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Group restores hope for former offenders

Maui Coming Home Council is looking for volunteers

Female Maui Community Correctional Center inmates read and pass the time in their bunks last November. The time of being released from jail can be scary, and Maui Coming Home Council helps with the transition with transportation and obtaining identification, health insurance and employment. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

KAHULUI — While the Maui Coming Home Council offers goods and services to former Hawaii offenders, its true mission is to inspire hope and a fresh start.

Tuesday night at the Maui Economic Opportunity building, Maui Coming Home Council program manager Bishop Pahia discussed how previously incarcerated men and women face multiple challenges upon release from prison or jail that volunteers of the organization aim to mitigate.

“Restoring hope–that’s what we’re really about,” said Pahia, who’s also an MEO case manager specialist. “A lot of guys come to me, and I can’t help, but I think an open ear does a lot, just listening to them.

“I mean, that’s the beginning of a great relationship.”

The Maui Coming Home Council, a community support group created in 2014 to help former Hawaii offenders, began with more than 20 volunteers, Pahia said. That number has dwindled to six this year.

Maui Coming Home Council manager Bishop Pahia (front) and Share Your Mana founder Lisa Darcy smile while talking to (not pictured) Pastors Pua Hashimoto and Jerry Recamara on Tuesday night at Maui Economic Opportunity during a monthly program meeting. The Maui News / DAKOTA GROSSMAN photo

No one attended the public meeting Tuesday night except for three avid volunteers — Pastors Jerry Recamara and Pua Hashimoto, and nonprofit Share Your Mana founder Lisa Darcy — who all have been an integral part in keeping the program running.

Pahia facilitates transitional support services to assist inmates to reintegrate into the community after incarceration. Through MEO, the program is able to provide the basics: valid identification, such as a driver’s license or state ID; birth certificates; Social Security cards; and other documentation.

MCHC also helps with connections to employment, Med-Quest health insurance and food stamps for qualifying clients, as well as other necessities like work clothes and transportation, if there are the means to do so.

Pahia has provided transportation and meals out of his own pocket. On one occasion, he purchased a one-way ticket for a client.

“It’s not in my program, I just do it personally,” he said.

“I can’t always help. I mean, I help as much as I can, but sometimes it’s beyond me,” he said. “Some people when they get out, they need a ride to the airport, and they don’t have a ride, I’ll take them to the airport. Sometimes, what I’ll do is, if they get out early in the morning, I’ll pick them up, buy them breakfast and drive them.”

Access to the program is by word-of-mouth only; families and individuals can call Pahia for support. From the jail, inmates now can make a toll-free 3-minute phone call to Pahia before they are released.

“People get released without anyone knowing,” and they “would have to know to call me in advance,” he said.

He has had four clients in the last month.

“I talked to them about what they need to do when they get out, you know, get their medical done, trying to apply for food stamps–take them to their probation officers,” he said. “Whatever they need when they first come out. I even try to take them over to the shelter, but the shelters are first-come, first-serve. So it’s not guaranteed that you will get a place, so a lot of them end up homeless.”

The organization recently purchased a few backpacks and filled them with hygiene supplies, clothes, batteries, program information and the occasional tent to offer to inmates upon release.

“The reason I am here is, is just knowing that anytime I called Bishop with somebody that had any struggle, he would always answer me back,” said Darcy, who has known Pahia for 15 years and reconnected with MCHC two years ago to further combat the major challenges faced by recently released inmates.

“He would always call you back and always show up, and with how chaotic the organizations have become, that is hope. That’s hope,” she said.

Starting Thursdays, Pahia is meeting with incarcerated women at the Maui Community Correctional Center for preemployment training and educational classes on how to navigate the system before release.

He also recently became a member of the Maui Food Bank to help his clients have access to food.

The highest risk factors for recidivism and homelessness include untreated addiction, unemployment coupled with high costs of living and low wages, and no fellowship, Pahia said.

“A lot of them burn their bridges, so a lot of them are alienated from their families,” Pahia said. “Our clients have a lot of barriers, and it’s not just drugs. It’s family; it’s employment. There’s a lot of other things that impact these guys.”

Many inmates also have children, which is a very common, complicated issue. They also have to deal with the negative stigma perceived by employers for having criminal history.

“They get judged real quick, especially if you’re a felon,” Pahia said. “It’s hard for them to get employment. But one good thing is that we have a handful of employers that don’t mind hiring them.”

Pahia mentioned that there are “plenty of jobs” on the island to choose from, but there has to be a will to work.

“No matter what it is, you have to start somewhere, and that’s what we tell the guys,” he added. “You have to start somewhere.”

There is much to do to help people released from jail or prison. Some solutions offered during the meeting included having more halfway houses and rehabilitation facilities on Maui for men and women; easier access to transportation, like bus tickets or van pickups; a higher minimum wage; more educational opportunities before reentry into the community; and more communication between agencies.

The MCHC collaborates with local ministries and churches, such as Life in Christ and Wailuku Church of God, to expand outreach options to those in need.

“It has to go one more step; it’s got to be a spiritual thing,” Pahia said. “Without that, they’re not going to make it. You gotta have that.

“Also fellowship–it keeps them on track.”

During the meeting Tuesday, Pastors Recamara and Hashimoto both agreed as they recalled previous clients’ experiences and reminisced about success stories.

Recamara suggested that instead of donating canned goods, Life of Christ Church will try donating gift cards to McDonald’s or Target, because they are lighter to carry and provide more options.

Through Prison Fellowship, Hashimoto said that they have helped many previously incarcerated men and women each year through Christ-centered teachings and support.

“I think it’s a breakthrough, having all the families together and just to realize that this is really growing and that we need one another,” said Hashimoto, who had also volunteered 32 years in Maui Community Correctional Center. “I love working. I love helping.”

Darcy said she “was interested in addressing these needs, too.” She has been an active member of the Maui Disability Alliance and Maui Homeless Alliance, as well as part of the Point in Time homeless people counts and the Women’s Mentoring Program.

“To know someone is going to be there is, gosh, that’s hope, even if they don’t have the answer,” Darcy said. “If people have access to food and shelter, they are less likely to use or anything like that.”

She founded Share Your Mana, a volunteer-based program, to focus on nurturing and restoring the economic, physical and emotional struggles among the homeless population.

The time when an inmate is released is “a very crucial and important time,” she added. They could use guidance on definitive steps to follow.

“It seems like there would be a natural evolution to have a small subcommittee or a group . . . who handles people when they’re released, it seems like a natural place to have a couple of people employed and working just with those needs,” she said. “There’s nobody but Bishop, or if you call someone like me, who will be there to actually make that the priority when the person is being released.

“And that is such a scary time . . . The ladies talk about how frightening it is.”

The volunteer work of MCHC group can be tough and exhausting at times, but “it’s life-changing for everybody for the better,” Darcy said.

The next public Maui Coming Home Council meeting is set for 5 p.m. Feb. 11 at the MEO building, Room 2, to discuss the program and future plans. The community is welcome.

For more information, contact Pahia by phone at 243-4353 or email at bishop.pahia@meoinc.org. To learn more about Share Your Mana and how to volunteer or donate, visit shareyourmana.org.

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

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