- Love LettersPerformative and Biological Families in Hawai'i's Women's Prison
Dear Unbreakable Survivors,
There are many things I'd like to say to you, but I can't quite figure out the words to say. It's ironic because Mrs. Wilcox has taught us how to incorporate our emotions and feelings through writing. … Yet here I am … staring blankly at this page, with nothing but scattered thoughts ….
Scattered thought # 3: (On the day of your speeches) I haven't cried like that since my best friend committed suicide 3 years ago. I miss her terribly of course, but I think suicidal people are just angels wanting to go home. But, how I wish she could've been here. How I wish she could've heard your speeches too.1 How I wish she'd known.
I met a girl once, Who sighed and told me she was not lovely. And it confused me that she could not see The sunlight shining through her scars.
Oh how I wish she'd seen what I'd seen.
Thank you all so much, for allowing me to feel again. Even if it was expressed through tears, thank you for allowing me to feel something because something is definitely better than nothing.
Love always, Giselle2 [End Page 171]
Giselle's fractured and redeeming passages, "Scattered Thoughts," speak back to the three inside women from the Prison Monologue Lab who share their testimonial narratives during her English period at Nānākuli High school—a Title I school on O'ahu's leeward side. Indebted to the work that I did with the Walls to Bridges Program in 2015 (a Canadian counterpart to the US Inside Out Program) at Grand Valley Institution for Women, a multi-level security women's prison in Kitchener, Ontario—I use the word "inside," rather than "prisoner" or "inmate," to avoid reducing the women to their crimes.3 The stories that Giselle and the other students witness that day are of three women from Women's Correctional Community Center's (WCCC) Prison Monologues program: Liezel, incarcerated for her involvement in a death of a child; Kailani, whose repeated rape by her grandfather paves her pathway into drugs and alcohol; and Mahina, implicated in a driving accident while "high on ICE," resulting in a death of a minor.4 WCCC is the sole women's prison in Hawai'i, warehousing approximately three hundred women of mixed security levels. As these testimonies of incest, drugs, and murder spill out, the students accompany the inside women on an inter-generational pilgrimage to their own pained and sutured memories.5 I frame the high school students' reactions to female "prisoners" monologues as "Love Letters." The students' responses, drawn from two high schools in Hawai'i, represent native Hawaiian epistemologies. The women and the high school students' represent a range of Hawaiian and Pacific intersections. The philosophy of the Prison Monologues, as part of the Kailua Prison Writing Project, is rooted in Hawaiian practices of ho'oponopono (reconciliation and forgiveness) that resist state-sanctioned inscriptions on Indigenous bodies.6 In "Love Letters," I analyze the Nānākuli and Kapolei high school students' written responses to the Prison Monologues "presentations" in their classes.7
WCCC, under the leadership of its former warden, Mark Kawika Patterson, is more in line with the prison reform movement than the state aggression expressed in the War on Drugs. In late 2008, as warden, Patterson implemented a trauma-informed care initiative at the facility. The program acknowledges women's histories of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, and the fact that their transgressions are primarily nonviolent. The trauma-informed care initiative uses the framework of an Indigenous pu'uhonua, or a place of refuge. As Kawika Patterson explained in an interview with Dr. Eiko Kosasa, this marked space of pu'uhonua was utilized in ancient times as a traditional pathway to absolution and reconciliation. When Native Hawaiians committed transgressions that could in turn endanger their lives, they could enter the pu'uhonua, where "nobody could touch him."8 When he became the acting warden at WCCC in 2006, Patterson sought mentorship [End Page...