Drug Court participants earn money, gain self-esteem working... - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Drug Court participants earn money, gain self-esteem working at Mililani farm

Usuvale Usuvale
Wayne Ogasawara Wayne Ogasawara

By Minna Sugimoto - bio | email

MILILANI (HawaiiNewsNow) - On Thursday, Hawaii News Now took you inside Oahu's Drug Court, where addicts and dealers have an opportunity to straighten up and avoid prison. The court gives them access to intensive substance abuse treatment programs, as well as other services -- such as employment assistance -- that should help them succeed in the community.

A farm in Mililani has stepped up to give drug offenders that second chance.

Ailini Usuvale spends eight hours a day washing sweet potatoes and preparing them for market.

"If you want to achieve something, you gotta start low sometimes," the Drug Court participant, said.

During the long stretches at the cleaning station, she thinks about the customers who'll enjoy the product and thinks about how much her life has changed.

"Every day I think about it, about how far I came and how much I get to lose if I do ever go back," the former drug user said.

Usuvale started smoking crystal methamphetamine at 12 years old, and landed in Drug Court after getting busted for selling cocaine.

At Drug Court, qualified offenders are granted community supervision instead of incarceration. They each get a counselor for drug and alcohol issues, and a case manager for real-life challenges such as housing, employment and budgeting.

"I'm thankful that I'm here instead of somewhere else just losing it," Usuvale said.

Wayne Ogasawara runs a farm in Mililani, and has hired Usuvale and two other Drug Court participants in the past month.

"Some people have asked me aren't you afraid. I say, gee, afraid of what," Ogasawara of Mililani Agricultural Park said. "These are just human beings like everybody else. I think if they're treated fairly and with respect, I think you'll get the same kind of respect and consideration from them."

Those in the program undergo regular drug testing, and must appear before Judge Steven Alm once a week to start. When Alm became the presiding Drug Court judge three months ago, he issued a challenge -- 100 percent employment for the offenders in the program.

"It's hard enough to find a job if you have a record on probation. It's worse if you come out of prison," Alm said. "Whether it's fair or not, people are going to think you're dangerous. Many people can be successfully supervised in the community."

Ogasawara has found that people who have served jail time are usually punctual, know how to take instructions, and respect authority. Usuvale works side by side with his other employees.

"The guys that are all working for a living, rub shoulders with them, have lunch with them," Ogasawara said. "That, itself, I think is therapeutic."

He hopes other businesses will consider getting involved with the Drug Court program.

"All they need is a job to give them a sense of some dignity, you know, make a few dollars," Ogasawara said.

Rule violators are sent straight to prison. Usuvale doesn't plan on becoming one of them, now that she's regained her family's respect.

"It feels good," she said. "I mean, I thought I would never have that back. I thought I lost it a long time ago."

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