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November, 2003 Vol. 28 No. 3
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Sam Kalilikane behind the wheel

Former inmate Sam Kalilikane now works as a
commercial truck driver.

We're All in This Canoe Together

Hawaiian values, vocational training and mutual support give prison inmates a second chance

by Neal Iwamoto

Sam Kalilikane Jr. spent more than half his life in trouble with the law. A runaway at age 13 and high school dropout at 16, his life revolved around girls, alcohol, drugs--and crime. "I survived on the streets by doing everything illegal you could think of," he recalls. Now 36 and less than a year out of prison, Kalilikane focuses on a different path. He' s back in school for the first time in 20 years--enrolled at Leeward Community College. He is working toward a commercial driver' s license, and he aspires to owning his own trucking company and becoming a certified substance abuse counselor.

Kalilikane says he always wanted to change his life; he just didn' t know how until Ke Ala 'Ike showed him the way. The federally-funded prison education program is based out of Leeward Community College. Native Hawaiian inmates begin higher education through credit college courses taught through the eyes of their native culture--a perspective that gives participants self-worth and a renewed sense of direction. Offered at the minimum-security Waiawa Correctional Facility on O'ahu, the program serves inmates near the end of their sentences, easing their transition to college upon release.

Candidates are screened by both the state Department of Public Safety and Leeward staff. Close to 40 have participated since the program began less than two years ago. Their criminal records run the gamut. They range in age from early-20s to 60-plus. A majority have a history of substance abuse. What they share is a common goal: changing their lives while reconnecting with traditional Hawaiian culture and values.

Prison population has a disproportionate number of Hawaiians

Ke Ala 'Ike, literally "pathway to knowledge," was conceived by Milton Anderson, a Leeward instructor and counselor and retired probation officer. As a member of Hawai'i' s Department of Public Safety Inmate Education Advisory Board, Anderson observed a disproportionate number of Native Hawaiian inmates in the prisons he visited. "It hits you in the face," he says. "I said to myself, something' s not right here."

According to the Department of Public Safety, one in five prisoners is Native Hawaiian, nearly double Hawaiians' representation in the general population. Many factors may be involved, but Anderson, who is of Hawaiian ancestry, recognized one key element. "When talking to the inmates, I found the same things I had observed in 20 years of working with minority communities in California," he says. "They reflected a lack of connection or a failure to identify with those elements of their culture that supported ethical, legal and other behavior that would be considered pono." Reconnecting prisoners to the positive values of Hawaiian culture is critical in breaking the cycle of recidivism.

Anderson' s answer is to reinforce those values while putting inmates on an academic track. Participants take a semester of Hawaiian language and instruction in skills from note taking to time management. Metaphors are integral. Ancient tales teach the importance of values such as lokahi (unity), laulima (cooperation), 'eleu (taking initiative) and ho'o ponopono (forgiveness). The metaphor of a canoe, in which everyone must pull their weight to reach the destination, is emphasized often. Even learning the structure of the Hawaiian language provides a moral.

"The first words that come out are words of action," says instructor Carol Silva. "What does that tell you? People didn' t sit under the coconut tree and wait for things to happen. You have to take responsibility."

Stereotypes are quickly shattered. Men whose past educational experiences left them feeling inferior learn that Hawaiians were--and still are--capable and well-versed in language, botany, astronomy and a variety of other fields. Inmates learn they have the same potential if they just tap into their "genetic memory." "We teach that the old Hawaiians were correct--not unscientific, not immoral, but quite the opposite," says program instructor Winston Kong. "We draw examples and inspiration by reconnecting with the po'e kahiko (ancient people) and their ways and thoughts."

Exercises in critical thinking provide revelation. Challenging each other in the academic setting displaces mistrust and gullibility. "If you have to back yourself up in front of everybody, your behavior changes pretty quickly," Kong says. "When you stop being manipulative, your word becomes valuable again. Having value in prison makes you want to improve yourself when you get out."

Support and training continue in college

Upon release, Ke Ala 'Ike graduates must enter Ho'oulu, Leeward' s Native Hawaiian Vocational Education Program. They choose from 14 vocations, ranging from automotive services to culinary arts, and earn certificates. Along the way, they receive assistance in developing portfolios and resumes, practicing interviews and finding jobs. Participants can later enter a liberal arts degree program. Ke Ala 'Ike students may not be academically polished, but their teachers are unanimous in describing them as among their brightest and most passionate students.

Still, reintegration into society is an enormous challenge for most parolees. Many admit feeling anxious, frightened, even overwhelmed. Ho'oulu eases the tension by providing resources and support to keep the canoe moving. The Halau 'Ike 'O Pu'uloa, Leeward' s Hawaiian learning center, is vital. The center offers computers with Web access, tutors and counselors as well as housing other Hawaiian culture and community service programs open to all Leeward students. For Ke Ala 'Ike graduates from broken or abusive homes, the halau also provides the 'ohana (family) they have always craved.

After nearly five years behind bars, Ke Ala 'Ike graduate Elvis Pagaduan Jr. is a student aide at the halau. He is just beginning to tap his potential, working on a degree in information and computer sciences and creating a database for the Ho'olua program. "It' s become my second home" he says of the halau. "Everyone here knew I was an ex-offender and this and that, but they never treat me any different from anyone else. It reinforced what I learned--to malama each other, to help each other."

Kililikane puts it simply: "They give you love here. That' s what it' s all about. I can turn to anybody here and they goin' help." Ke Ala 'Ike graduates also formed Kane o Waiawa, their own weekly support group. Participants check up on each other and look out for those who are slipping. Meetings are mere formality since many of them talk to each other daily in person or by phone.

Sam with members of his halau, or school

Sam with members of his halau, or school.

Integration makes this program unique, and successful

State prisons offer other college courses, Hawaiian programs, transitional employment and training specifically for Native Hawaiians. The difference with Ke Ala 'Ike, observes Maureen Tito, education director for the state Department of Public Safety, is the integration of cultural, educational and social aspects. That requires coordination, from parole agents to case managers to financial aid officers. Tito, Anderson and Ke Ala 'Ike director Kanani Baker bring it all together. During the summer, they brought it to the International Convention of Correctional Educators in Oklahoma City. The innovative program drew keen interest, and Maori leaders invited the trio to New Zealand.

"We hope this program will be a model," Tito says. "Once you create results--if people are going on to higher education and skilled work instead of back to prison--then people will want to invest in that." Closer to home, Anderson and Baker were granted ali'i status in the Royal Order of Kamehameha I for their service to the Native Hawaiian community.

They credit success to a group of dedicated and inspirational teachers. Participants also cite the extra effort of instructors who "unleash the scholar and ancestral spirit within." Hawaiian literature instructor Kaeo Radford, nominee for Leeward Teacher of the Year, doles out hugs and scoldings in equal measure, saying "I come from a lineage of kahuna. This is personal for me." Radford stresses one of the program' s most important lessons--ho'omau (to persevere). Many hardships lie ahead, but quitting is no longer an option.

"I don' t look for the easy way out anymore because there' s something at the end of this tunnel," Pagaduan says. "A door opened that was never opened before."

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The problem with prison

The number of Americans in jails and prisons has increased 500 percent since the early 1970s, undeterred by changes in crime rates, economic cycles or demographics. As the prison population approaches 2 million, two UH faculty examine the impacts.

Texas spends nearly $3 billion a year to lock up more than 150,000 people in one of the largest detention programs in the world. Manoa Assistant Professor of American Studies Robert Perkinson has examined the system for a book he is writing on the history of Texas prisons and their influence on the nation. Texas abandoned rehabilitation in favor of incarceration beginning in the 1970s. The resulting costs have created enormous fiscal pressure on the state, Perkinson says. That should serve as a caution to states, like Hawai'i, that are considering cutting drug treatment, building more prisons and extending sentences.

The cost of incarceration goes far beyond dollars, however. Manoa Professor Meda Chesney-Lind, a former vice president of the American Society of Criminology, co-edited Invisible Punishment: The Collateral Consequences of Mass Imprisonment (New Press). She and other scholars and criminal justice advocates examined the impact of 30 years of "get tough" policies on prisoners, ex-felons and their families. The writers document "hidden punishments," including exposure to fatal illnesses in prison and denial of employment training and public housing to ex-felons. Incarceration also punishes people who committed no crime--a generation of children with imprisoned parents, families strapped by the cost of traveling to distant rural prisons, inner-city communities disproportionately stripped of their young men. As one contributor comments: "High levels of incarceration concentrated in impoverished communities have a destabilizing effect on community life, so that the most basic underpinnings of informal social control are damaged. This, in turn, reproduces the very dynamics that sustain crime."

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Thailand looks to Hawai'i model for dealing with sex offenders

When it began considering treatment for sex offenders, Thailand looked to Hawai'i. "Our treatment model is surprisingly compatible with the Thai Buddhist-shaped model of criminal justice," says the School of Social Work' s Barry Coyne, who directs the prison portion of the state' s Hawai'i Sex Offender Treatment Program. "Both require an admission of guilt. Both require an apology to the victim. Both want restitution to be paid." Coyne was keynote speaker for Thailand' s first conference on sex offenders. He will supervise Thai graduate students who study sex offender treatment at Manoa. He has also agreed to conduct training workshops in Thailand and explore further collaboration.

The Hawai'i Sex Offender Treatment Program costs the state just 10 percent of what a California-style medically based program would. Yet Hawai'i is considered the most successful state in the treatment, management and containment of sex offenders. None of the 350 sex offenders released since 1998 have been convicted or even arrested on a new sex charge. Nationally, nearly one in five untreated sex offenders and 11 percent of treated sex offenders return to prison within just two years. Hawai'i' s program, which was featured in the Summer 1997 issue of Malamalama, involves the state' s Judiciary, Hawai'i Paroling Authority and Departments of Public Safety, Human Services and Health.

Neal Iwamoto (BA ' 98 Manoa) works in sports media relations at UH Manoa.

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