Friday, January 22, 1999

Isle Prisoners, Mainland Prisons

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
From the kitchen of Halawa Heights Baptist Church,
Regina Dias-Tauala talks with her daughter Tara, speaking
via video teleconference from prison in Oklahoma. Looking
on are Mary Dias, Regina's sister, and Dias' son Keoki, 8.

Long time
no see

Video calls help isle families
not only stay in touch with
faraway kin, but see them, too

By Mary Adamski


Regina Dias-Tauala of Aiea and her daughters Tara and Totie had a good cry together Saturday, an emotional release at seeing each other after a three-year separation.

It wasn't a reunion with hugs and kisses, though.

Mom watched her only children on a television screen in a video-telephone hookup with their current residence, the Central Oklahoma Correctional Facility at McLoud, Okla.

"They're in good spirits," said Dias-Tauala after the 15-minute connection. She delivered some motherly advice: "Tara needs to learn respect; Totie needs to follow directions. They say they've learned their lesson."

On the whole, she's proud because both daughters, serving time on drug-related crimes, "are hooked up with jobs. That's what I want to see. I want them to be responsible." Tara works in the laundry and is studying to earn a high school graduation equivalency diploma. Totie, who already earned a degree, works as a floor keeper.

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Totie Tauala, also a prisoner in Oklahoma, speaks to
mom Regina via the new, bigger-screen video conference.

Dias-Tauala was one of the family members who gathered at two Oahu churches Saturday for the video-conferencing program administered by the Good News Jail and Prison Ministry, a nondenominational chaplaincy program in Hawaii prisons. The video-call project has been funded by the state since Hawaii inmates were transported to mainland prisons three years ago. It lapsed in recent months after prisoners were transferred from Texas facilities to Oklahoma and Minnesota.

A small percentage of the families of the 1,200 men and women housed on the mainland make use of the program, perhaps because they don't realize it is free, said the Rev. John Vaughn, a Baptist minister and senior chaplain.

The project to keep local families connected to the inmates was located in churches rather than the prison setting here for the comfort of the families, he said. Volunteers amused young children and chatted quietly with adults in the Nuuanu Baptist Church education building as each family took its turn before the screen in a private little room.

"We have seen some reconciliations, some healing that needed to take place," said Vaughn, one of four chaplains whose work in island prisons is supported by church contributions.

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Plagued by hardware problems and poor telephone
connections to the mainland, Rev. John Vaughn of the
Good News Jail and Prison Ministry tries to smooth
out the glitches that would prematurely end the day's
prison teleconferencing visiting sessions from the
Nuuanu Baptist Church Saturday.

Vaughn oversaw morning connections with men at Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton, Minn., which ended early because cold weather there interfered with the telephone hookup. An afternoon session at Halawa Heights Baptist Church reached out to women inmates in Oklahoma.

It was the first day of using upgraded video-conferencing technology, with a full-size television screen instead of the 3-inch screen formerly used.

"We can talk, but when you see someone, you know if they're really OK," said Dias-Tauala. Like other inmates' relatives, who socialized and shared snacks while waiting their turn, she said she has telephone conversations with the girls, but "I have to limit their calls. It can run into money."

The video-call project is "fantastic," but the incarceration of local prisoners thousands of miles from families isn't, said Diane Pang of Waianae, waiting to talk to son Franklin Antonio in Minnesota. "These boys are Hawaiian and they belong here. It's very hard on families to be separated like this.

"I just wish they'd get this prison project going so they can bring them home. Maybe all the families should stand together and have something to say about this. We could tell the state that the families didn't do anything wrong and it's a hardship on us."

"He looked really good. It made his day ... my day, too," said a tearful Pang after a face-to-face talk. "He just wanted to talk about family."

Pang and others reported that the Hawaii inmates are happy with the transfer from Texas facilities. "He likes the facility. He signed up for a computer class and a mechanics class. He's happy about that." Antonio was 18 when he was sentenced three years ago to a life term for murder.

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Angie Napulou hoped for a teleconferencing connection
so she could talk with Craig Napulou, who is incarcerated
at Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton, Minn. Hardware
problems prevented a video feed and the couple was able to
talk only via a voice connection. Sweetheart, left, and Seaana
Napulou fidget while waiting for the call.

Angie Napulou of Kalihi said, "I think I'd rather have him there than here because of the conditions at Halawa ... the overcrowding, the things you hear about the ACOs (prison guards)."

She said her son, Craig, imprisoned since 1991 for attempted murder and robbery, said "the living conditions are better than here and at Newton (Texas). They've got more chances of working. He said the Minnesota guards are trained; in Texas they were just hired for the job," Napulou said. One drawback is that, unlike the Texas facilities, the Minnesota and Oklahoma prisons will not allow care packages of island foods.

Nani Hodges brought her 1-month-old grandson, Philip Kealoha, to show off to her husband, Paul, who is serving time for murder. "It's four years since I saw him. He knows that he's got to do the time. He needs our support, and he knows I'm there for him 100 percent ... me and his grandson."

"He likes it up there. He's taking educational classes. It's cleaner. In Texas it wasn't so sanitary."

When Nani Hodges says the Texas facilities were not so great, she has firsthand knowledge. Doing time on drug-related charges, she was one of the Hawaii women inmates transferred to a Texas prison in 1997. "It took us Hawaii inmates to clean it up."

She is now in a work furlough program, "doing real good, focusing on myself. I'm ready to be out and be with my grandson. This is what it's going to take to get my s--- together," Hodges said, snuggling with the infant tucked into her neck. "He already has his grandpa doing time."

The program

bullet What: State-funded video-telephone calls with Hawaii inmates in mainland prisons.

bullet Eligible: Inmates at Diamondback Correctional Facility in Watonga, Okla.; Central Oklahoma Correctional Facility in McLoud, Okla.; and Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton, Minn.

How to call

bullet Oahu hookups: Families may participate in the state-funded video-conferencing two Saturdays per month at Oahu churches.

bullet Reservations: Call the Good News Jail and Prison Ministry, 531-4657, on Mondays, Tuesdays or Wednesdays between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.

bullet Neighbor island hookups: One Saturday each month, there is a hookup at a neighbor island site, rotating between Maui, Kauai and Hilo.

bullet Reservations: Call the Good News Jail and Prison Ministry, 531-4657, on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.

bullet Fellowship luncheon: Volunteers and supporters will gather at noon Feb. 20 at Kalihi Union Church. International President Harry Greene, a former inmate, will speak, and local inmates will give religious testimony. Tickets at $10 are available by calling the ministry office.

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