Delbert Wakinekona shows his prison tattoos on a beach near his home in
Oahu. Photo by Marco Garcia.
A bleak, sweltering
prison town in the middle of the Arizona desert is an unlikely destination for
incarcerated Hawaiians. But since the 1990s, Saguaro Correctional Facility in
Eloy, AZ, has housed more Hawaiians than any other prison in the nation -- including
Hawaii's. Delbert Wakinekona was one of the very first Hawaiian prisoners
transferred out of state. A notorious escape artist, he was transferred to the
mainland in the 1970s and over a period of 40 years, he made his way through a
series of prisons, eventually landing in Eloy.
The stark change in
landscape, from the islands to the desert, is just part of the shock for
prisoners like him. Time and again, studies have shown that contact with
friends and family helps to lower recidivism rates, but for many of these
Hawaiian prisoners, visitations are an impossibility; a $2,000 trip to a desert
penitentiary is a hard financial pill to swallow for most prisoners’ families.
Prison abuse is another issue: in Arizona, allegations that guards have banged
prisoners' heads on table tops and forced oral sex upon them have resulted in
probation. One 2012 lawsuit brought by five Saguaro prisoners alleges that a
guard threatened an inmate by saying, "We will continue to beat you, and
the only way to stop is to commit suicide." This year, the families of two
men killed by fellow prisoners at the facility have filed separate lawsuits
citing similar problems, such as "negligence, recklessness, and a flagrant
failure to protect."
Hyphen needs YOUR
help to bring this story to light in the upcoming November 2012 issue of
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Asian American moms embracing ancicent post-birth
traditions, and undocumented Asian American activists.
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