Honolulu inmates find new life behind bars as medical aides

HONOLULU (AP) — Chris Almeida and Benjamin Pada are both inmates at Halawa Correctional Facility in Honolulu County. But they feel they now have a new purpose working as medical aides in the prison infirmary, doing mostly janitorial work but also helping care for inmates who are older and frail.

There are sometimes up to five medical aides working in the Halawa infirmary, but at the moment, Almeida and Pada are the only two, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported .

The two dress the older inmates, comb their hair, help them out of bed and into chairs. It is work that requires physical strength and mental toughness. It also requires compassion.

“If you don’t have a heart, you can’t work here,” Almeida said.

Inmates must meet several requirements before being able to apply for the position. They can’t be a sex offender or a gang member. They can’t have a background of drug charges or violent crimes, or a history of escape. Inmates also must have the right temperament to do all the dirty work, take whatever the patients in the psychiatric unit fling their way, care for former tough guys now in hospice, and be gentle with people in a rough setting.

“We have a rare level of trust,’ Pada said. “We’re around chemicals, sharp objects and patients. I like having that responsibility.”

Almeida is serving more than a 12-year sentence for criminal property damage and reckless endangerment stemming from a high-speed car chase with police in 2007. Pada was sentenced to 15 years for a robbery in 2009.

Both men are new to this work. Pada started three months ago, Almeida has been working for a month.

They bring water, listen to complaints, and call the nurse for a patient. Part of their job is simply providing moral support, speaking words of encouragement as they’re mopping the unit.

While working in the infirmary recently, Pada helped an elderly man get ready for his release after 23 years of incarceration.

“p1″>”He was preparing to get out for so long, but when it was time for him to leave, I went to get him and he was sleeping.” Pada said,  laughing while remembering the moment. “I told him, ‘Wake up! You’re free!’ “