by Janet Miller
A friend extended a strange invitation to me. She is the spokesperson for the Department of Corrections for the State of Hawai`i. The warden of the Kaua’i Community Corrections Center invited her to join him and the inmates for their weekly cookout night.
She asked me if I wanted to come with her.
“What?” I asked. “You’re asking me to spend my Friday night in a jail? With prisoners? Scary people?”
She challenged me to broaden my comfort zone; to step outside of the safe and secure world of mainstream society. As I can never resist a challenge, we drove to the facility, actually turned into the driveway of… that place.
After checking in at the office and securing visitor’s badges, we met up with the warden who led us to the picnic tables in the guest area.
A KCCC “graduate” introduced himself to us, a former inmate who completed his penal time, has an outside job and is making a go of the straight life. Harley visits regularly as a conscious reminder of the life he works hard to never return to.
I was sitting next to an EX-CON! He told me of his crimes, listing the facilities where he’d done time, off and on, for several years of his life.
Inmates served us a remarkably delicious dinner that included homegrown vegetables from the jailhouse garden. They spooned our meals onto plastic plates and gave us plastic forks. Innocuous weapons… my imagination drifted.
Harley asked us if we would like a couple of the female inmates to join us. What could we say? OK, sure… why not?
Two young women brought their trays over to our table. After introductions all around, they told us why they were there — illegal drug-related offenses.
My first feeling was disdain — after all, they deserved to be there, didn’t they? They should just straighten up and fly right!
My bold, in depth questioning brought out the common inmate scenario.
Here was a 20-something young woman. Call her Suzie — it’s not her real name.
Suzie grew up with a mother who committed crimes to support her addictions. Suzie’s daily view of life was an unkempt apartment filled with strangers that came and went at all hours.
Suzie knew no other life. Hungry, neglected, confused, she naturally followed the pattern of her only adult example. Today, she is a third-generation criminal.
Suzie speaks earnestly about her own children. She misses them — their aunt is raising them.
She counts the wasted years, the desire to have a normal life, the countdown to the date of her release, the dream of starting over, the realization of its improbability, but still… the hope.
Dinner over, plastic fork accounted for, I walked out of that jail with a new understanding of how an innocent child becomes a criminal.
I’ve been thinking. Christmas is the hardest time for the children of inmates. But there is a wonderful group that has organized a way to minister to those children.
It is called Angel Tree. It’s a way for you to reach out to them in this Christmas season. Read more about it online at www.helpangeltree.org; or contact the jail directly, and request information on the Kaua’i chapter.
This holiday season, you can make a difference.
Janet Miller has a desire to eventually touch every life on Kaua’i in a positive way. Read her columns online at forkauaionline.com on the seventh day of every month.