Friday, January 19, 2001
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Posted on: Friday, January 19, 2001

Inmates, families find friend

By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Staff Writer

Anna Sua has a hard time defining success. The things she works toward are often so hard to quantify. Failure is much easier to name.

Failure is a chance wasted, a life lost, a family broken.

Sua began a support group for Hawai’i inmates and their families called Kakoo Ohana Paahao. The first meeting of the initial four members was last June. Now, attendance at the monthly meetings is closer to 100. Sua, who lives in Waipahu, is uniquely qualified to lead the group. She has a background in community work and case management, and she has a family member in prison.

"The families of inmates have so many questions and nowhere to turn," Sua says, "But through the experiences of other families, they get answers."

Some of the questions are about the details of the prison system: How do you pay for new glasses for an inmate? What’s the best rate for long-distance phone calls if your husband is shipped to a Mainland prison?

But many of the group conversations turn to bigger matters: How do you keep the family together when someone is gone for 15 years? How do you deal with the stigma of having a family member in prison? And most of all, once they’re out, how do you keep them from going back?

Kakoo Ohana Paahau’s members realize once an inmate is released, it’s up to the families to keep them on the right path. At the support group, they talk about things like warning signs, they discuss the dangers of isolation, and they share ideas for helping the ex-inmates find self-respect.

"After they complete their treatment program, it stops right there. No one calls to check up on them. That’s where the support group comes in."

One of Sua’s near-term goals is to help inmates land jobs before they’re released from prison. "If they have something to look forward to, it will give them back their dignity," she says.

More than that, it can help keep away the anxiety and desperation that can lead an ex-offender back into crime.

Anna Sua talks unflinchingly about the biggest challenge she faces: getting the community to accept former inmates back into society. "If you close the door on them, you don’t leave them with many choices. We have to give them the chance to prove they’ve changed."

Hard words when you’re talking about sex crimes and violent offenders.

What is success for this group?

After a lot of thought, Sua comes up with an answer she’s comfortable with, an answer that encompasses all the hopes she has for families of inmates finding strength and hope together, for ex-offenders rejoining society and making something good of their lives, for children of inmates finding a better way. "Success for me is breaking the cycle."

If you want more information about Kakoo Ohana Paahau, call 678-0693.

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