Saturday, May 5, 2001

Raylene Puahi, a resident at Matlock Hale, a furlough and
treatment facility for female offenders, watered plants recently
on the building's second-floor lanai.

Matlock Hale helps
build new lives

>> Female inmates breaking the cycle
>> Matlock Hale helps build new lives
>> Female offenders learn potential

By Helen Altonn

Wilma Paz, 46, and Raylene Puahi, 48, are among ex-offenders anticipating a promising future because of help given to them at Matlock Hale.

Paz, raised in Wahiawa, said she was a drug addict off and on for 30 years. She said she had a "great family. I just made wrong choices to fit into a crowd.

"This program has taught me structure. It has taught me I'm OK, no matter who I am or what I do, and I can make the right choices."

With a lot of counseling and encouragement, Paz got a good job at a research company and is saving money to get her teeth fixed. She was in danger of losing all of them, she said. "Drugs will eat from inside out."

She was afraid of assuming such a big bill -- more than $3,000. "That's an issue when you start owing people money and you don't have it. But they taught me how to budget (at Matlock Hale), and I'm doing fine."

She said her boss also gives her extra hours to help pay the dentist bill.

Paz recently left the transitional facility on extended furlough to live with her mother and daughter but was looking forward to Matlock Hale reunions. "There's always someone here you can talk to, always somebody here to listen to you.

"If you don't have any place to go, you can always stay here. And me, if I go out there and don't feel safe, I can come back. ... The energy here is so positive. There's negative, but they bring it back to positive."

Paz said she had expected a six-month jail sentence since she had never been arrested before. But the Hawaii Paroling Authority gave her a 2-1/2-year minimum prison sentence out of five years for drug-related offenses, starting in May 1999.

"I was so devastated, I thought I was gonna die," she said. "When I go to the board in May (for a parole hearing), I need to thank them for giving me time to find myself again."

Puahi, who thinks of herself as "a typical Hawaiian girl from Kalihi," said she did not get involved with drugs until she was about 35. "I guess I was tired staying home with (five) children."

She was drawn to the lights and action in Chinatown when going by bus to a part-time job. She got off the bus one night and continued to do that, staying longer each time, until "one day I got off the bus and never got back on.

"I found myself staying there 24 hours a day. That's when I started doing cocaine."

Her husband tried to get her to go home, but she remained on the streets for eight years, she said. She was arrested several times for possession and distribution of drugs and sent the last time to the Central Oklahoma Correctional Facility.

"It was very good. It made me realize I could go out there and learn something and enjoy learning, and that's what I did," she said.

She also taught hula to more than 150 women, mostly from the mainland.

Returning from Oklahoma, she spent one day at the Women's Community Correctional Center in Kailua, then was transferred to Matlock Hale.

"I was planning, no matter what happens, I would put in a request to WCCC to come here," she said, describing it as "a safe place and like a builder for me."

Puahi went through assessments and employment counseling and eventually landed a job as a taxicab dispatch officer.

"I love my job," she said. The facility gave her a bus pass and a clothing voucher to help her get started.

She was paroled April 9 and, with no place else to go, moved to transition quarters on Matlock Hale's fourth floor for $250 monthly rent.

She is saving money, explaining: "Sooner or later, I've got to get out of here. I feel really great about myself now."

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