“If you were in prison what would you miss most?” Oahu Women’s Community Correction Center inmate Jessica Colonge asked a crowd Friday afternoon in Kailua-Kona.
Family, the beach, nature and freedom were among the answers that came from the audience of several dozen people, young and old, who attended a presentation by four WCCC inmates called “Prison Monologues.” The afternoon presentation was the second conducted by the WCCC inmates following one at Kealakehe High School.
For Colonge, the thing she misses most is the 10-year-old daughter she left behind when she entered prison five years ago. She reminded attendees that it’s not just yourself who gets hurt; those you love and the community are also affected.
“She is my only child,” the Oahu native said. “Every day I have to live with myself for the fact that I abandoned this child.”
“Prison Monologues” is a dramatic presentation of women’s writings that the inmates perform at schools and other organizations throughout Hawaii. It is sponsored by the state Department of Public Safety, Consuelo Foundation, Pua Foundation and HOPE Services Hawaii.
Friday’s presentation, hosted by the Queen Liliuokalani Children’s Center in Kailua-Kona, included readings by the inmates as well as skits and a song to close the presentation.
The women touched on a variety of issues from the trauma that led to substance abuse, crime and eventual incarceration to the pain and loneliness they feel inside WCCC.
“It’s something I have to live with every single day,” said Joanne Liupuano, who is nearing eight years at WCCC. “It’s every second of every day I have to feel that pain. Every day.”
They also discussed prison realities such as just what a new inmate receives when she arrives: a trash bag, three uniforms, three pairs of underwear, two one-size-fits-most bras, a towel, a face cloth, a sheet, a pillow, a rain coat, a blanket and a used pillow.
“That’s real life,” said Colonge. “Everything in that box is authentic.”
In the past four years, some 25 inmates have performed scores of presentations, including one on Maui and, now, two on Hawaii Island, said WCCC Warden Mark Patterson. The group currently consists of four inmates who have to meet rigorous criteria, including an audition before current members.
The intent is to raise awareness about what is leading women and children into Hawaii’s correctional system, said Patterson. Of the 300 inmates at WCCC, 100 hail from the neighbor islands, he said. Across the street, at the Youth Correctional Center, 65 percent are from the neighbor islands.
“Why are there so many of our women, boys and girls being sent to Oahu from a population of only 200,000 or 300,000?” he asked rhetorically. “What do the neighbor islands not have that Oahu does that they have to send their women and children.”
“Prison Monologues” grew out of a creative writing class taught twice annually by Pat Clough, who travels from California, he said. About a decade ago, Clough interacted with several inmates cleaning a Kailua, Oahu, beach and subsequently volunteered to teach the class. She also publishes inmates’ work in a book called Hulihia, which means “to transform.”
“They go out into the community to talk about choices and how choices affect us and how the consequences can affect us,” he said about the program.
Eleven-year-old Kapua Tafolla said she learned from the inmates that she has to make the right decisions in life in order to be successful and prosperous. She also has to lead her own path.
“No matter what don’t make the wrong choice in life,” the Kealakehe Intermediate School student said. “You need to be yourself and be like the person you want to be.”
For more information or to request a presentation, email firstname.lastname@example.org.