. The job included cleanup after the meal.
Then it was on to her second job, making visual aids and flash cards for elementary schools in the area.
The pay: 25 cents an hour.
Now Newell, 36, has quit the early job to have more time for herself.
Each day, part of her time is spent in substance abuse classes. Each evening, she makes time for church services and religion classes.
"I learned to trust more in God," she says. "(Before,) I knew He was there but I never listened."
About the prisonName: Crystal City County Correctional Center
Where: Crystal City, Texas
Location: 121 miles southwest of San Antonio, Texas
Capacity: 224 inmates
Hawaii inmates: 62
Other inmates: 154 from Oklahoma
Collect phone calls: $15 for 20 minutes